BFI London Film Festival – LGBT Highlights

BFI London Film Festival is almost here, so here’s a look at the LGBT highlights from the considerable roster of films.

If you’re after the full programme, go here, but let’s take a look at the LGBT interest films for this year’s BFI Film Festival.

First up on our list is King Cobra, which has caused a little bit of a stir already. This is directed by Justin Kelly, and stars James Franco, Christian Slater, Garrett Clayton, Keegan Allen, Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald.

“Continuing to explore the darker facets of queer culture, Justin Kelly follows up his provocative 2015 BFI Flare opener I Am Michael with a salacious journey into the murky underworld of gay porn, drugs and murder. When independent adult entertainment mogul Stephen first meets fresh-faced 17-year-old Sean Paul Lockhart, he sees a star. Contract signed and name changed, Sean is reborn as Brent Corrigan, the hottest new adult performer on the scene.”

“But as Corrigan’s popularity grows, so does his suspicion that his producer is exploiting him, and when a pair of unscrupulous rival porn producers set their sights on the fame hungry star, a deadly plan unfolds. A down and dirty tale of ruthless ambition and moral depravity, Kelly’s ripped-from-the-headlines slice of LA sleaze features a striking against-type performance from former Disney star Garrett Clayton as the avaricious Corrigan, alongside a surfeit of familiar faces all clearly revelling in the film’s fiendish charms.”


King Cobra

Next up is The Pass, with Russell Tovey and directed by Ben A Williams. We can’t seem to give this film enough love, as we also highlighted it in the programme.

“In a Bulgarian hotel room, the night before an important match, two aspiring Premier League footballers anxiously await the 90 minutes that could define their future careers. As the teammates trade playful insults and chat about girls, fame and the beautiful game, a simmering tension permeates the air. With the atmosphere almost at breaking point, one of the men leans in to kiss the other, a move that profoundly impacts both of their lives.”

“Intelligently adapted by John Donnelly from his own acclaimed play, director Ben A Williams brings a subtle sense of the cinematic to this intimate and urgent chamber piece (which opened BFI Flare this year), without losing any of the claustrophobic familiarity that made it such a sensation on the stage. Reprising his role from the original Royal Court production, Russell Tovey is a sensation as a young man battling internalised desires and self-hatred, ably matched by dynamic performances from the rest of the impressive cast.”


The Pass

BFI Film Festival also has a film by the name of Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins and starring Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Trevante Rhodes.

“Miami. The 1980s. Chiron is a reticent child, different from the other kids at school. There’s something about the way he walks, the way he talks, that has others guessing before he does, in an environment where queerness is just not an option. Junkie Ma (a tightly-wound Naomie Harris) is no help in navigating these waters, so Chiron turns to local drug kingpin Juan (played with charismatic gravitas by Mahershala Ali), who offers the kind of leadership and emotional support that he so sorely needs.”

“And Juan’s relationship with his girlfriend (Janelle Monáe in an auspicious onscreen debut) offers the blueprint for an equal relationship. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney and journeying across three time periods, we witness key moments in the formation of Chiron’s masculinity and how in turn, these moments come to define his sexuality.”

“Barry Jenkins’ debut feature Medicine For Melancholy (LFF2008) earned him many fans, including Steven Soderbergh and Brad Pitt, who is a producer here. Moonlight makes good on that film’s promise, delivering a restrained yet intoxicating story with genuine emotional power. It’s consistently surprising and brimming with formal invention, from camera movement to the richly evocative imagery. Grand in scope but intimate in execution, make Moonlight your discovery.”



Our next offering is from a female director, Certain Women by Kelly Reichardt and starring Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams.

“The LFF has long loved Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass, Old Joy and most recently, Night Moves). Certain Women reunites her with Michelle Williams (Wendy & Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff) for a story about the lives of three very different women in Livingstone, Montana, a town of only 7,000 residents. Laura Dern’s lawyer is conducting a surreptitious lunchtime affair with a married man while defending a disgruntled construction worker (Jared Harris) in a workplace accident suit.”

“Williams is Gina, a woman of frustrated ambitions attempting to build a ‘perfect’ family with her husband and surly child, but struggling with her own slippery ethics as she tries to get things done in the sleepy town. And Native American actor Lily Gladstone rounds off the trio, playing lonely ranch hand Jamie, who enrols in a night school course and develops confusing feelings for supply teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart).”

“It’s all-round stellar work from an impeccable cast, with striking discovery Gladstone particularly sublime as the near-silent figure struggling to articulate the nature of her interest in Beth. Drawing from Montana-native Maile Meloy’s short stories, Reichardt’s delicate, nuanced direction ensures that the minutest look or gesture gains epic significance. And the only moment in the film to employ scored music is so overwhelming it might just break your heart.”


Certain Women

Another LGBT interest highlight is Rara, directed by Pepa San Martin and starring Julia Lübbert, Emilia Ossandón and Mariana Loyola.

