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“Community, provocation, hope!” - BFI Flare guest curator Tara Brown on their programme choices

[Photo: Tara Brown, Guest Programmer, BFI Flare 2020]

The BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival programme has been announced and I am starting my usual, furtive and excessive booking of events. But as I sit to write this, and peruse the menu there is a distinct expansion in the cinematic offering. Queer disability, Black and other PoC representation and true openness to new audiences is at the forefront of the 2020 edition of BFI Flare, and that might be thanks, in part at least, to guest programmer Tara Brown.

Tara is a self professed Queer Black Fat Femme film curator who is programmer for the David Adjaye designed Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham, named after the late MP its remit is specifically to address the under-representation of black and minority ethnic in the arts. They also programme for Fringe! Queer Film Festival and previously served as Too Black Too Queer Curator for Brixton Reel - a very nice CV to be introducing to the BFI Flare family.

And this new addition might by the reason why, or at least be a contributing factor to, the festival specifically including the Intersex community this year, and certainly seems to hint at programming like Pride and Protest about the QTIPOC and We’ve Always Been Here: D/deaf Disabled Queers On Film, the latter casting a firm focus on ‘the erasure of disability’ in queer film.

Intersectionality included the main programme in 2020 sees the festival titles span three themes, HEARTS: which features films like Matthias & Maxime (Dir. Xavier Dolan) and the Catching Feels series of shorts including John Ogunmuyiwa’s Mandem; BODIES: with films like Bloodsisters: Leather, Dykes and Sadomasochism (Dir. Michelle Handelman), Drag Kids (Dir. Megan Wennberg) and No Hard Feelings (Dir. Faraz Shariat) about the immigrant experience in contemporary Germany; MINDS: that spans title including La Leyenda Negra (Dir. Patricia Vidal Delgado) exploring the experience of an undocumented teen in Trump America and Our Dance of Revolution (Dir. Phillip Pike) which looks at the intersections in queer activism, opening with the anti-LGBTIQ+ lessons protests in Birmingham the film goes on to ponder what it means to hold on to your pride in a racist and homophobic society.

All of the above mentioned only a small taste of the full programme for Flare’s 34th outing.

For more on on BFI Flare’s rainbow 'alphabet soup' this year, how it’s showcasing Black, Queer, minority works as well as making room for queer disability read on as Tara tells me about the “community”, the “provocation” and the “hope” that makes up their contribution to the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival programme.

You’ve been brought on as guest programmer this year - what do you see your BFI Flare mission as?
My mission is pretty similar to wherever I’m lucky enough to work – to make cinema as accessible, diverse and brilliant as possible. To have a chance to think up big ideas and do proper justice to them.

How does your personal experience inform your programming?
I’m a person who came into the arts through various art education/outreach schemes. My background is working class, I dropped out of uni, and some would say I’m a mass of intersectional buzz words. A lot of the time when working in the arts I think to myself how much I’m not 'meant to be here'. As much as art is supposed to represent universal themes of life, so often we see the same stories and the same audiences over and over again. So many institutions write about how inclusive they are, only to look behind the scene to see key demographics missing, or pushed out of the workplace. To showcase, Black, Queer, minority works is not niche but an opportunity for great radical art and new opportunities to bring audiences together.

What are some key films that represent the L, G, B, T, I, Q, and the + in the programme?
L = Portrait of a Lady on Fire has every cinema nerd I know absolutely distraught, Anne+ is a bright spark of a web series if you’re feeling downhearted.
G = Steelers: The World’s First Gay Rugby Club is gonna be a smash hit, especially as the team is based in London. Monsoon is Hong Khaou’s follow up from Lilting and it’s giving me diaspora feels already.
B = Bisexual content is always tricky! Really glad to have Sixth Happiness, also Pride and Protest features a bisexual activist campaigning against biphobia in the LGBTIQ+ community
T = Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen is going to be really special – as far I know this is the first feature length documentary specifically about trans media and representation on screen. Also – Pier Kids to look out for our trans and non binary youth; Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story to give love to our trans and non binary elders.
I = We’re really proud to be explicitly including the Intersex community into our alphabet soup this year. The Intersex talk by activist Valentino is going to be amazing!
Q = The Quiz! Lol. So very many queer things in this queer programme at our queer film festival. I’m really looking forward to Bodily Autonomy where Jay Bernard is getting together activists across body mod, kink and fetish communities to discuss the law and the fight to claim our bodies.

What is something you are particularly excited about seeing at the festival?
I’m really interested to see what the audiences make from Pride and Protest as getting any feature film that talks about the QTIPOC experience in the UK is few and far between. I’m really excited about all the discussion and debate that’s going to happen in between the screenings – that’s where the big ideas come from. I can’t wait to really immerse myself in the frenetic energy of BFI Flare – time stretches in a different way and it really feels like anything could happen! I’m going to need lots of naps to avoid a fibro flare!

