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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 28.Mar.21

35th BFI Flare shorts...
London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival • held virtually, 18-28.Mar.21

Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: FIVE FILMS FOR FREEDOM | Page 1 of 2

Tracing Utopia dir-scr Catarina de Sousa, Nick Tyson
with Jay, Asher, Chase, Raphael, Mars
21/Portugal 27m

Tracing Utopia  

Tracing Utopia A group of queer teens unites virtually in Queens to demand a better borough, calling for the eradication of gender segregation and teaching about sexuality issues to children from the beginning of school to establish respect and eliminate abuse. This intriguing documentary allows these kids to speak through phone screens about what they would say to the future and how they want to live. They also forcefully note that their chosen families love and respect them more than their biological ones do.

The film opens with a caption explaining that even a community of love carries the threat of destruction, because any time two people are together, there's the possibility of war. These articulate children understand precisely what is needed to make society a fairer place, specific actions that will create understanding between people and nip prejudice in the bud. They understand the importance of protests, even riots, to achieve freedoms. One jokes about being so done with this world that they want to build a rocket and go to mars.

The structure around these video clips is a bit distracting, with a range of portentous flourishes. More interesting are the virtual environments the teens design. And what they say is wonderful, including a particularly insightful brainstorming session by kids who actually know their world and the challenges it is facing. It's a hugely optimistic look at the future: if these young people are going to be in charge one day, there may be hope for humanity after all.

27.Mar.21 flare

nilsson and gharbia dir-scr Jerry Carlsson
with Erik Nilsson, Khalil Ben Gharbia, Elin Hugoson, Catrin Sjogren, Loubna El Aidi, Jernas Al-Aneza
20/Sweden 15m

The Night Train  
Nattåget   4/5

The Night Train Sharply well played by its two young stars, this remarkably observant short drama plays out in glances that say a lot more than the dialog does. And writer-director Carlsson shoots and edits this encounter adeptly, adding little touches of humour as well as a thrilling sense of expectation. It's expertly put together to carrey a strong kick of emotion, getting under the skin of the characters to explore their desires they can't quite express.

On a night train home after a job interview in Stockholm, the teen Oskar (Nilsson) is settling in to get some sleep when he spots Ahmad (Gharbia) sitting with his parents (Skogren and El Aidi) across the carriage. As Oscar becomes increasingly intrigued by this handsome, charismatic young stranger, their eyes meet, and Oskar is startled that Ahmad returns interest. Then when his mother and father fall asleep, Ahmad makes a move. And while he's nervous, Oskar has no choice but to reply.

There's a remarkable sensuality to the camerawork, which captures tiny moments in ways that feel exciting. It's clear that Oskar has never met someone who shares his hidden yearnings, so the way he reacts is gripping to watch, especially as Ahmad leads him along this journey. When they do find themselves alone and able to speak, their interaction is electric. It's also knowingly and amusingly realistic.

25.Mar.21 flare

chambers and carazo dir-scr Ruben Navarro
with Jonathan P Chambers, Luis Carazo, Jessica Spotts
20/US 14m

Of Hearts and Castles  

Of Hearts and Castles Warm and emotionally open, this heart-felt drama is shot in lushly colour-washed scenes that tap into the deeper thoughts of the central character, who speaks in voiceover in second person, as if he's giving a TED talk. It's an intriguing approach that sometimes feels a bit jarring or overstated, but also cuts through to knowing truths. And it's beautifully played by two strong young actors.

In Los Angeles, Marcus (Chambers) is still struggling five months after the breakup of his relationship. Then one evening he meets Angel (Carazo) in a bar and goes home with him, hoping to take away the pain, at least for awhile. As they connect, both are survived by the strong bond that builds between them, leading to an intensely personal conversation about their lives, their perceptions and the things they are beginning to see in each other.

There's a gimmicky but clever touch in the way Angel's heart is reversed in his body, so when they hug their hearts are touching. The unfolding scene between these men includes flashbacks to their cute meeting earlier in the evening, offering snippets of back-stories as they reveal their reactions to each other. Their stories include plenty of pain, and a reminder that no one else can do anything about your happiness: only you have that power. Both men clearly needed someone to talk to, and the film is a gentle reminder that we'll never get anywhere if we don't open up to others.

23.Mar.21 flare

lekakis and tabakakis dir-scr Thanasis Tsimpinis
with Michail Tabakakis, Nikos Lekakis
20/Greece 17m

Escaping the Fragile Planet  

Escaping the Fragile Planet Opening with a disclaimer that it was shot before the pandemic, this pink-hued Greek thriller has an inventively apocalyptic tone as it follows a young man facing extinction as the world is locked down. Writer-director Tsimpinis takes a fascinating look at how people react to impending disaster, focussing on the resilience of humanity. It's a beautiful comment on the power of an unexpected connection.

