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Five Pioneering LGBT Films to Watch at BFI Flare 2017

As the curtain opens on the 31st edition of London’s feted LGBT film festival, we present our top picks from the event’s rich programme

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The Slippers
The Slippers, 2016(Film still)

Today marks the start of this year’s BFI Flare, London’s pioneering LGBT film festival, back with its 31st edition. As Tricia Tuttle, the institute’s Deputy Head of Festivals noted, “If last year’s 30th anniversary of the festival was time for reflection on just how far we’ve come, many world events in the 12 months since have reminded us just how vital this event still is.” The festival offers the chance to take a first look at over 50 new features, alongside multiple short film screenings and accompanying events and talks. Here, we pick our top five must-sees from the diverse, 10-day-long programme, from a dazzling documentary about Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the Wizard of Oz to a masterful new drama from French director André Téchiné.

The Slippers

You could be forgiven for thinking that a documentary entirely devoted to Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the MGM technicolor classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) might make for rather niche viewing. But, happily, we can assure you otherwise. Morgan White’s film The Slippers traces the famous shoes’ storied history from their sale at the film studio’s auction in 1970 through their diverse array of owners, right up to the present day using archival footage and first-hand accounts – including interviews with the late Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (need we say more). Conspiracy theories, back-stabbings, and unbridled jealousies abound in what proves a truly spellbinding watch.

Being 17

Being 17 is a raw and compelling portrait of youthful desire from French auteur André Téchiné, co-scripted by Girlhood director Céline Sciamma. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the French Pyrenees, it centres on Damian, a gay teenager living in an army barracks with his philanthropic mother, while his father is away on military business. At home, life is secure and comfortable for the pale and bookish protagonist, while at school he is tormented by a bullying classmate, Tom. Damian’s two worlds catastrophically collide when his mother invites Tom to live with them after the boy’s adoptive mother falls ill, forcing the sworn enemies to re-evaluate their feelings for one another and exposing the thin line between love and hate.

The Pearl of Africa

This bold and important documentary from Swedish filmmaker Jonny von Wallström shines a spotlight on Cleopatra Kambugu, the first openly transgender woman in Uganda. The film, as its tagline proclaims, is about “love and hate”, the former demonstrated by the touching and enduring relationship between the 27-year-old transwoman and her partner Nelson, the latter embodied by Cleo’s ongoing struggle for freedom, acceptance and the right to love in one of the most trans- and homophobic countries in the world. The journey she undertakes is by turns heart-wrenching and empowering; a story of bravery and the determination to enlighten.

Signature Move

A rom-com that subverts cinematic tropes is a rare thing indeed, which is what makes Signature Move, from American director Jennifer Reeder, so enticing. Zaynab is a closeted lesbian and first generation child of Pakistani immigrants living in Chicago, where she runs a small law firm and cares for her endearing, TV-addicted mother. She seeks release in a blossoming relationship with a local bookstore owner, and the wrestling lessons she takes from a former WWE champ – both of which she must keep secret from her traditional mother. Exquisite performances from the three leading actors carry this warm, funny and intimate drama.

Different for Girls

Not in fact a film but a web series which is nevertheless set to premiere at this year’s festival, Different for Girls is based on award-winning producer Jacquie Lawrence’s novel of the same name and revolves around the lives of a group of lesbian and bisexual women in Chiswick – it’s being billed as “the real lesbian housewives of West London”. Starring The L Word’s Rachel Shelley and Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, Go Fish), and combining the everyday ruckus surrounding marriage, child rearing and infidelity with a hefty dose of hedonistic escapism, it is complex TV drama at its most sassy.

BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival runs until March 26, 2017.

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