Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds

MASS IN MOTION
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Moses Sumney

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE
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Watch Quarrel, the jaw-dropping new video from KAOS favourite Moses Sumney. And read his latest interview, with the Los Angeles Times.

Aromanticism is out now.

It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer

MASS IN MOTION
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Jussie Smollett

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE
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Watch Hurt People, the latest from Jussie Smollett. The FADER has a fantastic interview with him. Get it.

Hurt People is out now.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change

MASS IN MOTION
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Baby Yors

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE
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Watch Bad Influence, the latest from Baby Yors.

Bad Influence is out now.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind

MASS IN MOTION
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Check It

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"At first glance, they seem unlikely gang-bangers. Some of the boys wear lipstick and mascara, some stilettos. They carry Louis Vuitton bags, but they also carry knives, brass knuckles and mace. As vulnerable gay and transgender youth, they’ve been shot, stabbed, and raped. Once victims, they’ve now turned the tables, beating people into comas and stabbing enemies with ice picks. Started in 2009 by a group of bullied 9th graders, today these 14-22 year old gang members all have rap sheets riddled with assault, armed robbery, and drug dealing charges. Led by an ex-convict named Mo, Check It members are now creating their own clothing label, putting on fashion shows and working stints as runway models. But breaking the cycle of poverty and violence they’ve grown up in is a daunting task. Life for the Check It can be brutal, but – it’s also full of hope and an indomitable resilience. At its heart, CHECK IT explores the undying friendship that exists between these kids – an unbreakable bond that is tested every day as they fight to stand up for who they are in a community relentlessly trying to beat them down."

As I mentioned in my review of BFI Flare short Wood, I keep hearing how gay films are all the same. And whilst I couldn't disagree more, real disruptors are rare. Check It is a disruptor. Or, put another way, Check It is an answer to the danger of the single story.

You want different? This is the story - the true story - of a LGBT "gang" who decided to fight back. Skittles (pictured below) might pose and prance, but look at him the wrong way and he'll knock you out. And he will knock you out.


But this is no superhero fantasy. Often, gay cinema shows us the tragic aftermath of homophobic bullying and parental rejection - murder, suicide - as dramatic bookends, but Check It shows us the daily slog of LGBT youth surviving by any means necessary. Surviving, but not thriving.


Filmmakers Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer followed the gang for six years to make their film, but it sometimes feels like we're only seeing part of the picture. It's not without its problems. Flor and Oppenheimer give air time to statements that are homophobic and transphobic. That these views go unchallenged seems, to me, representative of the world. This is what the Check It live with. It is they, and they alone, who challenge these views. Passively observing as an audience makes us complicit, reinforcing the fact these most marginalised of people are on their own. But black and trans author and activist Kuchenga sees things differently, and has branded the film "torture porn."

Going back to the danger of a single story, although Check It disrupts the usual narrative we see in gay film, there's an elephant in the room. A white elephant, you might say. As Kuchenga says, "We have to empower trans and queer people of color to make and tell our own stories in order for our objectification to not be so cheap."

It's a minefield, and you can't talk about a film like Check It without also talking about objectification and exploitation. So do see this important, powerful film, but read what black voices have to say about it, too.

A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it

MASS IN MOTION
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Saturday Church

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"14-year-old Ulysses, a shy and effeminate boy, who finds himself coping with new responsibilities as 'man of the house' after the death of his father. Living alongside his mother, younger brother, and conservative aunt, Ulysses is also struggling with questions about his gender identity. He finds an escape by creating a world of fantasy filled with dance and music. Ulysses’ journey takes a turn for the better when he encounters a vibrant transgender community, who take him to 'Saturday Church,' a program for LGBTQ youth. Ulysses manages to keep his two worlds apart; appeasing his aunt and discovering his passion for the NYC ball scene, and voguing, until his double life is revealed."

Given the cult legacy of Paris Is Burning, it's odd that film rarely visits the vogue scene. One of my favourite movies of all time is Leave It On The Floor, Sheldon Larry's glorious and criminally underrated love letter to ballroom culture, now joined by Damon Cardasis' glittering jewel of a film, Saturday Church.

