“Iris has left the building…”

14 Oct

Iris Prize

So another Iris Prize Festival has come and gone, and now I’ve got that day-after-Boxing-Day feeling – a combination of extreme lethargy and mild melancholy.

As always, I spent my five days at the festival writing the website’s official blog, which you can read right here, but there were a few films I wanted to mention here, in the Forest of Beasts.



The Iris Prize itself – the opportunity to shoot another short film, with a budget of £25,000, in the UK – went to Gorilla, from Australian director Tim Marshall. It was a surprise choice – my personal favourites were The Last Time I Saw Richard, a quasi-horror-movie set in a psychiatric institution, and For Dorian, about a father’s dawning realisation that his teenage son – who has Down’s syndrome – might be gay. That said, the very unusualness (unusualosity?) of the decision is kind of cool, and demonstrates more than a little “thinking outside the box” on the jury’s behalf.

From Gorilla.

From Gorilla.

The award for Best British Short went to My Mother (pictured, top), from Cardiff-based director Jay Bedwani. If you get the chance to check out this 10 minute portrait of a San Francisco drag artist, please do. It’s warm, intimate and beautifully made, and the subject, Gustavo, is just so frank and endlessly fascinating. Though there were only two UK films in competition this year, My Mother would have been a deserving winner any year.

The features programme included Silent Youth, an excellent German drama about the burgeoning relationship between two inarticulate young men. Inarticulacy is a really difficult thing to pull off in film or literature – the temptation for many writers is to make their characters so much more fluent and confident than anyone in real life, and rendering your characters virtually mute can make them boring – but this movie was utterly gripping and handsomely shot on location in and around Berlin.

From Silent Youth.

From Silent Youth.

Elsewhere, there were more candy-coloured delights to be found in Israeli director Eytan Fox’s Cupcakes and US teen comedy GBF, both of which were very funny and endearing. (Cupcakes went on to win the audience award for Best Feature.)

Possibly the most interesting – or, certainly, the most controversial – feature on show this year was James Franco and Travis Matthews’s Interior. Leather Bar. This is the pseudo-documentary in which Franco and Matthews, playing themselves, set out to recreate the “missing 40 minutes” from William Friedkin’s 1980 movie Cruising. The film is surprisingly funny – much of it is played for giggles – but also very explicit.  However, those expecting out-and-out porn are likely to be disappointed (I’m fairly certain I heard the bored squeaking of leather chaps from those who’d turned up expecting non-stop bondage). Instead, it serves as an interesting essay on movie censorship, and the hypocrisy of a system (mainly, in this case, the MPAA) that is tougher on scenes of intimacy than scenes of barbaric violence.

Pictured: Interior. Leather Bar and Saw 3D. Also: Hypocrisy.

Pictured: Interior. Leather Bar and Saw 3D. Also: Hypocrisy.

Overall, the standard of films this year was another step up. LGBT cinema has come on in leaps in bounds in the 6 years since Iris began. You still get an abundance of “coming out” stories, of course, as you might expect, but these seem to make up a smaller fraction of the programme with each passing year. There will always be room for stories about coming out, for as long as people feel the need to come out, but the onus is on the filmmakers to find new and interesting ways to tell that story.

Shortly before this year’s Iris a friend – who is gay – asked me if I thought there was a specific need for festivals like Iris, or London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, or LA’s Outfest, and – though I know I’m hardly impartial – I replied that there is. Many cinema chains and distributors work along on a principle of “That’s your lot” when it comes to queer cinema. So this year, for example, we’ve had Behind the Candelabra, and it did very well in cinemas, but can you name one other film with gay or lesbian protagonists that played your local multiplex this year? If you live in the States, you didn’t even get to see the Liberace biopic on the big screen.

You were, however, treated to these fucking abominations.

You were, however, treated to these fucking abominations.

Film streaming sites like Netflix – which has a pretty good selection of recent LGBT films – are making it even easier to access queer cinema in the comfort of your own home, as are LGBT interest labels such as TLA in the US and Peccadillo Pictures in the UK, but thanks to a combination of market forces and distributor over-cautiousness, you won’t see many of these titles in the cinema. Niche festivals can give those films a showcase that’s both practical and commercially viable, and which ultimately can appeal to those outside the “community” too. (30% of the audience members at Iris, for example, identify as heterosexual.)

What’s more, in a world where LGBT rights are taking massive, retro-steps toward the Dark Ages in places such Russia, Cameroon and Iran, anything that offers a public platform for LGBT voices from around the world has to be a good thing.


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