BFI Flare: 11 must-see films at the UK’s biggest LGBTQ+ film festival

The 2023 BFI Flare programme features The Blue Caftan (Strand Releasing)

The annual BFI Flare Film Festival arrives at the Southbank in March, bringing with it a wealth of groundbreaking queer cinema.

Now in its 38th year, the BFI Flare has become Europe’s biggest LGBTQ+ film festival, and this year’s programme features a diverse and exciting mix of films, talks, discussions and parties.

BFI Flare senior programmer, Michael Blyth, described its legacy as “the best, most innovative and most boundary-pushing LGBTQIA+ stories from across the globe” while announcing a new addition to the lineup in the form of BFI Flare Expanded, a virtual reality museum that runs from 16-19 March.

Kokomo City still. (Sundance Institute/D Smith)
Kokomo Cityl. (Sundance Institute/D Smith)

There is a particular focus on trans stories this year, from a look at trans sex workers in America in Kokomo City, which won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival, to The Fabulous Ones, a moving ode to queer trans elders.

Flare will open with another Sundance success story, The Stroll, a deeply moving documentary about trans women of colour in New York.

The centrepiece presentation will feature Who Am I Not, an intimate portrait of two intersex South Africans, while the festival closes with Drifter, a story about a young man’s journey of self-discovery, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.

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From touching short films to conversation-starting documentaries, scroll ahead for eleven films to look out for at this year’s festival.

The Blue Caftan

This Oscar-shortlisted Moroccan film explores the tender love story between a married tailor, Halim and his young apprentice, Youssef. The film confronts desire, culture and love as the two form a beautiful bond.

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Polarized

From director Shamim Sharif, Polarized follows Daliah, a Palestinian woman forced to leave her home with her family. As they set up a new life in a small community, they take ownership of a farm. When Daliah clashes with employee Lisa, a bud of queer love is planted that soon blossoms into a commentary on class, religion and duty.

A Place of Our Own

When Laila and Roshni, two trans Indian women, are cast out of their home by their landlord, they go on a journey to find a new place to live. This story confronts prejudice, socio-economic injustice and the enduring strength of queer friendship.

Big Boys

Offering some light relief from the heaviness, Big Boys is a joyous coming-of-age-comedy about Jamie. While on a camping trip, he meets his cousin’s boyfriend, Dan, and experiences a teenage crush. As he come to terms with his own identity, we see all the hilarity and awkwardness that ensues.

A still from Big Boys. (BFI/Big Boys LLC)
A still from Big Boys. (BFI/Big Boys LLC)

XX + XY

Running with the coming-of-age theme, XX+XY is an endearing Korean drama about Jay, an intersex teen trying to navigate puberty. And his friendship with Sera and Wooram, soon spirals out of control into a messy love triangle.

Swallowed

Veering into the horror genre, Swallowed follows Maine-based budding porn star Benjamin and his best friend Dom. With Benjamin set to head to LA, they spend one final night together with unresolved feelings lingering in the air and a mysterious package to deliver. A true ode to queer horror.

Sea, Swallow Me

In this collection of short films, various writers explore the affinity between the LGBTQ+ community and water. From introspective to ethereal, dip your toe into these shorts that perfectly capture the messy fluidity of queerness.

Monica

Starring Transparent star Trace Lysette, we follow Monica, a transwoman cast out from by her mother Eugenia years ago. With her mum dying, Monica returns and connects with her past. Slowly but surely, a healing begins.

Little Richard: I Am Everything

This documentary shines a light on camp rock-and-roll icon Little Richard. Delving into his most iconic moments, it’s a candid portrait of the legend who blazed a trail for queer Black musicians. With testimony from Billy Porter, Elton John and more, don’t miss this one.

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A still from Little Richard: I Am Everything. (Magnolia Pictures International/BFI)
Little Richard: I Am Everything. (Magnolia Pictures International/BFI)

Willem & Frieda

Stephen Fry presents the world premiere of the stunning documentary, Willem and Frieda, which chronicles the astonishing true story of an openly gay man and a lesbian who led anti-Nazi resistance in Holland – and sacrificed their safety to do so.

Ageing With(out) You

Finally, bringing representation across age ranges, Ageing With(out) You, follows the stories of queer elders. From the legacy they have left behind to the path they have forged for young LGBTQ+ today, no stone is left unturned in this stunning set of shorts.

BFI Flare takes place from 15 to 26 March. The full programme is available here.

For those not able to attend the festival in person, selected short films will be available to watch on BBC iPlayer. More information is available here.

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