The picture is carried on the young shoulders of Luka Kain (with whom there's a nice interview here), who at 17-years-old is already a showbiz veteran. He's a joy to behold, and the scenes of him tentatively practicing his voguing skills as he walks down the street are sure to melt even the iciest heart. Like Ashton Sanders in Moonlight, he makes you feel what he feels.


In common with Leave It On The Floor, Saturday Church is punctuated by musical numbers, and because I'm a big, soppy queen, my personal favourite is (So Lost) Without You, not least because it showcases the vocal talents of the obscenely beautiful Marquis Rodriguez. The film's depiction of a "found family" (the family we choose, or who choose us) is buoyed by strong performances from Kate Bornstein, Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore and Alexia Garcia.


If I have one criticism it's that there's not enough of it. At just over an hour and twenty minutes, Saturday Church is on the shorter end of the spectrum, and it feels like some hinted at plot points are unexplored (Ulysses' relationship with Raymond, for example). But, as they say, always leave 'em wanting more.

Saturday Church is an absolute joy. I'll be coming back again, and again.

...we need to bear in mind that our opinion of other people, our ties with friends or family, have only the semblance of fixity and are, in fact, as eternally fluid as the sea


MASS IN MOTION
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BFI Flare 2018: God's Own Country

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"Johnny Saxby, a young, isolated Yorkshire farmer indulges in binge-drinking and casual sex to compensate for his everyday frustrations. But when a handsome Romanian worker is hired to help with the demands of lambing season, an unexpected relationship develops between the pair, leading Johnny to question the decisions he has made in his life."

God's Own Country is, like Call Me By Your Name, that other gay movie we're told is a must-see. It's the best, Jerry. The Best!

I don't know about you, but that kind of hype is a big turn off for me, for reasons I went into with my review of Call Me By Your Name. I've an inbuilt resistance to hype, and so, since I sit down in the theatre with grave misgivings, these films gain the unintended advantage of rock bottom expectations.

Media pre-approval aside, God's Own Country doesn't have a lot in common with its much-hyped sister. It is a story of sexual awakening, and coming of age in the countryside, but rough (albeit very good-looking) Yorkshire farmer Johnny (Josh O'Connor) is a world away from Name's privileged twink Elio. And you can't get further removed from Armie Hammer's smarmy American Oliver than Romanian immigrant Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu).


But, ee, it's grim up north! We do love a bit of misery in gay cinema, don't we? I was able to open my first three film festival reviews with exactly the same line: "for (insert protaganist's name) life in an (insert name of place) backwater ain't a lot of fun."

For Johnny, it's grimmer than it is for most. A bit too grim, in fact. Big Gay Picture Show reviewer Tim Issac is a former farm boy himself (settle down at the back) and feels they over egged the pudding a bit. But for me, Johnny's depressing Groundhog Day slog sells the transformation Gheorghe's arrival brings about.


With the wild landscape, raw romance, and that sex scene (surely destined to become iconic) there's been lazy comparisons with Brokeback Mountain. God's Own Country is much, much better than that, and the ending is a refreshing divergence from gay cinema's norm.

An intelligent, poignant film that lives up to the hype, whilst managing to surprise and delight.


BFI Flare 2018: Call Me By Your Name

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"When Oliver (Armie Hammer) visits a family’s rural Italian villa over the course of one summer, young Elio (Oscar-nominated Timothée Chalamet) finds his life turned upside down. His father, an academic and archaeologist, has invited Oliver to help him with his research. The suave American easily fits into this world, becoming a fixture with the gamblers in the local cafe and making everyone fall in love with his effortless athletic enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Elio’s obsession with Oliver becomes overwhelming as the weeks go by. Dare he hope for more than friendship?"

Here's a confession: I didn't want to like Call Me By Your Name. I came to the screening with rock bottom expectations (despite having read, and enjoyed, André Aciman's novel of the same name), determined to be be proven right.

