Why do I have mixed feelings about this Film Festival?

Taking Woodstock, Demetri Martin,Imelda Staunton

Calling all movie-loving Londoners! Are you going to the exciting film festival that’s opening on the South Bank today?

Taking place at the BFI Southbank, this colourful movie gala, apparently the UK’s third largest film festival, will be showcasing hundreds of films and featuring numerous special themed events.

There are opportunities to see new films from all over the world, plus a whole load of  vintage movies and there will also be screenings of some recently released big titles including the Bafta-winning A Single Man and the latest Ang Lee offering Taking Woodstock.

And that’s not all – the festival programme also includes special events such as filmmaking workshops, club nights and a 60s-inspired retro disco. It’s also supported by numerous big names including Lord of the Rings favourite Sir Ian McKellen and everybody’s dream dinner party guest Stephen Fry.

Many of the screenings are sold out already, it’s that popular, but the festival continues until the end of the month so you’re still in with a chance of some tickets if you book now.

I bet you can’t wait to find out more can you?

A Single Man,Nicholas Hoult

So here you go – check out all you need to know about this year’s BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival here.

What? You’ve suddenly lost interest?

Hmm, you see, no matter how gay-friendly you are, let’s face it, if you’re heterosexual, you’re probably going to feel alienated by an event that calls itself the ‘London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.’ I don’t expect that’s because you’re narrow-minded or anti-gay. It’s simply because this title sounds exclusive.

I personally spend most of my film and TV-viewing time watching stories that feature largely heterosexual characters, but even though I’m not heterosexual I don’t give it that much thought. I’d love to see more diverse representation, but as far as I’m concerned, people are essentially the same and should be able to relate to any human story.

Taking Woodstock

However, I have to say that if I found myself presented with a ‘London Heterosexual Film Festival’ I’d feel a slightly alienated thanks to that exclusive title.

I tried a little experiment over the past week. I asked each one of my movie buff heterosexual London friends if they were going to see anything at this year’s Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. It was interesting. Unsurprisingly, none of them were planning to attend, and some seemed utterly bewildered that I’d even asked the question.

These aren’t the types of people to shy away from gay-themed films when they’re integrated with other mainstream film releases, but it seems to be a different matter if a movie is flagged up as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’.

This is why I have mixed feelings about the LLGFF.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that gay and lesbian filmmakers, screenwriters and actors get a platform to showcase their talent and I’m happy that it exists and happy to give it my support – I’ve been a fan on Facebook for a while.

This film festival is hugely popular, the third largest in the UK. Why? Because most movies made available to Londoners across the average year don’t even feature gay characters or storylines, so this festival makes up that shortfall. Gay and lesbian audiences, eager to see themselves represented on screen for a change, buy up tickets way in advance.

But why is it that I don’t see that many of these gay or lesbian-themed movies getting mainstream releases?

A SINGLE MAN, COLIN FIRTH

Surely something needs to change?

As A Single Man star Colin Firth recently pointed out – Hollywood is reluctant to recognise the talent of the gay and lesbian community and continues to favour heterosexual actors, heterosexual storylines, and insists on watering down the ‘gayness’ of the two or three gay-themed films it handles each year by placing well-known heterosexual actors into the roles.

I love you Philip Morris

You may have heard about the Jim Carrey film I Love You Phillip Morris? It stars big heterosexual filmstar Carrey as a gay con man and co-stars Ewan McGregor as his lover. It premiered to rave reviews at Sundance. Yet, despite the rave reviews and the big stars, this movie struggled to get a US distributor for ages. In this day and age, how can this be? (I love You Phillip Morris is not showing at the LLGFF, but it is released in cinemas in the UK today).

With this anti-gay Hollywood issue achieving increased prominence this year, I can’t help but think that this would have been the perfect time for the BFI and the LLGFF programmers to jump onto the bandwagon to push for change and raise awareness further.

In fact, I wish we’d seen the festival programmers send out a different message this year.  It surely would have been forward-thinking to extend a welcome to the wider London community to come and check out a programme of the great films that don’t make it into the mainstream because distributors are too scared to take them.