I’m most excited for my event We’ve Always Been Here: D/deaf Disabled Queers On Film – the erasure of disability is so deeply entrenched and I really want to bring this right into the biggest queer film festival in the UK, because you don’t see it very often. 

As a queer person of colour I think racial representation is important but i also recognise, and wondered if you agreed, there are other groups being overlooked too?
Oh absolutely! One reason I love working at Bernie Grant Art Centre is its chief motto – to support Black artists. As my friend Dr Ronx says “you cannot be what you cannot see!” - it’s so important to be seen, and to be seen in as many ways as possible. In a country where they deport Black British folks one week and claim that the UK is not racist (Windrush scandal) it’s more important than ever to have that representation and keenly, voices that don’t come from a single source.

With funding for the arts decreasing since 2010, along with money for community work under more pressure we are always at risk of fighting each other for space. I fear it forces organisations to act as if the Black community and LGBTIQ+ community are separate and in conflict.

Queer Black people have always existed, with more risk to their wellbeing and security than most other groups but get completely sidelined. I’m also increasingly irate at the media indulging and not actively challenging transphobic hate groups – it is not women versus trans activists, it is trans people trying to push back against a hateful minority enabled by mass media and social media. 

The Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 2005 but thousands of disabled people throughout the country are restricted in their access to a decent life. Sizeist attitudes bleed into every aspect of life and on many basic levels representation is missing for fat people in diverse leading roles. These are things particularly close to my heart. Sadly, there are so many groups of people being attacked, it is distressing and exhausting.

Accessibility is a big thing and London is an expensive city - how do we provide opportunities for low waged or unemployed to access the festival?
Accessibility needs to be the first consideration on your list when planning a festival. So often people are brought in at the last minute and then there’s not much you can do. It’s a structural issue – the location, how staff are trained, the full customer experience from booking to liaising with front of house staff. Being truly accessible is part of the blueprint when you start working on the festival and its budget.

I’m glad BFI Flare are able to include some lower price screening tickets, including their 25 and under £3 scheme, not enough places offer this. Other film festivals have been trying out pay what you can tickets across screenings or entire film festivals – it’s important to encourage those who can to pay more so that those who can’t can access more events. My absolute favourite thing about BFI Flare is how it transforms the entire building into the biggest queer gathering outside of Pride. This means even if you haven’t got a ticket for film, you can still come down to BFI Southbank, hang out with your friends and soak up the atmosphere. There’s also going to be free club nights and the BFI mediatheque is around all year with free access to tons of free LGBTIQ+ film.

How does BFI Flare vary from something like Fringe! Queer Film Festival - and what are the respective roles each festival plays?
I feel very lucky to be part of the two amazing queer film festivals. I like that they prove that there is a massive thirst for queer film, with actual quality work to back it up. Fringe! Queer Film Festival got started because the future of BFI Flare was under doubt; now it has reached its tenth year, a miracle – especially as it has always been volunteer-run and funding is so hard to come by. Fringe! has more performance elements to it – we do so many screenings with drag artists, and there’s always art installations and lots of programme partnerships that aren’t necessarily linked to film, like the Love Hub from last year. BFI Flare has its own air of authority due to its history and being produced by the BFI, but is always looking to do something new with its programme.

I had a great time dancing in the main hall at the BFI Southbank for the close of the festival last year - besides film what events have you got on at the festival?
We have our free club nights coming in again, so get ready for more dancing! Drag Queen Story Time is going to be a wonderful addition for queer families who can feel left out at film festivals. Emma Smart and Dr Clara Bradbury-Rance are doing an afternoon about lesbian visibility in cinema including the joys and nostalgia we have for going from subtext to visibility.

After We’ve Always Been Here we are going to hold a zine making workshop afterwards because I think it’s always important to have something concrete after big discussions and events.

Do you think queer representation in film is increasing, particularly in popular culture?
I feel like film has been lagging behind tv TV for a long time. Maybe it’s to do with the process of putting a film together? But also the conservative attitude to risk when mid-budget films are being squeezed out. What I do know is there hasn’t been a queer British Black narrative feature since Stud Life by Campbell X (2012). I’ll say that again – WE HAVE NOT HAD A BLACK BRITISH QUEER NARRATIVE FEATURE IN THE EIGHT YEARS SINCE STUD LIFE. It’s killing me, and it’ll kill the film industry if it doesn’t evolve.

Queer film festivals like BFI Flare and Fringe! are so successful because we are still crying out for good queer stories, that references our desires, fears, fantasies and challenges. Especially films that give space to bisexual, lesbian, trans, non-binary, intersex, asexual stories. There’s movement all the time but I feel like there’s still so much to do.

Explain the following in three words:
BFI Flare – thrilling, opportunity, responsibility
Your programme choices – community, provocation, hope!
Film today – risk-aversive, knife-edge, sprung

BFI Flare
London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival
18 – 29 March at BFI Southbank


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