8 queer films you need to watch now
As BFI Flare opens in London, we picked a handful of films worth catching.
Queer cinema is a tricky beast. Though mainstream cinema is slowly growing to embrace LGBT stories, often those that enjoy the most commercial success -- Call Me by Your Name, Love, Simon and Boy Erased -- present a very particular version of queerness. In other cases, films sanitise it entirely, such as with Oscar-winner Bohemian Rhapsody, the controversial Queen biopic that stripped Freddie Mercury of his bisexuality, and moralised about his downfall.
BFI Flare -- London’s annual festival of LGBT+ films -- is the perfect opportunity to get accustomed with a broader spectrum of queer stories. From fake identities and famous photographers, to illegal love in one country to the dawn of a bigoted administration in another, here are eight of the films we think you should check out at a very minimum.
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy
The story of JT LeRoy is, to put it mildly, pretty insane. Author Laura Albert created the persona of JT Leroy through which to publish fiction, and as the books took off and Leroy became a public figure, Albert needed to find a public face for her private creation. The story was recently told in the documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story, but this new film -- starring Laura Dern as Albert and Kristen Stewart as Savannah Knoop (the woman who would become LeRoy) -- promises to be a wild exploration of fact, fiction, and the construction of identity.
Queer cinema tends to privilege the stories of younger characters, normally through coming-out narratives, which is what makes a film like The Heiresses so refreshing. It tells the story of Chela, an older woman who’s been out and living with her partner for decades. But financial hardship leads to the selling off of inherited possessions, and sends Chela’s partner, Chiquita, to prison. Chela, struggling to adjust to this seismic change in her routine, ends up finding solace through serving as a taxi driver after being hired to drive a friend to a hospital appointment by her friend’s daughter, Angy. Through her driving, and the world she sees through Angy, Chela manages to find a way out of routines and emptiness. Ana Brun won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for her performance so there’s no excuse to miss this.
We met the stars of Rafiki -- a Kenyan love story about two young women understanding their sexuality -- in summer of last year. “At one point, I even felt like I couldn’t complete the film, but you see the people around you and you're reminded that this is bigger than you,” said co-lead Sheila Munyiva of its creation. The film was banned in Kenya for “promoting homosexuality” by the government. The ban was lifted after the film’s director sued the government. The London showing comes fresh off the back of a Best Actress win for Samantha Mugatsia at the FESPACO (Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou) in Burkina Faso on Saturday.
This one’s been doing the festival circuit for a while now, after debuting in LA last year. Lead actor Christian Malheiros has nabbed an Indie Spirit Award nomination for his performance at the titular Socrates, a 15-year-old kid searching in vain for compassion in São Paulo following his mother’s death, whilst also wrestling with his sexuality and identity. The story is imbued with a sense of necessity, shining a light on the intensified struggles that come with low-income situations. Produced and performed by those whose lives the story reflects, Socrates is a difficult watch, but a necessary one nonetheless.
This one already played at the London Film Festival at the end of last year, but frankly it’s just too good, and too much fun, not to mention. Imagine a classic 70s Giallo film -- like Dario Argento’s Deep Red -- transported into Paris’s queer pornography scene, and you’re just beginning to scratch the surface of the rollercoaster ride that is Knife+Heart. Wearing its influences on its sleeve, from classic slashers to the Al Pacino film Cruising, Knife+Heart breathes gleefully insane new life into the often stilted slasher genre, foregrounding ideas of obsessive love, violence, and the importance of queer community. Due for a US release in March, it’s been described as a film about “a chosen family of proud perverts”. You’ll know if you’re among them.
Little Miss Westie
This documentary about beauty pageants is explored via a family with two trans children, against a backdrop of Trump’s presidential campaign and win. There’s a duality to this; the supportive nature of the family, and the hostility that’s coming through from a political system looking to dismantle trans rights. The film itself puts it best, saying that after coming out as trans, then you have to “start battling to be recognised as who you are.”
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
While there might not be much to say about Priscilla that hasn’t already been said, that doesn’t make it any less important that you try and grab a ticket to see this Oscar-winner on the big screen. Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp queering up the dessert like there’s no tomorrow? Telling the story of drag queens and the transsexual Bernadette as they do their best to “make a decent living wearing heels,” take the chance to board the budget Barbie camper, and don’t look back.
Escape From Rented Island: The Lost Paradise of Jack Smith
John Waters called Jack Smith “the only true underground filmmaker,” and this endorsement alone should be enough to get people queuing up to see this experimental documentary about the director of the infamous Flaming Creatures. Now, the phrase “experimental documentary” might be setting off alarm bells for some, which might explain why the film has so far unfortunately been playing a few festivals here and there. But the fragmented exploration of Smith’s career, relying only on the director’s voice, and newly restored film footage, feels like the only way to really honour Smith’s legacy. A lesson in queer cinematic history unlike any other.