“Adolescent Sara lives with her younger sister Catalina, her mother Paula and her mother’s partner Lía, but also spends time with her father and his new partner. With teenage angst, however, comes an enhanced awareness of how the family dynamic is viewed outside the home. Suddenly things Sara had taken for granted appear strange and unusual, and a series of factors intrude to disrupt the life that Paula and Lía have created for the girls.”

“Co-written by director Alicia Scherson, this is a deft coming-of-age tale inspired by the case of a Chilean judge who lost custody of her children as a result of her sexuality. Director Pepa San Martín brilliantly conveys both the humour of the family’s domestic life and the wider, more insidious ways in which a parent’s behaviour intrudes on their children’s lives, confidently allowing the action to unfold without commentary or judgement.”

Our next offering has dual directors/producers, as Taekwondo is by Marco Berger and Martin Farina. This stars Gabriel Epstein, Lucas Papa, and Nicolás Barsoff.

“In a picturesque country house in Buenos Aires, Fernando gathers his mates for a boys-only vacation. Free from work, responsibilities and their girlfriends, this close-knit gang of bros kick back by the pool, sunning their impeccably toned bodies and sharing pot-fuelled stories of sexual conquests. The guys have known each other for years, only this time Fernando has brought with him newcomer Germán, a friend from his taekwondo class, who neglects to tell the group that he’s gay.”

“As the lazy summer days disappear, the connection between Fernando and Germán grows and slowly the boundaries of their relationship begin to blur. A veritable masterclass in will-they-won’t-they suspense, this gloriously protracted, beautifully nuanced tease is both wantonly titillating and disarmingly sweet. Working with co-director Martín Farina, Marco Berger’s inquisitive camera luxuriates in the homoerotics of this male-centric milieu, lingering longingly over the semi-clad bodies with unapologetic gay abandon.”



Group efforts are a bit of a theme at the moment as Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? is directed by Tomer Heymann and Barak Heymann, and co-directed by Alexander Bodin Saphir.

“Saar is an Israeli living in London, driven away from his Kibbutz by his family’s response to his homosexuality and HIV-positive status, but also by his own fear of rejection. The lure of home and family is deep-rooted, however, and although he’s made a new life for himself within the close-knit, loving community of London Gay Men’s Chorus, he yearns for acceptance from his parents and siblings, in particular his stern father.”

“Following Saar in the UK and his Israeli-based family over many years, the Heymann Brothers (Mr Gaga LFF2015) skilfully construct an intimate and nuanced portrait of a man growing up and coming to terms both with himself and his family, just as they do him. It’s a tender but affirmative exploration of the LGBT migrant experience and an assertion that minds and attitudes only change through communication. In Saar, Tomer and Barak Heymann have found one of the year’s biggest-hearted subjects.”

Who's Gonna Love Me Now?

Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?

Next up is Jewel’s Catch One, directed by Scr C. Fitz, and starring Sharon Stone, Thelma Houston and Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King.

“In 1973, Jewel Thais-Williams invested her last $500 in a ground floor bar in an unfashionable corner of Los Angeles. The idea that an openly gay black woman could be a business owner was near unthinkable at the time. Yet within two years, Jewel owned the whole building, converting the first floor into ‘Catch One’ nightclub, a sanctuary for LA’s black LGBT community which earned it the moniker ‘the Studio 54 of the West Coast’.”

“The story of this club, which thrived for an extraordinarily long 42 years, is presented with verve and passion. Archive footage is interspersed by interviews with celebrity frequenters Sharon Stone, Madonna, Thelma Houston, Sandra Bernhard and Bonnie Pointer. But the true heart of the film lies in the portrait that emerges of Jewel – a community leader and activist who continues to dedicate her life to helping others.”

Jewel's Catch One

Jewel’s Catch One

And finally, to wrap things off we have It’s Only the End of the World by Xavier Dolan and starring Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux.

“The deserving recipient of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, visionary director Xavier Dolan (Mommy, Heartbeats) adds a thrilling new addition to his string of emotionally volatile, visually sumptuous melodramas. Based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play Juste la fin du monde, this taut chamber piece follows terminally ill writer Louis (an arresting Gaspard Ulliel), who returns home to break the news of his debilitating condition to his estranged family (a powerhouse cast including Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel).”

“Once there, old wounds and deep seated frustrations surface as Louis struggles to rekindle relationships and articulate the real reason for his unexpected visit. Continuing to prove himself a master visual craftsman, Dolan’s bold artistic choices effectively strip the film of its theatrical roots. ”

“Shot almost entirely in uncomfortable, claustrophobic close-ups, this may be his most aesthetically divisive film yet, although such showmanship never threatens to overshadow the aching sadness that permeates every scene. Although based on another man’s work, the overarching themes of isolation, miscommunication and the queer experience which form the backbone of this arduous family reunion feel decidedly Dolan, albeit a more mature and intimate version than we have seen before.”

It's Only the End of the World

It’s Only the End of the World

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BFI London Film Festival - LGBT Highlights
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BFI London Film Festival - LGBT Highlights
Here are the LGBT highlights from the BFI London Film Festival.