BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 2012

Michael Peers reports

There have been many monumental changes to the LGBT community in the UK since the first London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 26 years ago, but this has not diminished the importance of this festival. The LLGFF is a platform where the many voices of the LGBT community can be heard, celebrate, and can reflect upon their status in society and within film culture.

Over the week I attended a handful of screenings and events, was star-struck by Brenda Fricker, and conversed with Gene Robinson (rush to Google if you’re unaware of him). It was an insightful, inspiring and enjoyable experience. There was, however, a bittersweet aftertasteas I was left with an underlying sense of dissatisfaction for LGBT filmmaking. have since been left with one question: where are those voices now?

Queer cinema, by which I refer to films dealing with LGBT narratives and issues, are not considered to have mainstream appeal and filmmakers are often relegated to LGBT festivals. There are many queer filmmakers who do have mass appeal, usually fitting into the following categories; prolific directors with artistic merit (Pedro Almodovar, Todd Haynes, Francois Ozon, Gus Van Sant); directors with celebrity appeal (Tom Ford); and directors whose films have awards appeal (Stephen Daldry, Lee Daniels). There are exceptions to the above, such as Andrew Haigh’s Weekend that built on its successful festival screenings and capitalised on this with a strong marketing campaign. Unfortunately this is rare, especially for films that are not centred on male homosexuality.

The most impressive film of the festival – and arguably the most impressive film that I’ve seen of the year thus far – was the debut feature by writer/director Dee Rees. Rees is an African-American lesbian and the narrative of Pariah reflects this identity. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, its UK premiere at the London Film Festival and was given limited distribution in the US, yet there has been no distribution to international territories despite its success with critics and audiences. It is a beautifully conceived coming-of-age story, with exceptional performances and a rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a film that deserves to be a success yet it fails to sit comfortably within mainstream representations of lesbianism and African-American culture. It is also a film with a distinctively feminine voice. It is frustrating that audiences may not see Pariah in the UK yet the presence of an event such as the LLGFF ensures that there are some opportunities, specifically for a community whose issues and identities are often neglected by mainstream cinema. Despite this, I cannot help but wish that this film would receive UK distribution.

Thankfully, and this is the crucial aspect, the LLGFF provides an environment where such concerns are discussed. There was a huge desire to highlight and make improvements, to create a dialogue and to encourage support within the community. It is this energy that has made the LLGFF such a special event over the past 26 years, an event to celebrate not just for the LGBT community but also for film culture in the UK.