In part, this was down to ear ache from the incessant hype this film has generated since it was first mooted. The heterosexuality of the two leads (Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet) niggled me, too. Gay for pay doesn't necessarily make a rotten tomato, but it's never a bonus. And then there was the suspicion that this was the gay movie the mainstream gay media really wanted. You know, "Moonlight was all well and good, but that was about blacks. This movie's really about us... "

And, with its precocious, privileged protagonist on the continent, the reek of the sickeninly bourgeoisie Departure (my personal film bête noire) also haunted Call Me By Your Name.


And it was looking dicey for a while. Initially, Chalamet's Elio didn't endear himself to me, and Hammer just doesn't have the legs for the kind of shorts he parades around in. (Please dear, put them away. You ain't Simeon Panda.) But, gradually, their slow-burning romance won me over. The first hour is the calm before the storm; the storm speaks of unbridled teenage lust. I can just about remember that long ago, and if you've forgotten, Call Me By Your Name will remind you.

Special mention must go to Timothée Chalamet, who is sensational. Few of us, perhaps, have spent summer days lazing around the Lomardy countryside whilst mother reads to us from a 16th century romance, but most of us will have endured the wonderful, terrible tidal wave of hormones and feelings that hit Elio.

Just like that teen cocktail, Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful agony.


BFI Flare 2018: 120 BPM

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"Drawing on personal experience, Robin Campillo’s extraordinary account of AIDS activist group ACT UP-Paris in the 1990s begins at a group meeting. As members discuss action and strategy, a small gang of fresh recruits, including HIV-negative Nathan, are welcomed into the fold. As Nathan becomes more involved in ACT-UP’s activities – from closed-off gatherings to direct action in medical labs, school playgrounds and political rallies – he embarks on a life-changing romance with outspoken group member Sean."

Back in 2013, two big AIDS movies dominated the (as it was then called) London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. How To Survive A Plague, and United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. A year later came Test, and The Normal Heart, and in 2016, AIDS comedy Pushing Dead.

All of these films are about the American experience of the AIDS pandemic, and its legacy. That matters, but what about the rest of the world?

Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (2016) is also (tangentially) about AIDS, reminding us the pandemic didn't just hit the United States. (By the way, I got Théo & Hugo badly wrong when I first reviewed it, and will be revisiting it in my next Flare review). In fact, as we discover in Robin Campillo's (Eastern Boys) breathtaking 120 BPM, France was the European country worst hit by the virus.


120 BPM already has an embarrassment of awards (the Grand Prix and Queer Palm at Cannes, and Best Film at the Cesar Awards, France’s Oscars), and rightfully so.

Nahuel Pérez Biscayart is the standout as Sean, who simmers with rage as his health declines through the movie. His relationship with fellow ACT UP member Nathan (a very handsome Arnaud Valois) is beautifully rendered (and leads to one of the most beautiful - and heartbreaking - sex scenes ever seen in gay cinema). ACT UP meetings are passionate, frustrating, fruitful and fruitless, but always engrossing. Euphoric club scenes mingle with shocking ACT UP protests (how do you make blood? Angelic Marco [Théophile Ray] knows how).

In the midst of death, and fear, and panic, this incredible, urgent film manages to be about life. As Shelley Winters says in The Poseidon Adventure, "life always matters very much, doesn't it?"


BFI Flare 2018: Postcards From London

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"Set in a vibrant, neon-lit, imaginary vision of Soho, this morality tale manages to be both a beautifully shot homage in the spirit of Derek Jarman and a celebration of the homo-erotic in Baroque art. When teenage beauty and Essex boy Jim (Harris Dickinson) arrives from provincial boredom to seek his fortune, the promised cultural excitements of Soho prove hard to find. On his first night, he is robbed by a stranger, ends up homeless and is forced to sleep in a cardboard box. But with a word from a kindly security guard, he discovers a group of art-loving rent-boys who take him under their wing. The group exist to provide very special services for art connoisseurs – intelligent, post-coital conversation based on an intense knowledge and appreciation of the great masters. With his love of art history, Jim is a willing pupil, but his passion is impeded when he discovers he suffers from Stendhal’s Syndrome, a rare disease that finds him fainting in the presence of great art."

