Halfway through the festival, and things are still very busy at the BFI Southbank, with lively crowds attending screenings and events examining gender issues from every conceivable angle. A few more recent screenings...
Before Stonewall ****
This landmark 1984 film documents the gay rights movement of the 20th century leading up to the momentous events of June 1969 (pictured). It's a remarkable film, especially as it traces sexuality issues in America through the roaring 20s, the Prohibition era, the Depression and World War II, all key events that fed into the outbreak of civil rights protests in the 1960s. What emerges is a key moment in human history when a large segment of society finally found the voice to stand up for their rights, and to stop living in fear and, yes, oppression. As part of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, this film was followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker Greta Schiller, along with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, German filmmaker Monika Treut and others. A fascinating discussion.
Written by DustinLance Black (Milk), the script for this film is extremely strong and carries us through the slightly TV-movie production values. The cast is fairly strong as well, as it tells the true story of Pedro Zamora, who rose to fame in 1994 on the MTV Real World series for being so outspoken about his HIV status. Indeed, Zamora was a pioneer activist who made a real difference in the lives of people he met - and spoke to in theatres, on radio and TV. His story is truly inspirational, and it's told here with a real sense of emotion and honesty that cuts through the out-of-sequence structure. The makes him into a saintly figure, and isn't afraid to dip into heavy sentimentality - but if you take those two things with a grain of salt, the film has real power.
Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom ***
Taking the gay sitcom stars onto the big screen, this film maintains some of the corny stereotypes and goofy comedy, but also gets surprisingly deep into the serious issues facing this group of people as they gather in a Martha's Vineyand home for a wedding. The main theme centres on confronting the truths of your past and present, and amid the silly antics there's some surprising resonance in the encounters and conversations. The characters are also allowed to deepen a bit beyond their superficial TV versions. All in all, it's a very nice surprise. And nicely well-acted by most of the cast.
The other script by Dustin Lance Black (the one what won him an Oscar and two SAG awards) is this biopic of murdered San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. It's gorgeously well-directed by Gus Van Sant, and features a jaw-dropping performance by Sean Penn (another Oscar) in the title role. Just as good are James Franco, Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch as three men orbiting around Milk as he spoke out for the rights of the marginalised. It's an inspirational film that feels utterly current, even though the events took place 30 years ago. And it has an important message we still need to hear. It has five special screenings at this festival, which are bound to be emotional events.