There’s no doubt that the LGBTQ+ creative community have long been in a drought for genuinely enjoyable, well-crafted cinema. Whilst the occasional blockbuster will come along and knock it out of the park – Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight, Carol – convincing LGBTQ+ characters and storylines are significantly lacking in consistency. Eager for a splash of new talent, Raid Randall looked at 5 short films that premiered at BFI Flare’s annual LGBTQ+ Film Festival.
The Date (2018) [15 mins]
A modern, concerningly real story of two women attempting to find a love connection whilst dwarfed by the imposing, iconic streets of Central London, in a world where dating has removed itself from the physical plane, into an online world. If you have tried dating in a big city, you will be aware of the isolating, fast-paced nature of app-based interaction, often leading to brief, meaningless encounters that each party knows will go nowhere in the first few minutes.
The bizarre nature of this new-age phenomenon is highlighted in the first few minutes of the film, when one of the women, having not yet met the other, texts to say she likes the outfit she’s wearing. She later admits to being a ‘stalker’, but not in the physical sense. These days, it’s not considered cool to ‘stalk’ someone’s social media profile to see what they’re up to, but most people will admit to having done it. The way these two women laugh about the concept of online ‘stalking’ suggests it’s a guilty pleasure, born of the strange, intangible system they’re embroiled in.
For a light, easy watch with a few chuckle-worthy moments and some scenic views of London Southbank that will have you longing for those Summer night riverside cocktail sessions, definitely give this 12-minute short a go.
Treacle (2019) [18 Mins]
The merit of this narrative lies in the relationship between two friends, divided by their different views on human sexuality, and what happens when the line of friendship is crossed. Best friends Belle and Jess decide to go on a road trip to stay in the holiday house Jess had booked to stay in with her very recent ex-boyfriend. Jess is a no-nonsense straight girl, tolerant of Belle’s open bisexuality, but with a definite misunderstanding of the concept.
Belle: “Do you seriously think if I were with a woman I’d be a lesbian, and if I were with a man I’d be straight?”
The two arrive at what Jess describes as an intended “sex house” for her and her ex, and proceed to drink heavily, eat junk food, swim in the pool and generally behave as best friends do. At a certain point, a clear change in the atmosphere occurs, after the notion of sexuality has been gently tossed around. There is a classic ‘oh, are they gonna kiss?’ moment, where their heads are just a smidge too close – but Jess pulls away. Only once accidentally injured (cutting an avocado, how very millennial) is she vulnerable enough to allow her inhibitions to leave her. She kisses Belle, then later crawls into bed with her. They have fond, tipsy, laughing sex, and fall asleep. In the morning, Jess is odd and distant, and immediately wants to leave. It’s painful, and terribly familiar to any of us who have experienced the ‘falling-for-the-straight-friend’ trope that seems to be a rite of passage for WLW (women who love women). Belle is the girl we wish we were when it happened to us. She stops the car on the journey home, turns to Jess, and lets her have it.
“I bet if I was a lesbian this would never have fucking happened. And if I was a dude – non-issue. What if I genuinely, really liked you Jess? How would any of this be fair on me?”
A tale dipped in painful nostalgia, beautifully and convincingly told. Superb acting, particularly by April Kelley (Belle).
Burn Bridge (2018) [16 Mins]
I have long waited for the recycled ‘young boy coming to terms with his homosexuality’ trope in gay cinema to be translated into the stark, unforgiving setting of lower-class Britain. With ‘lad culture’ rife in its harsh, hyper-masculine pressures on young boys, the opportunity to display the struggle of how gay youths cope in such toxic environments should have been taken up by directors years ago. Burn Bridge follows Harry and his close friendship-that-he-wishes-was-more with Jamie, a true ‘lad’ in both looks and attitude.
The film is told mostly through visuals, with little spelled out for the audience, but effectively translating Harry’s thoughts, feelings and concerns through careful camerawork. We stay close to Harry, cutting in to his face so we can speculate on his subtle changes in expression. He is forced to keep his feelings for Jamie hidden, but in the moments nobody is watching him, the fall of his smile, and the longing in his eyes, speak volumes.
Misguided by a lack of adult presence in his life (his mother is only seen once, briefly, and no other adults are ever shown) Harry makes a slew of ill-advised choices, beginning with stealing cannabis from his mother and replacing it with kitchen herbs, then finding and using her sex toy. Finally, driven to the edge by his own wanting, Harry makes a pass at Jamie, resulting in catastrophe. A heartbreaking and blunt slap of familiarity for anyone with similar experiences of closeted upbringings, desperate ill-fated attraction, and the terrifying notion of knowing yourself to be ‘other’. This short, gritty film is worth the watch.
Life as a young student with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is hard enough for Camila, but on top of that she has an obsessive crush on her roommate and very straight best friend. Such is the way of us all when we are infatuated by one person, we are unable to see anyone else, no matter how much better suited to us they might be. As an audience, we are frustrated with Camila for her blindness when she talks to an attractive, pleasantly nerdy girl at a party, instead spending her time watching her roommate kiss a stranger.
Camila’s two problems – her fixation on her roommate, and her fixation on counting everything around her – are only dispelled by a curious foray into the world of street magic. At first, she feels she understands it, able to guess correctly which cup the ball hides under, but later, when she can’t replicate this, she feels a need to master the tricks. Having no control over her desire for a woman that doesn’t want her, and no control over her illness, it is understandable that Camila feels the deep need to seize control of this skill. The constant magic practice both distracts her from her roommate, and her ticks, giving her something of her own to focus on. As her skill improves over a charming montage of fails and successes, so does Camila’s happiness. She is able to be there for her roommate without crossing a line.
Surface level emotion and a sweet, funny tale based around the ever-tragic ‘in love with the best friend’ trope. A feel-good watch with a hopeful ending.
Night Out (2018)
This utterly gorgeous film is a refreshingly new in its portrayal of a young, queer, Muslim girl on her first ever real ‘night out’ in a club. The film begins with a literal and metaphorical change of persona, as Meena, our sweet young protagonist, removes her hijab, her outer layers of clothing, and applies lipstick in the back of the car.
Over the course of the night, she catches the eye of the hot female bartender, drinks alcohol, smokes cigarettes and weed, and has a small breakdown in a toilet stall. In a beautiful visual representation of Meena’s conflicting feelings about her own sexuality, she hallucinates that the figures on the cubicle wallpaper are moving to engage in acts of lesbian sex. Obviously distressed by what she assumes is a lesbian attraction rearing its head, Meena finds the nearest man and kisses him, only to be almost instantly repulsed.
She stumbles outside to find the object of her unhappiness and homosexual thoughts – the bartender. They share a superficial, but somehow poignant conversation as they smoke in the cold outside of the club. By the end of the night, Meena’s whole world may have turned itself around, but she leaves with a smile.
This is a sweet, wonderfully put-together piece that really captures the hectic, swirling mess of a ‘night out’ and how a slice of time can pivot around a chance encounter.
To see the full list of short and feature length films that were shown during the BFI Flare’s LGBTQ+ Film Festival, check out their website.