In future years, I'm going to look for a number of clues as to what films to avoid at BFI Flare: an introduction from Flare programmer Brian Robinson (he introduced the truly ghastly Departure in 2016), funding from the BFI itself (yep, Departure) and Peccadillo Pictures (uh huh: Departure).

For Steve McLean's Postcards From London, it's a hat-trick, with dear old Brian taking to the stage to introduce the feature, lots of cash from the BFI to make the thing, and the rights snapped up by Peccadillo, who will unleash it on unsuspecting buyers of DVD, Blu-ray and downloads later this year.

There isn't a trailer, or clips, 
for the film anywhere (that I could find, anyway): another bad sign.


There will be people who will love this movie. But there are also people who love Ed Sheeran. Personally, I just found it incredibly grating. The dialogue is artificial and wooden, matching lead Harris Dickinson's performance (mind you, look what he's got to work with). There are endless, tiresome debates about Caravaggio, and references to the likes of Derek Jarman (clearly an influence) and Fassbinder; specifically, Fear Eats The Soul, which only serves to remind you of what you could be watching. Sliding transitions, claustrophobic, stagey sets give away the fact that this isn't cinema, it's a clever-clever, self-satisfied play, the kind you walk out of at the first opportunity.

Guess what? I did.


BFI Flare 2018: Alaska Is A Drag

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"The world of boxing, drag and fishing might have little to do with each other. But they are delightfully merged in the adorable character of Leo, a young black queer kid growing up in a trailer with a fabulous sister and evangelist father. His mother fled to the big city years ago, reportedly becoming a hairdresser to the stars. Leo plans to use his skills as a gender chameleon to train as both a boxer and a drag act in the hope that one will bring him success. But then strange and hunky Declan shows up. This fun debut is perfect for those who know what it means to be young and are searching for a way out."

For Leo (Martin L. Washington Jr.), life in an Alaskan backwater ain't a lot of fun... He should really get together with fellow Flare protagonists Marcos (Marilyn), and Pedro (Hard Paint).

Alaska Is A Drag has had a long gestation. Followers of star Martin L. Washington Jr. will have been aware of the project for several years, before it finally appeared in 2012 as a delightful, surprising short film (available on Boys On Film 11).

The full length feature has been in the works since then, attracting an impressive battery of stars (Jason Scott Lee, Margaret Cho, Matt Dallas) to its arsenal. So does it work?


Mostly. The big names might guarantee a few more ticket sales, but the real star here is Washington himself. This is his story, and were he not so watchable, the film would be in serious trouble.

Correction: this was his story. Perhaps feeling that the expanded running time means more plot, or that all those stars need something to do, Leo's story has become just one part of a rather cluttered narrative. He's the most interesting thing in the movie, and ends up getting a little lost in all this... stuff. I didn't see Matt Dallas in Kyle XY, but he seems permanently stoned in Alaska. And although Scott Lee is good value, Cho might as well not have been there.

You can't fault it for ambition, but Washington could (and deserved to) have carried this film on his own, without all the distractions.


BFI Flare 2018: Wood

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"A young man is confronted by his own feelings when the gay man he attacked appears at his boxing gym.."

Alaska Is A Drag started life as a short film, before being developed into a full length feature. Fingers crossed Wood gets the same treatment.

Eve Dufaud's beautifully shot short film stars James-Edward Métayer (as the titular Wood), Anthony Therrien, and Iannicko N'Doua.

It's a story with familiar ingredients: unrequited lust, homophobic violence, the closet... which brings me to this salient point.

One of the howlers I hear most is that we've seen it all before. Shortly before the festival started, a writer friend said to me in an email: "I think as one gets older one's simply seen the various gay narratives too many times to get terribly excited over the same sort of story 'but in Dubai' etc..." It's an observation I've heard said before, but it doesn't hold water. "There are no new stories," American author Jude Deveraux once said. "It all depends on how you handle them. It's how get there that's the fun." Quite.


