what lgbt cinema will look like in 2016
New Queer Visions at London's Short Film Festival offered cinematic insights into queer lives around the world, from the US to the UK, Indonesia to Mexico.
The last 12 months were a landmark year in queer film, from the slew of low-budget, indie releases through to the smattering of blockbusters that met with varying degrees of success. Some films were exceptional - Tangerine, in particular, deserves every accolade it gets for its alternately touching, screamingly funny, and intimate portrayal of the friendship between two black trans women on the streets of LA. Other films, with far larger budgets and industry backing weren't so great. In fact some were really, really shit. Stonewall was the flop of the year, but maybe that's deserved when you turn a riot that radically transformed LGBT history into the tale of one brunch twink's decision to quit being "straight-acting" long enough to chuck a brick at a pub.
Tangerine's triumph and Stonewall's abject failure were unexpected, but that's the name of the game in queer cinema. When gender and sexuality are destabilised, any combination of love plots become possible - even "boy-meets-girl" takes on whole new realms of genderfuck possibility. New Queer Visions, curated by Simon Savory, was a selection of the best new queer cinema from around the world, championing LGBT films at the London Short Film Festival. From the US to the UK, Indonesia to Mexico, the films offered fleeting insights into cultures and stories that went well beyond some vanilla flick about two cute white gays getting frisky in some godforsaken Soho dive.
Blood & Water
Blood & Water, directed by Emily Iason, and Stevie, directed by Chloe Jury Fogel, offered what LGBT cinema too often erases: candid portrayals of lesbian attraction, flirtation and fucking. Blood & Water - which had the hottest lesbian sex scene of the night - followed a British student's seduction of her American professor, and the subsequent guilt, regret and traumatic end to their romantic prospects.
Stevie instead went butch, tracking the eponymous Michigan tomboy on her first date with a guy. It goes less well than hoped because, spoiler alert, she's really gay. Alternately moving and hilarious - seriously, half the room was cackling throughout - the title role was played exceptionally well. Think Juno, but where Ellen Page actually gets to gay out.
The Fox Exploits The Tiger's Might
Elsewhere, things got experimental.The Fox Exploits The Tiger's Might, directed by Lucky Kuswandi, is shot in Indonesia, and offers one of the subtlest explorations of desire and power - mostly explored through the medium of teenage boys wanking - on offer. It's unashamedly arty, and unashamedly intelligent, offering a vital view into South East Asian adolescence which avoids Orientalising in favour of an enigmatic yet candid plunge into working-class Asian life, social stratification, and the point where same-sex friendship converges with same-sex desire.
Lost In The World
Experimentalism also found its way to South Africa in the best film of the night, Lost In The World, directed by Xolelwa 'Ollie' Nhlabatsi. A harrowing 21st century revenge tragedy replete with loss, trauma, drug use and psychological breakdown, Nhlabatsi's film winds its way through fragments of narrative that never quite assemble or comfortably cohere. It's an assaulting piece of cinema that refuses to relinquish its grip.
Its only competitors in sheer emotional power were Brockington, the documentary of one trans boy's life of abuse, marginalisation, love and tragedy, and though less tragic, Closets directed by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan. I'm saying nothing more than watch Brockington. The ending is a timely reminder that part of the LGBT community are still in crisis, that we aren't free, and that the struggle is far from over. Enough said.
Then, things got British, and when they did, hilarious. Our film makers still seem unnaturally attracted to a certain kitchen sink realism peppered with uniquely ironic humour - not a bad thing, maybe, but curious nonetheless. Mirrors, directed by Neil Ely, explored homosociality in the loos of a Manchester rave, with two men gumming their way through a baggy and awkwardly shuffling around questions of queerness. "Are you gay?" one asks. "I've got a bird," the other responds, which, as any gay guy will tell you, definitely doesn't mean they aren't down to explore.
Finally, Oh-be-joyful, directed by Susan Jacobson, is an exceptionally executed comedy, and went what one commentator called "really, really Welsh." It deserves accolades if only for the line "This is Wales, not Kyrgyzstan, the place is bloody crawlin' with dykes!" Other highlights include the portagonist's grandmother out on the rob punching a box of Cheerios and shouting "'Ave it ye bastards!"
The queer short film scene is in excellent shape, and the heinous lack of queer film representation at film festivals and awards ceremonies speaks volumes about marginalisation and its continuing grip on queer culture. The Brits are more than holding their own, and at a certain kind of comic cycnicism, can't be beaten.
The films also announced new directions for queer cinema in the coming year. 2016 looks set to continue the move from white gay love stories towards more complex analyses of gender non-conformity, race, and an increasing interest in the lives of queer people beyond sex. Solidarity, camaraderie and queer friendship look like they're going to figure highly. In Brit queer cinema, we're also witnessing a move away from the capital, and an exploration of why the rest of the UK isn't in step with queer progress made in the South. We're also going to see the tragicomedy of queer lives brought to the fore, lives which are often unconventional, sometimes hilarious, sometimes not that different from their straight counterparts, but ones which nonetheless are haunted by the spectres of structural homophobia, trans violence, drug use and suicide rates that just won't fall.
Queer films deserve pride of place in any cinematic canon and London's New Queer Visions is leading the way.
Text Edward Siddons