I’d love to see steps being taken towards a more inclusive film industry across the board. I’d love to see UK distributors releasing more gay and lesbian themed movies. I’d love to see some sort of lobbying for change.

Daniel Radcliffe

And, I’d also love to see more big filmstars (including those across the pond) raising awareness over gay issues, just as Colin Firth, Ian McKellen and Daniel Radcliffe have done recently.

As you can see from my heated ramblings, this film festival has provided much food for thought.

In fact, this one is a great topic for a lively dinner party discussion. You’re welcome any time Stephen.


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6 Responses to Why do I have mixed feelings about this Film Festival?

  1. adam hope says:

    Whilst I agree with most of your comments I would like to add that there appears to be a huge discrepancy within the programming of LGBT films at this festival. British gay films are not heavily represented which seems a shame given the taxpayer subsidy that the festival receives. If it is the 3rd largest festival in the UK surely it can showcase and promote British films? Other commentators on the facebook page have highlighted films that are British but not in the festival? SHANK was one such film that I looked for last year and this year but a cursory google reveals that it’s played all over the world…..it appears the same film makers have made another film called RELEASE – http://www.release-movie.co.uk and that’s not screening either? Someone has commented that only 14 feature films from the UK were submitted – this includes a performance piece , 2 docs and a TV drama so that leaves 10 films from the UK not represented? We should be championing home talent alongside the international content?

    From my own perspective the BFI run LLGFF has long since forgotten the political roots from whence this festival grew. I have personally stood in the foyer of the Southbank and witnessed ‘straight’ cinema goers turn on their heels and denounce the gay festival upon realising there was nothing for them to see – the BFI should address this? Perhaps a gay strand in the London Film Festival is long overdue – like they have in Berlin and Toronto and other larger festivals?

  2. Lottie says:

    I agree, a strand in the larger festival would be more inclusive.

  3. r4 dsi says:

    How would this work? The two “recently released big titles” you mention, A Serious Man and Taking Woodstock, both played in last year’s London Film Festival. Should these screenings be given a LGBT label?

  4. adam hope says:

    Taking Woodstock is not really a gay film is it? Just because a film has a gay scene or a gay character does that make it wholly gay or worthy of an LGBT label. Take My Hand in the the LLGFF also called Donne moi le main – has one gay sequence, the director is gay and the actors are not BUT does that make it a gay film? I think you also mean A Single Man. Additionally – SHOULD these two films A Single Man and Taking Woodstock be in the LLGFF if already played in the LFF? And what about the parlous lack of British films?

    The London festival could open it up by having a Gay Prize for film – just like the Teddy in Berlin…..that would cover all films made up of all the above anomalies…

  5. Beth says:

    I really like the idea of a gay prize for film in the LFF. Giving films LGBT labelling in the festival would just deter heterosexual audiences, but having a gay award would raise awareness of outstanding LGBT movies. It would also help ensure a decent quota of movies with LGBT content.

  6. adam hope says:

    A prize and inclusion of gay films in the LFF might also be the conduit to holding Sandra Hebron and Brian Robinson to account – afterall in last year’s Independent Interview Brian Robinson suggested that there was NO emerging talent in gay cinema in the UK and that those that did make gay films were NOT taking advantage of the festival – truth of the matter is that the BFI only programmes 3.5% of the feature film programming in the LLGFF with British films which means that 96.5% of the British taxpayers money is being spent on international films being supported in a British festivsal – why is this? No other festival in the world would do this? This years BFI run LLGFF had 14 feature project submissions – they chose to screen 6 projects (1 x BBC TV Drama, 1 x Installation/Experimental art piece, 2 x Docs and 2 x films) against 51 features from around the world. Across the 160+ feature slots provided across the festival – the BFI couldn’t find 12 slots to screen all 12 British features projects….it’s a disgrace and shameful. I’ve tried to discuss this with the bFI and they stonewall you or block you or accuse you of harassing them for answers…..they are publicly funded and therefore publicly accountable…come on people ….let’s get real and question Sandra Hebron and Brian Robinson and Michael Blyth and Amanda Nevill about their lack of support for British films whilst taken British taxpayer’s money to pay their salaries and pensions.!!!

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