Dufaud's story does have the familiar ingredients, but I was captivated from the outset. Her film surprised me. The cast is beautiful, committed and held me, rapt. You'll no doubt have seen this story before, or something like it. And we'll see it again, perhaps not as well told as here, or better. But Wood is still a little gem, and one to treasure.


BFI Flare 2018: Hard Paint

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"Moody, disturbed loner Pedro lives in the depressed harbour town of Porto Alegre. He scrapes together a living as webcam performer NeonBoy and erotic displays of his naked body smeared with neon paint attract a devoted following. When he discovers another male performer, Leon, has copied his act under the pseudonym Boy25, it prompts a radical change to Pedro’s performance and life. His reluctance to leave the house and his desperate need for money hide a deeper anxiety that force Pedro to confront his existence. Love, commerce, family and relationships are thrown into question as he struggles to keep things under control, ever hopeful and resilient in the face of moral, social, sexual and personal change."

For Pedro (Shico Menegat), life in the Brazilian backwater Porto Alegre ain't a lot of fun... Wait, this is sounding a lot like last night's film, Marilyn.

But that's not a criticism. Marilyn is an excellent picture, and Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher's Hard Paint is too. The films' similarities - bullying and isolation in unforgiving nowheresville - won't be unfamiliar to LGBT audiences (or queer cinema devotees).

Erotic and atmospheric, this is a film about isolation and alienation. Menegat is utterly mesmerising as Pedro, rendering him incredibly sympathetic, a real triumph for a character who is so shut off. Your heart breaks for the boy
.


The final act is agonisingly bittersweet, but apt, and a pleasing diversion from gay cinema's dependence on tragedy. Hard Paint is a film that will stay with you long after the credits roll. Superb.


BFI Flare 2018: Marilyn

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"Marcos (Walter Rodríguez) is a gentle, shy boy who helps around his family’s rented cattle ranch. Rustlers are a constant threat, but Marcos seems happier advising his mother on her wardrobe and doing her hair. His family and other locals sense his difference and perceive it as weakness. Following his father’s death and on the celebration of the night of the carnival, Marcos dresses as a young woman and even enjoys the opportunity to dance and flirt with seeming impunity. But there are serious consequences when he is confronted by young men who seem both violently attracted to and utterly repelled by him. Discovering his own sexual desires forces a change in Marcos’ attitudes and makes him fight back against his family’s attempts to control him."

For Marcos (Walter Rodríguez), life in the rural outskirts of Buenos Aires ain't a lot of fun. But boy girl, he don't make things easy for himself.

Argentine director Martin Rodriguez Redondo’s debut, Marilyn, is based on the true story of Marcelo B (now Marilyn), who shot his mother and brother to death, was sentenced to life in prison, and married in prison - Argentina’s first in a prison (to a serial rapist. But that, as Redondo pointed out in last night's Q&A, is another story.)

Redondo’s film is a contemplative, understated, portrait of repressed youth, offering hope, a shocking denouement, and a uniformly brilliant cast
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The big winners at last year's festival, for me, were Jesús and Corpo Elétrico (Eng: Body Electric), from Chile and Brazil respectively. In 2016, Venezuela's Desde allá (Eng: From Afar) startled. Marilyn continues the South American winning streak. Will our trip back to Brazil with Tinta Bruta (Eng: Hard Paint) maintain the momentum?


Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe

MASS IN MOTION
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I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world



MASS IN MOTION
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Cor.Ece

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE
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Watch Between Something And Nothing, a stunning short film from queer St. Louis native Cor.Ece.

Between Something And Nothing is out now.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle

MASS IN MOTION
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The remoteness of a thing is in proportion rather to the visual power of the memory that is looking at it than to the real interval of the intervening days


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We dream much of paradise, or rather of a number of successive paradises, but each of them is, long before we die, a paradise lost, in which we should feel ourselves lost too


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Baby Yors

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE
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Here's Baby Yors with Bad Influence. Get it.

Bad Influence is out now.

Share The Love

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE
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Living for this gorgeous ad for gay love Romeo. Beautiful. The song is Nothing To Lose, by Abstract Future.

Nothing To Lose is out now.
 
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