Eight queer classics to watch at BFI Flare film festival

The London LGBTIQ+ celebration kicks off today with a virtual week of new movies

After being forced to cancel last year’s event due to the rapidly escalating COVID-19 pandemic, BFI Flare returns today in virtual form with a packed programme of feature films and shorts.

As the BFI’s HQ on Southbank is currently closed due to restrictions, 2021’s festival is taking place online. All films are available to watch on BFI Player for the entire duration of Flare, which runs from March 17 to March 28. Individual film tickets cost a tenner, and anyone below the age of 25 can get in for a fiver by signing up to BFI’s Under 25s scheme.

With plenty to pick from, these highlights are well worth watching. Popcorn at the ready…

Rebel Dykes

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Centered around a tight-knit group of mates who met in the early ‘80s at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, Rebel Dykes follows the anti-nuclear campaigners’ return to London. Blending animation and archive footage with present-day interviews, the documentary charts the queer women’s resistance against Thatcher-era Britain – Section 28 outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools, and the police criminalised those taking part in consensual S&M with Operation Spanner. In response, the Rebel Dykes founded BDSM nightclubs and protested calling for action to be taken against the AIDS pandemic – and this film serves as a fast-paced look at the meeting point between punk and LGBT+ activism.

Boy meets Boy

On one final sweat-drenched night out in Berlin, Harry kisses Johannes on the dance floor – and when Johannes offers to help him print off his boarding pass, they end up spending a single intense day together walking around the city. With a fast-approaching flight on the horizon, the pair have little time to make sense of their chance connection, and what they want out of life as a whole. The directorial debut from Spanish filmmaker Daniel Sánchez López stars Matthew James Morrison (Playing God, The Devil’s Harmony) and Alexandros Koutsoulis (Give Me Up – Wie einen Fisch auf dem Trockenen).

Firebird

A young soldier serving in the air force in Soviet-occupied Estonia, Sergey is counting down the days until his military service ends – and then he meets fighter pilot Roman. He and his childhood friend Luisa, secretary to the base commander, are both drawn to the new arrival, and a risky love triangle forms. Senior officers on the base become suspicious and – with homosexuality illegal – the KGB begin investigating. Meanwhile, the risk of full-scale war between the Soviet Union and the United States reaches a boiling point as Sergey and Roman risk their careers and freedom for love.

My First Summer

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After the tragic and sudden passing of her mother, 16-year-old Claudia (Markella Kavenagh – soon to be mega-famous in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings series) is left stranded in their house in rural Australia, where she’s been brought up in isolation and taught to fear the outside world. Then Grace (Maiah Stewardson) finds her frightened and alone, and begins visiting every day, while keeping the situation a secret from the police. Amid all of the pain they each face in their lives, Claudia and Grace fall for each other in Katie Found’s directorial debut – a moving coming-of-age story.

Kiss Me Before It Blows Up

When Shira (Moran Rosenblatt) takes her girlfriend Maria (Luise Wolfram) to meet her family in Tel Aviv after an intense romance, the family greet the couple with open arms. Then disapproval strikes – Shira’s grandmother wants her to find a Jewish girlfriend. Born in Venezuela and raised in Israel, director Shirel Peleg explores serious issues with a deftly comic touch in this multilingual, multicultural comedy.

Jump, Darling

Pushing 30 and yet to make it in the acting business, Russell takes up drag and escapes to the countryside after a break-up – expecting a brief getaway with his grandma Margaret, he finds that she’s struggling too. Soon, he moves to support her. It’s one of the very last film performances from the late and great Cloris Leachman, who has starred in films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) Young Frankenstein (1974) and TV’s Malcom in the Middle – and explores a family bond that sometimes gets sidelined.

Tove

A Moomins biopic of sorts, Zaida Bergroth’s Finnish-language film follows the early life and career of cartoonist, novelist and painter Tove Jansson as she created her distinctive Moomin children’s books. Much of Tove centres around the mid-’40s to ’50s; a formative period when the artist’s love affair with theatre director Vivica Bandler led to an outpouring of creative inspiration. While their love might not last forever, the art their relationship inspired lives on.

Cowboys

Against a picture-postcard view – jagged mountains, remote farms, and the Canadian wilderness – well-meaning but troubled dad Troy (Steve Zahn) comes up with a plan when his son’s gender dysphoria becomes too much to bear. The pair escape and try to flee to Canada, and the adventure quickly unravels. Meanwhile director Anna Kerrigan cuts through sensationalist narratives and gets to the core of the story – a loving family who desperately want to support their child, but aren’t always sure how.

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