There are only a few hours left before the end of the world, and a young man (Tabakakis) sits alone in his apartment with his cat. Finally, he decides to venture outside into the toxic air, wearing a mask. When he hears music playing, he ventures indoors and finds a guy (Lekakis) in a basement record shop. Tired of waiting for the inevitable, they head out for a little adventure. And their conversation gets increasingly deep and intimate, perhaps even romantic.

The film is skilfully shot and edited, with a rosy haze filling the streets and a broad spectrum of hues in various shops and cafes, accompanied by muted sounds of panic outside. The ongoing interaction between these young men is tinged with humour and flirtation, as well as much more serious thoughts. Both speak about how they stopped hanging out with friends because they couldn't bear to see the fear in their faces. Being alone let them feel alive again, even if they're still afraid. And finding a surprise spark of attraction is magic.

25.Mar.21 flare

Baby Lies Truthfully dir Joseph Ingham
scr David Robilliard
narr Russell Tovey
20/UK 6m

Baby Lies Truthfully  

Baby Lies Truthfully This visual collage of archival imagery is accompanied by the witty and staggeringly powerful poetry of Robilliard, read with snappy personality by Tovey. With sharp editing by director Ingham, this brief film kicks off with energetic wit then subtly shifts the tone to be a vivid tribute to the late Robilliard's life and artistic gifts, all in his own words.

Clips are a range of old film footage depicting the history of gay life in London, inventively assembled to play on thoughts and feelings, from yearning for companionship to the instant gratification of random sex. And from the lively, colourful dance floors, scenes shift to hospital Aids wards (including clips of Rock Hudson), the safe sex movement, a range of political issues and more intensely personal realities of seeking romance in all the wrong places.

Robillard's poetry bursts with attitude, offering observations and opinions about looking for love and sex in bars and clubs, then struggling with unsatisfying short-lived relationships. As it continues, the work becomes increasingly emotional, a cry for someone to share life with. The words are visceral, riveting and moving, and combined with this electrical collection of footage it has a strong impact.

23.Mar.21 flare

shakur and eisen-martin dir-scr Elegance Bratton, Jovan James
with Malik Shakur, Biko Eisen-Martin, Gabe Peyton, Simbi Kali, Bruce Jackson, Antoinne, Alex Egner, Tarzan Balenciaga
20/US 14m


Buck Beautifully shot with a terrific sense of physicality, this short drama is drenched in colour as it follows a young man through a rabbit hole into an unfamiliar world, then back into the morning light. It's a thoughtful and very personal approach that has striking resonance, even if filmmakers Bratton and James are a little heavy-handed with their insistent messaging.

While his mother (Kali) worries about how he's coping with his depression, Lynn (Shakur) heads out in the night to attend a sex party on a boat, using the password "buck" to gain access. But he's only there to meet up with his friend Richard (Peyton), and he struggles with all of the attention he gets from the other guys. He's also leery of the pervasive drug use, but gives in. Escaping back into the city in a wasted haze, he's rescued by a stranger (Eisen-Martin).

There's a strong cautionary edge to this story that makes it feel rather preachy, presenting the party as a hellishly invasive nightmare before shifting into something much more complex and interesting. The actors are excellent across the board, conveying strong layers of subtext that feed into what becomes an urgent comment on the things we have to do to survive everyday life.

25.Mar.21 flare

Fabunmi dir Joe Cohen
with Bisi Alimi, Damoshe Kard, Ade Fabunmi
20/UK 38m

Above the Troubled Water  

Above the Troubled Water Almost a feature, this documentary visits a group of Nigerian friends who fled their homeland in order to survive. They were regularly attacked for being gay, so they set out to change the system by fighting for equal rights. Based around conversations with them, this thoughtful, observant film explores issues from unequal HIV treatment to rising violence against the trans community and sex workers. The way filmmaker Cohen cuts between stories is a little random and meandering, but the deeper issues are urgent, and these men are inspiring.

In 2004, former actor Bisi was the first person to come out on national television in Nigeria, where gay people can be imprisoned for up to 14 years. The backlash was huge, so he had to flee to London. Now an international rights activist, Bisi travels to Durban to make a speech at the International Aids Conference, reuniting with his friend Darrell from home. He also visits his friend Damoshe in New York. An aspiring nurse, Damoshe speaks about how his rights were taken from him back home, something made worse because his father was an Islamic scholar. And in Toronto, design student Ade says he had to leave Lagos simply because he looked feminine. His life is safer here, apart from his reliance on the drugs he needs and wants.

These men have big personalities and eloquently express their honest feelings about the oppressive prejudice in their home country. Their anecdotes mix happy memories of camaraderie and much more harrowing moments of real peril. They speak about how they were forced to take action because their lives were at risk from violence, death threats and discrimination in medical treatment. And they know firsthand that Africa can't afford to wait another 10 years to eliminate this systemic bigotry.

27.Mar.21 flare

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall