Thursday, March 20, 2014

Interview with Brian Robinson (BFI Flare festival programmer)

This weekend sees the opening of the BFI Flare festival in the Southbank Centre in London.  I managed to ask the programmer a couple of questions about this years schedule...

Could you talk a little about the three different strands this year? (Heart, Body, Mind)

BR: We launched the new structure last year and it’s a way of dividing up what can seem like an overwhelming number of films. In Hearts, films about love, romance and friendship include some of the films that have created the most anticipation.  Dramas such as Sarah Prefers to Run, Reaching for the Moon, G.B.F. and Last Summer. The world premiere of Derek Jarman’s Will You Dance With Me?, a video test piece filmed in Benjy’s nightclub in 1984 is another highlight.

Bodies has an interesting range of films about sex, identity and transformation including Bruce LaBruce’s Gerontophilia about physical obsession between a young man and older man; a fabulous lesbian comedy in Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? and a documentary on London’s infamous leather bar The Hoist called Age of Consent.

Minds features reflections on art, politics and community, which means that there are a lot of documentaries including The Abominable Crime, a powerful film about the struggle for LGBT equality in Jamaica, folk singer Rae Spoon in My Prairie Home and Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, a fantastic insight into the life of a gender outlaw.

How have you balanced the fiction vs. non-fiction programming?

BR: We do aim to try for equal fiction to non-fiction but it’s not an exact science and we really just try to pick the best films.  There are fewer dramas to chose from and lesbian dramas are the hardest to find.

The festival is almost entirely sold out (as usual).  Have you ever considered using bigger venues?

BR: It might seem like it’s all sold out but there are always tickets available on the day.  Sponsors and press often return their tickets and on every day in the festival there are screenings with tickets available.  Matinees are also much easier to get into so it’s worth trying for the afternoon screenings if you can afford the time (plus they are cheaper).

We have in previous years had an opening in a Leicester Square cinema but two screenings in NFT1 is actually more tickets than would be available in a single screening there.  

Cost is also a huge issue in using other venues.  We love the compactness of keeping the festival in one place so you can get easily between screenings but we may explore other venues next year.  One innovation this year is that the BFI online VOD service has expanded to include a BFI Flare collection with some films being released at the same time as they are in the festival.  Recordings of Q&As and events are always being made available on the BFI Player as well.
How have you incorporated the facilities available at the BFI into the structure of the festival?

BR: We are able to screen almost any digital or film format and our projectors are state of the art, which means that the viewing experience is excellent.  We try to use all the available space at BFI Southbank so there’s a lesbian feminist art installation in the Atrium throughout the festival.

We have club nights with DJs and themed parties (Queer Bollywood and Caged Lesbians this year) as well as our family fun workshop around animation and The Muppets that offers something for children.  The BFI Reuben Library has a display of queer themed books and you can enjoy the Beautiful Things collection in the Mediatheque.

You have films from all over the world.  Could you say a little about how the programme was sourced?

BR: We go to international festivals like Cannes and Berlin and other big LGBT festivals in North/South America and Europe and see films there.  We scour the programmes of other festivals to find films we think would work for our audiences.  Because we are internationally quite a well-known festival, filmmakers do also send us their films (or increasingly give us a code to watch their film online). We try very hard to have a wide range of cultures and histories represented in the festival.

Do you still feel any backlash against an openly LGBT film festival?

BR: There may not be quite the level of overt hostility that we used to experience but the fact that there are so few other places to see the full range of LGBT film-making in the UK in spite of the obvious demand from audiences makes me think that there is still an undercurrent which does not wholly embrace the idea of an LGBT film festival.  Mainstream media are nowadays much more interested in the festival which is very cheering.

Are there any particular films that you are looking forward to seeing?

BR: I’ve seen most of the films already but it’s really great seeing a film with an audience in a festival like ours. I’m really looking forward to seeing Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?

We also bring in lots of filmmakers and it’s great to hear about their experiences of making a film.

Brian Robinson
BFI Flare runs from 20th-30th of March 2014 - more information about the films is available here

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