BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2019 Review: ‘JT Leroy’ Asks Worthwhile Questions, But Cannot Provide Answers

The human idea of identity is a delicate one, naturally susceptible to fragmentation, fluidity, and misunderstanding. Culture scholars have debated this phenomenon for decades, and JT Leroy engages these issues simply through the nature of its story; if there is a variation between how the outside world views us and how we view ourselves, which of these identities takes precedent? What, morally, do we owe people when we project certain images of ourselves—is it a lie to hide behind a mask, or can our true identity be found in the ways that we present to the outside world? Is our identity internal knowledge, external presentation, or a mix of the two? In JT Leroy, these questions are asked in earnest, but the film never comes to a conclusion, scratching only the surface of a much greater discussion on the queer experience of the self. 

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BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2019 Review: Found-Family Dynamics Warm The Heart in ‘Tucked’

“No family. No friends.”

These are the words which first expose the true vulnerability of 74-year-old drag queen Jackie Collins (also known as Jack) in the independent British drama, Tucked. He is talking to his doctor, who has just informed him that he has weeks left to live. Hated by his daughter and plagued with regret for his past decisions, Jack has nothing but the dingy bar where he performs, and the love of a roaring audience—that is, until new queen Faith sweeps into his life complete with eight-inch killer heels. Young, stylish and non-binary, Faith represents a newer age of drag, but it is their shared exclusion from the world which bonds the two queens, and leads to a unique friendship that neither could have anticipated.

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BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film Festival 2019 Review: The Queer Victimhood of ‘Giant Little Ones’

American society’s compulsive need to fit people into neatly labelled boxes is usually mirrored in cinematic convention. When categorising romances, we split them neatly down the middle, assigning various expectations depending on whether they are ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. Giant Little Ones attempts to defy these expectations by pursuing a worthy message of sexual fluidity, but fails to do justice to its complex themes.

The film begins like any American teen story, introducing the protagonist, Franky, as a seemingly carefree kid via shots of him cycling through his polished, middle class hometown. Franky, like any 16 year old, is interested in three things: his best friend (Ballas), his girlfriend (Priscilla), and his place on the school’s ultra-macho swim team. Early on, we witness his popularity as he saunters through the school, fist-bumping several other students. He appears to be a conventional heterosexual teenager, even accompanied by a lesbian sidekick, Mouse, whose sexuality is immediately established through a tasteless comment on Priscilla’s ‘rack’.

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BFI Flare London LGBTQ+ Film Festival ’18 Review: Lesbian films don’t get much more disappointing than ‘Snapshots’

As I sit here, I am trying in vain to find something positive to say about this film. I have no doubt that ‘Snapshots’ is a labour of love – independent filmmaking always is – yet, the result is such a twee, cringe-worthy mess that I cannot consciously recommend the experience to even the most dedicated of lesbian cinephiles.

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Piper Laurie in Snapshots (2018) © Three Women in a Box Films

The film revolves around a tri-generational family of women. Allison (Emily Baldoni), a young woman amidst in conflict with an absent husband, visits her grandmother Rose (Piper Laurie) with her mother, Patty (Brooke Adams) in tow. Allison and Patty are constantly at each other’s throats, with Rose situated firmly in the middle of these tensions. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover that Rose hides a secret that may provoke further strife – the love of her life was not Patty’s father, but an enigmatic redhead named Louise.

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BFI Flare London LGBTQ+ Film Festival ’18 Review: ‘They’ is a beautifully subdued observation of identity

Anahita Ghazvinizadeh is certainly a filmmaker to watch. A student of Abbas Kiarostami, the writer-director already has a Cinéfondation First Prize under her belt, picked up in 2015 with her short film ‘Needle’. Now, Ghazvinizadeh’s debut feature casts a careful eye over the subject of childhood gender-fluidity, the pressure of conformity, and the construction of identity.

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Rhys Fehrenbacher in They (2017) © Mass Ornament Films

J (Rhys Fehrenbacher) is an introspective adolescent who takes hormone blockers to prevent the onset of puberty. This is a temporary measure, we learn in the film’s opening, as J’s medical tests suggest that a decision must be reached soon, lest their health be put at risk. J’s life is at an impasse as they float between childhood and adulthood, unable to progress until they tick a box: B or G.

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BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film Festival ’18 Review: ‘The Revival’ is a necessary, if imperfect, take on the rocky relationship between religion and homosexuality

Jennifer Gerber’s debut feature is a piece that will certainly provoke a powerful reaction. Described as an intense emotional drama, ‘The Revival’ explores the tensions between Southern Baptist Christianity, modern life, and gay relationships with a blunt edge that will be too much for some – but may be necessary for many.

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Raymond McAnally, Stephen Ellis, David Rysdahl, and Kathleen Suit in The Revival (2017) © Natural Slate Films

In the age of Trump and a new kind of right-wing radicalism, a film of this topic feels eerily relevant; the film’s setting is a small town in Arkansas, populated largely by Evangelical Christians, and a post-screening Q&A revealed that 70% of this town voted for Trump in real life. Our protagonist, Eli, is a pastor who wishes to transform the way that his congregation views religion. Eli cannot stand the way that modern Christians twist their faith to suit themselves and aims to educate against the use of God to justify wrongdoing. He’s fully engaged in his faith, with just one problem; he’s gay, and must fight against his own hypocrisy when rugged drifter Daniel saunters into his life.

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BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film Festival ’18 Review: ‘My Days of Mercy’ is momentarily sweet, but ultimately unsatisfying

For years, the LGBTQ+ community have been begging for cinema beyond the typical coming-out story – cinema that explores conflict within queer relationships without resorting to “help me, I’m gay!” Tali Shalom Ezer’s latest feature ‘My Days of Mercy’ promises such a story. The premise is simple but intriguing: protagonist Lucy (Ellen Page), whose father is on death row, falls in love with pro-death penalty campaigner Mercy (Kate Mara). Unfortunately, despite truly electric chemistry between Page and Mara, ‘My Days of Mercy’ never delves far enough into the dramatic potential of such viscerally clashing moral standpoints. The result is a film that is momentarily sweet, but ultimately unsatisfying.

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Ellen Page and Kate Mara in ‘My Days of Mercy’ (2017) © BFI Flare

Shalom Ezer begins the film by throwing us right into the protest action; a man is on death row for killing a police officer, and there are pickets on both sides of the argument. Lucy, accompanied by her siblings and, protests as though it is part of her daily routine. Desensitised and slightly bored, she continues through these motions in the dimly lit hope of changing things for her own father. As the pro-death penalty campaigners arrive, notably more prim and proper than the “hippy” antis, Lucy’s eyes meet Mercy’s across the picket lines. It’s cheesy, and a little lacking in believability, but nonetheless a classic way for two would-be lovers to first notice each other.

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