The BFI Flare Festival, which took place from 17 to 28 March 2021, showcased a wide range of incredible films from across the globe.
With a sole focus on LGBTIQ+ narratives and stories, both fiction and factual, BFI Flare brought lesser-known stories to the forefront over its two-week calendar. Features such as Rūrangi, Sweetheart and Boy Meets Boy were among the most popular screenings, yet it is the shorts nestled in the background of the festival’s programme that find themselves in need of some much-deserved attention.
Here, then, are some of the best short films of the BFI Flare festival.
Escaping the Fragile Planet / Beginnings and Endings (Thanasis Tsimpinis, Greece)
The likeness of Tsimpinis’ drama short to the COVID-19 pandemic feels so strong that the film begins with a disclaimer, yet this is potentially what draws you into the narrative from the start. Opening with a young man drawing on his protective face mask, Escaping the Fragile Planet—found in the festival’s ‘Beginnings and Endings’ collection—brings a post-apocalyptic world to our computer screens. Set in a quaint record store, the film fulfils the boy-meets-boy storyline—with the impending doom of the end of the world thrown in for good measure. The outcome: an intense and captivating 17 minutes filled with stunning shots as the world around the two new lovers begins to crumble. The hostile streets of Greece feel fitting as a background of the fragility of love. The dialogue is incredible, offering intimate details of its two unnamed stars (Nikos Lekakis and Michail Tabakakis) through the short but sweet sharing of important life moments. Having your first kiss during the apocalypse is weird enough, yet Tsimpinis manages to layer another quirk to this, as the two men kiss amongst the sound of a quacking toy duck. Escaping the Fragile Planet relies on its subtle humour, yet remains a touching exploration of young romance.
The Act / Heart’s Desires (Thomas Hescott, United Kingdom
The 1957 Wolfenden Report recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality after an increasing number of notable individuals after the Second World War were imprisoned for “homosexual offences”. This report is one that is often forgotten, yet it is one of the most integral steps which allowed the 1960s to become a time of sexual liberation and freedom. Hescott’s The Act uses the report to contextualise the struggles of a young man known as “Mr. Matthews” (Samuel Barnett) to accept himself during a time of homophobia and societal changes. The film explores the juxtaposed feelings of loneliness and togetherness, with the warmth of an underground inner-city gay bar offering joy to Matthews in great contrast to the deeply isolating atmosphere of his home and workplace. The Act also introduces a story of growth, as Matthews’ on-off boyfriend (Simon Lennon) gives the word “act” a whole new meaning. The film questions what acting means when one’s true self is always hidden away in the shadows. These themes are showcased through beautiful cinematography and layered with a stunning score, as well as a full reading of the Wolfenden Report itself.
Girls Shouldn’t Walk Alone At Night / Into the Unknown (Katerine Martineau, Canada)
After being chatted up by a creepy older man who “always shows up and hangs at parties”, friends Chantal (Amaryllis Tremblay) and Delphine (Nahéma Ricci) decide to walk and talk by a remote beach, chatting about everything and anything as they go. Girls Shouldn’t Walk Alone At Night uses its lack of sound to draw you into reality, almost as if we’re walking on the beach with them as the air around us drops in temperature by the second. Whilst the two appear to be close friends, it is their isolation together in a remote landscape that draws out their thoughts and feelings. Martineau’s drama blends friendship and romance to create a real story of closeness, provided through the support that each girl offers to the other. It uses soft visuals and glowing colours to create warmth against the cold, making the LGBTQ+ narrative at its forefront so natural you almost forget it’s there, but are subtly reminded by the comfort the girls have around each other but no one else. The ending of the film is open, but this is what makes it feel so real: it brings the fair distrust of random men around full circle, completing its cycle.
Acrimonious / Queer as in Question Everything (Olivia Emden, United Kingdom)
In the more comedic strand, we find an endearing dramedy directed by Olivia Emden. Starting with a montage of the breakdown of a seemingly perfect relationship, the film opens to a definition of its title: “(typically of speech or discussion) angry or bitter”. It sets up the sequence of events in a quirky way, as we are instantly thrown into the hectic life of protagonist Emeka (Joey Akubeze) with full force, without evidence of sourness in the way he holds himself. The realistic nature of the film is what draws the viewer in, encapsulating us in the London lifestyle of the recently divorced Emeka, as he learns to deal with his return to working-class living. The middle-class dream is a topic of discussion in the film, layering these jestful fantasies with a genuine desire for a different life portrayed through trippy, drug-induced dream-states which work brilliantly alongside the more realistic scenes. Acrimonious uncovers the difficulty of a non-acrimonious separation, as Emeka finds himself struggling to deal with a divorce that feels nothing like what society builds it up to be. If you want a short that reminds you of the importance of family and friends through a lighthearted atmosphere, then Emden’s work ticks all the boxes.
Unliveable / Striving to Be Seen (Matheus Farias and Enock Carvalho, Brazil)
At least 175 trans people were murdered in Brazil in 2020—that’s at least one person every 3 days. Unliveable explores the horror of living as a trans person in a city with violence on most street corners, blending naturalism with science fiction to draw you into the passion of the story. The film follows the trauma Marilene (Luciana Souza) goes through as she brings together the friends of her missing daughter Roberta, hoping to find her and bring her home safely. Unliveable plays on the increasing pressure of time, as the more hours that pass, the less likely Marilene is to ever see her daughter again. Whilst the magical realism of Farias and Carvalho’s narrative draws on an unlikely truth, the context of the film is all too real for trans people in Brazil. There is a systemic lack of care for Roberta, yet the film holds hope as Marilene follows her daughter to a better life. Unliveable touches on some tricky but important subjects, doing this with grace and uniqueness, offering light in the darkness of the streets of Brazil. It’s no wonder that it made its way onto the BFI Flare programme, after its considerable success at festivals across the seas.
The BFI Flare shorts programme is currently available to watch for free at BFI Player.
Words by Katie Evans
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