Thursday, 17 March 2016

30th Flare: Watching movies

The 30th BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival kicked off last night with the world premiere of The Pass in Leicester Square, followed by a terrific party at The May Fair Hotel with plenty of time to chat with the actors and filmmakers and catch up with my festival cohorts. The next nine days will play out on the Southbank with a flurry of screenings and events that explore gender, politics and lifestyle. This is one of the biggest film festivals in the UK, and the programme has grown stronger and stronger over the 19 years I have been covering it. Here are some highlights from the festival's first few days...

The Pass
dir Ben A Williams; with Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene 16/UK ****
A strikingly insightful exploration of the constraints of celebrity, this adaptation of John Donnelly's play retains its theatrical stylings, setting the action among four characters in three scenes over 10 years. But it's refreshingly complex, constantly challenging audience expectations and attitudes. And it's hugely boosted by a charismatic performance from Russell Tovey.

Naz & Maalik 
dir Jay Dockendorf; with Kerwin Johnson Jr, Curtiss Cook Jr 15/US ****
With a pointed, warm sense of humour, this wry comedy cleverly sets big themes against each other. Over the course of a single afternoon, writer-director Jay Dockendorf sends these gay Muslim teens on a small adventure that has big repercussions. It's an open-handed, hugely engaging film packed with small surprises.

Jason and Shirley
dir Stephen Winter; with Jack Waters, Sarah Schulman 15/US **
This cheeky fake documentary explores the making of the acclaimed 1967 doc Portrait of Jason. Shot with a homemade aesthetic, the film is clearly improvised, as if filmmaker Stephen Winter just pointed his camera at his actors, letting them play with the premise, then trying to make some sense of it in the editing. It may be intriguing, but this lack of structure leaves the film with no real momentum.

Inside the Chinese Closet
dir Sophia Luvara; with Andy, Cherry, Mei 15/Ned ****
This gentle, meandering documentary looks at the complexities of gay life in China, where young gay men try to blend in by marrying lesbians and adopting children. Without offering glib answers, filmmaker Sophia Luvara observes layers of issues in the generational gap, as new attitudes toward diversity strain against old traditions.

B E S T   O F   Y E A R
dir Paul Weitz; with Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner 15/US ****
A sharp script and another beautifully measured performance from Lily Tomlin seamlessly mix comedy and pointed drama to tell an engaging story that isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way. It may feel both constructed and slight, but between the lines there's plenty of gristle to chew on... FULL REVIEW >

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