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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Apr.23

BFI Flare: Five Films for Freedom 2023  
Reviews by Rich Cline
Five Films for Freedom
#FiveFilmsForFreedom available 15-26.Mar.23

BFI Flare

All I Know
Presented by the British Film Institute and the British Council, this annual collection of short films taps into enormous global issues with deeply personal dramas. This year's inspiring shorts come from five continents and represent a range of experiences that have wider resonances beyond the sometimes harrowing LGBTQ+ experiences they depict. They're also superbly well-made films made by skilled cast and crew members who should be praised for taking on these important themes.

Eating Pawpaw on the Seashore
dir-scr Rae Wiltshire
with Rae Wiltshire, Isaiah Lewis, Sonia Yarde, Mark Luke-Edwards, Dexter Gardener, Hansraj Arjun, Akbar Singh
22/Guyana 18m

Eating Pawpaw on the Seashore 

Eating Pawpaw on the Seashore There's a tactile, almost hushed quality to this short, which zeroes in on the unspoken things between two boys. Intriguingly, the tropical setting is rendered as grey and cloudy, while the drama is skilfully underplayed to create an easy physicality. Excellent camerawork keeps the audience engaged, while the story circles around scenes involving food, which evokes real memories and feelings.

Teenage boys Hasani and Asim spend their days swimming in the sea then cooking in the kitchen, teasing each other and relaxing when Uncle Abdul turns up and interrupts their private idyll. Later, they share a kiss. Then Hasani suggests that they need to take a break from each other. Asim is annoyed: "What are you afraid you'll turn into?" But separated, their friends and family notice that they have become sullen and isolated, and try to cheer them up.

Actor-filmmaker Wiltshire beautifully captures the connection between these two young men, finding warm, sweet and even sexy textures in their scenes together, even if there's also a slight underlying hint of menace. They understand that they can only be together when it's dark and no one can see, and the thought of living like this forever is heartbreaking. The film's loose, offbeat structure keeps this from being too heavy, but the point is strong.


Butch Up
dir Lee Yu-jin
with Kwon Eun-hye, Choi Dae-un, Yoon Dong-won, Choi Ha-neul, Park Dong-il, Lee Jeong-soo, Mina Hong, Seo Yeon
22/Korea 12m

Butch Up 

Butch Up Sharply well shot, this film maintains a strong focus on the lead actor's face, which reveals strong internal feelings along the way. It's a strikingly involving little story, as filmmaker Lee Yu-jin skilfully captures the central character's sense of yearning for a place where she fits in.

Because she is feeling so unsure about her life, singer Mi-hae (Kwon) is dumped by both her band and her girlfriend. So now she's busking in the streets, where she meets the colourful celebrity Chae-Chae and they become friends when Mi-hae rescues her from intrusive fans. After they get to know each other, Chae-Chae introduces Mi-hae to her band as their new singer, saying this will be a much better fit.

There's not much to this film, which skims along breezily. It's very well-made, packed with terrific actors and cool music. But in the end, it's little more that a depiction of a feeling. Because she's been cast adrift for being herself, Mi-hae thinks there's nowhere in the world for her until she finds her tribe. Perhaps a bit more back-story and a more complex resolution might have given it a more resonant kick.


dir Terry Loane
scr Gerard McCarthy
with Roisin Gallagher, Martin McCann, Daniel Willis, Darcey McNeeley, Tara Lynne O'Neill, Sean Kearns, Claire Kieran, Tracey Lynch
21/UK 20m

Just Johnny 

Just Johnny From Northern Ireland, this short is written and shot with the high production values of a feature film. The script is packed with snappy dialog, and the characters are especially lively, which helps director Terry Loane explore some serious topics in a light but educational way. It may be a bit goofy in the way it calls out bigots, but it's also thoroughly charming. And it ends on a big collective cheer.

When preteen Johnny (Willis) puts a princess dress on at school, his dad Dermot (McCann) is furious. But his mum Maria (Gallagher) assures Johnny that he has done nothing wrong, and can dress however he wants. When Johnny asks her if he can wear a dress for his first holy communion, Dermot puts his foot down. And the parish priest (Kearns) won't allow it either. But Maria knows that Johnny simply won't be happy in a suit. And his friends know it too.

McCarthy's script cleverly isolates that point where a young child is determined to be normal, even if it feels all wrong for him. So the film can gently take on the deep-rooted homophobia in both the church and most families. Dermot is well-meaning, wanting to protect Johnny from ridicule, but he misses the bigger point. And the story is asking the audience to consider why anyone makes such a big deal of any of this. The important point is that nobody gets to pick the bits of their children that they're proud of and reject the rest. You either love unconditionally or you don't love at all.


dir-scr Savvas Stavrou
with Andreas Marcou, Adnan Mustafa, Charalambos Damianou, Vaggelis Xeni, Michalis Kanavos, Constantinos Georgiou, Demetris Pouroullis, Victoras Panayiotou
23/Cyprus 17m

Buffer Zone 

Buffer Zone With a fascinating setting, this film cleverly plays with issues of masculinity, opening with a wrestling match in a lockerroom. It then goes on to explore a longing for a deeper, more honest connection, even amid these noisy macho antics. It's a visceral, tactile and surprising little drama.

Set in the no man's land between Greek and Turkish Cyprus, the film hones in on a lonely young soldier who spots another guy like him in the opposite outpost. When one breaks out singing along with Bon Jovi on his walkman, the other joins in. And the next day, they duet to Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill, leading to a moment of unexpected camaraderie. But the dream is short-lived as real life reasserts itself.

Writer-director Stavrou shoots this beautifully with very little dialog, telling the story through subtle expressions and a bit of magical realism. It's a clever way to bridge a hideous manmade barrier, remaining engaging and sweet even as it reminds us that the world is a divided place that is unfriendly for anyone who doesn't fit neatly into a box. But it's full of touches that are subtly insinuating, moving and hopeful.


dir-scr Obinna Robert Onyeri
with Chimezie Imo, Delroy Norman, Ayobami Adeniji, Ejiro Onojaife, Emeka Darlington, Peter Lawyer, Ugo Mozie, Ebenezer Alasi
23/Nigeria 16m

All I Know 

All I Know Lushly well-shot to create a strong visual sensibility, this Nigerian drama is a bit hushed as its story becomes increasingly disturbing. Using terrific locations and colourful textures, writer-director Obinna Robert Onyeri quietly allows the gravity of the situation to become increasingly clear.

During dinner, Ebube (Imo) becomes annoyed that his friend Dapo (Norman) is preoccupied with his phone, setting up a hookup on an app and rushing off. Then the next day, Dapo misses an appointment and stops replying to messages. His sister (Onojaife) begins to worry about him. So Ebube goes to find Dapo's ex Gerald (Darlington) for help, but he doesn't want to talk about it. So Ebube begins to imagine the worst-case scenario.

All of this unfolds at a realistically hesitant, meandering pace, as the intrigue around Dapo's disappearance grows. This adds a creepy tension to the film, because no one can speak honestly about the situation for legal reasons: being gay can carry a 10-year prison sentence in Nigeria. So how do you find your friend if no one will talk? And the depiction of Ebube's imagination is downright horrific. Which makes the film deeply haunting.


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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall