Tuesday 16 April 2024

IFFR: RTM Pitch Winner / Dates for 2025

With IFFR 2025 confirmed to take place from Thursday 30 January to Sunday 9 February 2025, International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has announced the winner of its latest RTM Pitch. Bubbling, a cultural movement fusing dance, rhythm and electronic music born out of Rotterdam’s Afro-Caribbean community in the 1990s, is the focus of a documentary project awarded a grant of €20,000 by IFFR together with the municipality of Rotterdam. Filmmaker Sharine Rijsenburg will explore Bubbling culture as having both a deep imprint on the city’s identity whilst being simultaneously undervalued. As the winner of the RTM Pitch, the project will receive expert guidance and aims to premiere at IFFR 2025.

Sharine Rijsenburg: “For me, Bubbling Baby is a film about how we in Rotterdam, as a multicultural metropolis, celebrate, remember and appreciate our night culture. The Bubbling subculture shows a history that has helped shape Rotterdam’s identity, yet has remained invisible. With this film, I want to celebrate and make known the value of this cultural heritage.” The film will explore the impact of Bubbling, and more broadly Black culture, on Rotterdam’s identity. Using an Afrofuturistic aesthetic, Bubbling Baby will combine archive material from 1990s Rotterdam with scenes of Bubbling parties and the upcoming Summer Carnival.

Sharine Rijsenburg is a creative researcher and visual anthropologist based in Rotterdam, who combines explorations into socio-political issues with engaging storytelling. Her short films Paradijsvogels and Paradeis Perdí demonstrate her practice of delving into Dutch and Caribbean archives to investigate the relationship between (self)image, representation and colonial history. She has worked as assistant director on So Loud the Sky Can Hear Us (Lavinia Xausa, RTM Pitch winner 2021 & IFFR 2022) and as a researcher for, among others, VPRO Tegenlicht. At IFFR 2020 she was a Young Selector, a festival initiative giving creative and ambitious local young people the opportunity to curate their own IFFR programme.

Source/image: IFFR

Wednesday 3 April 2024

BFI Flare 2024: The Stats

The 38th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival closed on 24 March seeing a continued growth in audiences attending in person events at the Festival’s home, BFI Southbank. Overall BFI Flare saw 28,125 audience attendances across BFI Southbank screenings, events and on BFI Player. The festival had packed houses with 87% occupancy at BFI Southbank, up from 85% in 2023, with 54% of bookers new to BFI Flare. Over 12 days between 13–24 March, BFI Flare welcomed audiences to BFI Southbank with 58 features and 81 shorts screened from 41 countries. The festival hosted 5 World Premieres, 2 International Premieres, 6 European Premieres and 23 UK Premieres from across the features programme. Talent highlights included Elliot Page, the Merchant Ivory family, Linda Riley, Iris Brey, Michelle Parkerson and many others.
This year’s edition included the Opening Night European Premiere of LAYLA, Amrou Al-Kadhi's stunning debut feature, fresh off its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The World Premiere of LADY LIKE by director/producer Luke Willis, closed the festival. Both these films, as well as many others screening in the festival, demonstrated the theme of embarking on a journey towards living your true authentic self. Other highlights from this year’s film programme included the Special Presentation of CROSSING and the European Premiere of the moving drama CLOSE TO YOU, written and directed by BAFTA-winning Dominic Savage and starring, produced and co-written by Elliot Page. Simmering apprehensions surround a family get-together as Page’s Sam returns home for the first time since transitioning in this highly collaborative feature.

World Premieres presented in the Festival included WE FORGOT TO BREAK UP – a pitch perfect romantic drama by Karen Knox, featuring a trans musician caught in a love triangle with his bandmates as they rise to fame in this love letter to Toronto’s 2000s music scene. Two women hit it off in a lesbian bar in Kat Rohrer’s WHAT A FEELING – a romantic comedy with real heart that explores migration, class and sexuality in Austria. Several slices of the London queer community talk in depth about what it means to create a family in WHAT’S SAFE, WHAT’S GROSS, WHAT’S SELFISH AND WHAT’S STUPID, a heartfelt DIY debut by Jasmine Johnson. Jeremy Borison’s intriguing and important drama UNSPOKEN centres on a closeted Orthodox Jewish teen who discovers his grandfather might have loved another man, prompting a journey towards self-discovery.

BFI Flare screened the best queer films from the past 12 months in the BEST OF THE FEST section on the final day. These included 20,000 SPECIES OF BEES, a sensitive portrait of three generations of women spending a summer just as the youngest comes out as transgender; Andrew Haigh’s ALL OF US STRANGERS (pictured above), a dreamlike and intense meditation on life, loneliness and gay experience, beautifully conveyed by Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal; Emma Seligman’s BOTTOMS which sees Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri play the school’s ‘ugly lesbians’ who start a fight club to hook up with cheerleaders and lose their virginities before they go to college; and George C. Wolfe’s RUSTIN with Colman Domingo's acclaimed performance as an African American Civil Rights activist who is finally given the recognition he deserves here, including his role in the 1963 March on Washington. 

Source/images: BFI

Thursday 21 March 2024

BFI Flare 2024: I Don’t Know Who You Are

M. H. Murray's remarkably strong debut feature—which, having premiered at last year's Toronto IFF, screens tomorrow and Saturday as part of BFI Flare—is notable for the way in which it balances social issues with compelling drama, a combination Murray has some previous experience of, given that he wrote and directed all three seasons of Canadian web series Teenagers.  Murray's film is anchored by a brave, sympathetic performance from Mark Clennon, who here reunites with the director following the pair's earlier collaboration on the short Ghost, which first introduced Clennon's character Benjamin.  Benjamin's story is picked up in I Don't Know Who You Are, but whereas Ghost dealt with a man who—as per the title—was being ghosted after just one date, Murray's new film has a much weightier topic in its sights as its main character deals with both physical and emotional trauma.

Benjamin is a Toronto-based saxophonist who ekes out a living by teaching a handful of students and playing occasional gigs; this talented musician is recovering from a breakup with his partner in work and life, the slimy Oscar (Kevin A. Courtney), although the green shoots of a new relationship are beginning to emerge as Benjamin is now dating the caring, sensitive Malcolm (Anthony Diaz).  When one particular evening with Malcolm doesn't go quite as planned, Benjamin heads alone to a party where he proceeds to get very drunk, and as he staggers home he is sexually assaulted by a stranger (Michael Hogan).  Although he's reluctant to inform the police, Benjamin promptly seeks medical advice and takes an HIV test, which proves negative.  Benjamin is understandably relieved at the result, but as there's still a chance he might yet contract the virus, he is given both a starter pack and a full prescription for PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) medication.

There's a need to move fast with this course of HIV-preventative treatment, as the first 72 hours are when the tablets are at their most effective.  While Benjamin ingests the starter pack—which he soon vomits up—serious problems arise when he takes his script to a pharmacy.  As Benjamin hands over the ℞ and his health card, the pharmacist informs him that these drugs can be dispensed if they are charged to an insurance plan, which the musician doesn't have.  Alternatively, the tablets can be paid for, but as the chemist sets about filling the prescription, Benjamin is horrified to learn that the medication will cost him in excess of $900, a sum his hand-to-mouth existence simply doesn't allow for; thus, Benjamin is up against the clock as he frantically attempts to scratch together the funds to pay for the medicine.  To compound matters, it's the fin de semaine (as they say in Canada), so the government office that may have been able to offer some assistance is closed.

Just as the action in Ghost took place (and was filmed) in a single day, it seems fitting that exponential growth sees I Don't Know Who You Are unfold over the course of a weekend.  Murray proves especially adept at working with these temporal structures, and his latest effort instils a rising anxiety in the viewer as Benjamin struggles to raise the necessary cash.  Crucially, the film feels like an authentic Toronto story, with both T-Dot's streetcars and legendary music venue the Horseshoe Tavern featuring prominently; all too often, Ontario's magnificent capital has rather apologetically stood in for other cities—almost invariably New York—but here M. H. Murray expertly captures the essence of Canada's most populous city.  Such an unadorned presentation may well be down to budgetary constraints, but it all contributes to making Benjamin's urgent plight that bit more believable.  I Don't Know Who You Are is as impressive as it is sincere, and it ranks as one of Flare 2024's highlights.

Darren Arnold

Images: Festival Scope / BFI