Seven Powerful LGBTQ Films to Watch at BFI Flare 2019

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JT Leroy, 2019 (Film still)

Ahead of BFI Flare 2019 this week, we present our top picks from the festival’s exciting programme

One of the largest and most significant celebrations of queer cinema in Europe, the 33rd edition of acclaimed LGBTQ film festival BFI Flare returns to the Southbank from March 21–31 this year. Featuring a powerful, thought-provoking and diverse mix of features, shorts, discussions, talks, workshops and club nights, this year’s festival reflects on themes of sex, identity, politics and community.

Opening with the eagerly anticipated Vita & Virginia, which charts the passionate relationship between literary trailblazer Virginia Woolf and enigmatic aristocrat Vita Sackville-West, and closing with JT Leroy, a captivating real-life story of the most compelling literary ‘hoax’ of our generation featuring standout performances from Laura Dern and former AnOther cover star Kristen Stewart, this year’s BFI Flare features more than 50 full-length features and 80 shorts by filmmakers from across the globe. To help navigate the days of back-to-back viewing you’d need to watch all of them, we’ve shortlisted a selection of screenings you should not miss.

1. Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life

This is a fascinating story, and a truly tender portrait of an industry that’s so often demonised. International gay porn icon Jonathan Agassi has had a meteoric rise to fame, but at what personal cost? Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life explores the tension between professional success and personal loss in a way that’s never once prurient or judgemental. It’s a moving exploration of loneliness, addiction and trauma that deserves to be seen.

2. Halston

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, Halston chronicles the story of how a boy from rural Iowa became the king of Studio 54 and ruler of a fashion empire. Directed by Frédéric Tcheng, known for his work on the Oscar-nominated Valentino: The Last Emperor with Matt Tyrnauer, as well as his recent Chanel documentary, this gripping documentary delivers a rollercoaster of fabulousness and folly, packaged in an irresistible film noir-style investigation.

3. Call Her Ganda

In October 2014, Joseph Pemberton, an American marine, took shore leave in Olongapo City in the Philippines. There he met Jennifer Laude, a Filipino transgender woman, who was later found murdered after the two spent the night together at a hotel. In Call Her Ganda what begins as a gripping investigation into what happened that night deepens into a searing critique of American imperialism and the US’s thorny post-colonial relationship with the Philippines. Hosted by three women – activist and attorney Virgie Suarez, transgender journalist and author Meredith Talusan, and Jennifer’s mother Julita – it’s an arresting and powerful chronicle of transphobia that shines a light on the sordid details of legalistic ‘panic defences’ and their human cost.

4. Knife+Heart

This wickedly sexy slasher movie, set largely on a 1970s porn set, is the very definition of queer kink horror. When Anne’s (played by Vanessa Paradis) star performer is brutally murdered on the set of her most ambitious film yet, it quickly becomes clear that neither the shoot’s filmmakers or pornstars are safe. Featuring a switchblade stuffed inside a dildo and a jet-black bondage mask, Knife+Heart mixes comedy, camp and calamity with perfect balance.

5. JT Leroy

Adapted from Savannah Knoop’s memoir Girl Boy GirlJT Leroy is one of those stranger than fiction stories that cleverly intertwines celebrity, identity, persona and gender in its probing of what it means to call something ‘authentic’. Kristen Stewart plays Savannah, a bisexual woman who pretends to be a bisexual man who is the imaginary creation of another woman, author Laura Albert. As thought-provoking as it is astonishing for its true-to-life portrayal, Justin Kelly closes this year’s festival with an inventive and inspired queer biopic.

6. No Box For Me

M is 27 years old, Deborah is 25 and, as intersex people, both were born with bodies that society rejects and that science forcibly labels as male or female at childhood through surgery. In a documentary first, No Box For Me profiles the activists and advocates working to change doctor’s minds that a child’s future happiness depends on conforming genitals to binary norms. With an estimated 1.7 per cent of the population being born with gender variance, it’s a necessary and insightful watch.

7. The Blond One

Marco Berger’s sweet and sexy The Blond One sees a tentative friendship between two young men blossom into a beautiful bromance when reserved Gabo moves in with self-assured ladies’ man Juan. Playful, virile and voyeuristically carnal, the film toys with the boundaries between homosocial and homosexual desire, resulting in a story that’s as exciting as it is enchanting.

BFI FLare runs from March 21 – 31, 2019.