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London’s LGBTQ FLARE film festival 2023

March 2023 Simon Williams, PinkUk

flare festival 2023

The pink screen beckons: London’s LGBTQ FLARE Film Festival - online and onsite screening.

Simon Williams highlights some films worth watching at the spectacular FLARE film festival in London.

Whatever else is going on the world, there’s some annual festivals to lift up your spirits and, as it’s March and so almost spring, it means one of the gems in the international cultural calendar is about to launch: the British Film Institute’s London LGBTQ+ FLARE film festival.

The festival has its roots in the mid-80s and was formally launched in 1988 so you could say it’s been flying the LGBTQ+ / queer cultural flag for more than 35 years of creative cinematic expression in the UK and around the world. Even we, at PinkUk Towers, can't say we've been around that long and we are pretty old.

The festival is divided into three “thematic programme strands”: hearts, bodies and minds and this year features a mammoth line-up of 28 world premieres (across longer features and shorter films) with 58 general features and 90 short films from 41 countries. But there’s a whole lot more than just top-class queer films, including a virtual reality queer artifacts museum – more on that below.

Within this annual pinkest gem of a festival there are several jewels or maybe we should say exquisitely pink diamonds of films, though we can't cover them all here, unfortunately.

How to tell a secret
Pic: ‘How to tell a secret’ - courtesy BFI FLARE

Perhaps this year’s most crystalline and moving, in our opinion, has to be an Irish film ‘How to tell a Secret’. Produced last year and directed by Anna Rodgers and Shaun Dunne, it explores the stigma facing people who are diagnosed with HIV in a culturally conservative part of society in Ireland.

This film has one screening at time of writing available still Saturday 25 March at at NFT Cinema 3 but hurry as it may get booked out; but we'll let you know more ways to access this film as soon as we can. How to tell a secret trailer.

Another gem opening with its world premiere at FLARE is John Hay’s documentary 'Willem & Frieda'. It features his supreme excellency Stephen Fry as a master of ceremonies in presenting the heroic story of a gay man and a lesbian who helped the anti-Nazi resistance in the Netherlands during WW2.

Films like this help us to remember that we should never forget what people had to experience in those times, however remote it seems to us today. This screening is still open at time of writing for the Friday 24 March 18.10 NFT Cinema 1, again hurry. Willem and Frieda trailer.
Willem and Frieda

Pic: Stephen Fry introducing Willem and Frieda - courtesy BFI FLARE

So with such heavy hitter films, this year seems more jewel-encrusted than its already usual high bar when you look at the line-up. Senior Programmer Michael Blyth, said, “We are doing something we've never done before.

"Over the first four days of the festival, we will be presenting ‘Flare Expanded’ a free programme of queer immersive art guaranteed to offer new insights and shift perspectives.”

The organisers have placed a selection of immersive art and virtual reality works from LGBTQIA+ artists, working across emerging technologies.

“One of the installations that you can see this year is Antonia Forster’s LGBTQ+ Virtual Reality Museum, a virtual space that contains 3D scans of personal artefacts chosen by queer people and accompanied by their stories, in their own words,” explains Blyth.

“For the past 37 years, BFI Flare has brought audiences the best, most innovative and most boundary pushing LGBTQIA+ stories from across the globe. But as our audiences constantly grow and evolve, the festival must grow and evolve with them,” Blyth adds.

So there it is! If you're based in the UK or have VPN link you can access some of the digital screenings here. If you are outside the UK, you can still access some top quality film from the festival via the British Council Five Films for Freedom site.

The BFI FLARE Film Festival 2023 runs 15 – 26 March. BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XT.

Tickets are now on sale for onsite viewing visit FLARE. Watch the trailer

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