The second day of the Iris Prize Film Festival brought another trio of eclectic film brought together into themed programmes. The six-day celebration of LGBT+ film is centred around its justly prestigious Iris International Prize. This is the most valuable LGBT short film prize in the world, worth £30,000, which allows the recipient to make another short.
You can read about what we thought about the films from Day 1 by clicking here, but read below for Day 2.
The first selection of day two of Iris Prize focused on issues concerning finding your place in the world as an LGBT+ plus person. That’s both in terms of finding your own pride, as well as the external and internal pressures that try to prevent that.
Director: Meaghan Palmer
A young man is finding his feet as a gay person in Australia in the 1990s. That includes having a crush of a hunky fellow surfer. However, when the young man heads out with his friend to a gay club for the first time, worlds collide when the club is subject to a police raid. Some viewers may initially feel that as this short heads to darker and dark places, it’s rather overplaying its hand. Surely something like this wouldn’t have happened in a modern country like Australia in the mid-90s? However, it’s based around a real event that happened in Melbourne in 1994. The film does a good job of taking you into that world through the eyes of an innocent, who’s suddenly confronted with a world more brutal than he’d imagined it would be. It also makes you appreciate the strides we’ve made in gay rights, so that in many places events like this are the exception rather than the rule.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Mario Kinker
A young Colombian man wants to dance in the carnival that takes over his city every year. However, his family put pressure on him just to go to school and work, as he must do his part to help bring in money. However, his mother’s insistence that dancing is a waste of time may be more motivated by worries about her son’s ‘manliness’ and sexuality than how much time it’s taking. Dario is a well made and entertaining short, helped by some great performances and a real sense of taking you into a very particular community. It smartly handles its themes, which don’t just take in issues of family and sexuality, but also class and a society in transition. With an ambiguous but hopeful ending, Dario is a bit of a charmer.
3.5 out of 5
Director: Volker Petters
Phil is a teenager who’s bookish, nerdy and much shorter than typical for his age. As a result, he’s subject to bullying, particularly from the son of his school’s principal. When Jo, the ‘black dyke’, steps in to defend him, they both end up in detention. However, this begins an unexpected friendship. It’s not actually that common for films to look at why friendships form; they just assume that they do. Superheroes is interested in why particular people bond, and particularly why marginalised people might find common ground, even if their particular life experiences differ. It’s all done with humour and a sense of hope despite the problems the teens face. Kudos should also go to Juri Winkler as Phil, who helps bring a level of sweetness and optimism to the film that it might otherwise have lacked.
4 out of 5
Director: John Sheedy
Somewhere in Australia, a 10-year-old who was assigned as a male at birth starts at a new school, where they wear a dress and want to be called Mrs. McCutcheon. Many of the kids aren’t sure how to react to this ‘boy in a dress’, but it doesn’t faze his indigenous classmate, Trevor, in the slightest. The two immediately become friends and Trevor asks Mrs. McCutcheon to the school dance. Quickly though pressures begin to form to push Mrs. McCutcheon back to being ‘Tom’. Set in a heightened reality partway between a world we’d want and how it is, Mrs McCutcheon is certainly an intriguing and often witty watch. While it’s sometimes unclear exactly what it’s trying to say about gender and identity, it certainly gets you thinking while also keeping you entertained. Trans/homophobes may feel at the end that it confirms their fears about LGBT-ness being contagious, but those with an open mind should be left thinking and with a smile on their face.
3.5 out of 5
The second selection of the day looked at real LGBT stories from the past, bringing different perspectives to the documentary form.
When The World Changed
Director: Anderson Clark
This powerful 30-minute documentary focuses on three lesbian, Bostonian woman who worked with largely gay male AIDS patients during the height of the crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s. They bring different perspectives, with one working as a nurse, another as a therapist and the third a lawyer, but all were profoundly impacted by the experience. The film manages to give voice to some of the women intimately involved in the crisis, who aren’t often heard. It doesn’t feel like it’s ignoring that the majority of those who died were gay men, but instead helps to open it up to different perspective, voices and experiences.
Indeed, it’s careful to talk about the relationship between lesbians and gay men at the time, and why these particular women got involved, which wasn’t always solely due to sexuality. In the last few years there have certainly been more looks back at AIDS, partly because many of those who lived through it can’t believe that (at least in mainstream circles) what was a public health catastrophe is largely ignored and forgotten, despite not happening that long ago. These films are partially an attempt to redress the balance and ensure the stories aren’t lost. When The World Changed is a powerful and affecting part of that.
4 out of 5
Director: Angela Clarke
Aging Cardiff resident Bryan Bale reminisces about his younger years, particularly how he found his feet as a gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal. That led to the first love of his life when he answered an advert on the back page of The Sunday Times, which at the time was one of the ways gay people communicated. One of the main reasons Bachelor, 38 works so well is that Bryan himself is a wonderful character with a calming Welsh lilt and the precise articulacy of a consummate storyteller. The film smartly realises that he is the focus and doesn’t try to force things in any other direction. It allows Bryan to take centre stage while using photographs and archive material to reinforce and illustrate his tale, often shot in intimate settings to reinforce the feel that we are listening to stories from a very particular life, but one that speaks to a wider experience many will be able to relate to.
4 out of 5
The Red Tree
Director: Paul Rowley
This docu-drama uses a fictionalised voiceover and stylised visuals to look at the Mediterranean island of San Domino, which in the 1930s became the first internment camp solely for gay people. An older man looks back at how he was ripped away from his home life and taken to the island, where Mussolini and his fascist government hoped the inmates would be ignored and forgotten. While they were not the only exiles, as gay people they were seen as the lowest. It’s a dark chapter in history that not many will know about. The Red Tree is as an effective way to start to illuminate what happened on San Domino. Although there are some moments when it’s a bit too affected for its own good, the power of its story comes through and there are some very powerful moments. If nothing else it makes you want to find out more about happened to gay people under Mussolini.
3.5 out of 5
As the titles of this collection suggests, the final screening of day two brought together stories that aren’t just about sex, but also what brings people together and what that means.
Director: Marc-Antoine Lemire
A gay guy and his trans woman friend are preparing to go out for the night and having a few drinks at her apartment beforehand. They have known each other for a long time, from well before she started transitioning. However, they’ve never slept together, but that may be about to change. Sometimes the most effective short films are the ones that tell a very specific story that told in a way that opens up a lot of questions, but which doesn’t try and force the viewer to come to any particular conclusions. Pre-Drink does that with a tale that brings out complex thoughts about gender and friendship, where what’s going on can be interpreted in different ways. Does the gay guy really see his friend as a woman? Does he care? Does she care? Does the fact she still has a penis affect what happens and their attitudes? The film opens up these questions in ways that suggest complex things are going on which, as with questions about gender in society as a whole, haven’t quite been settled yet.
4.5 out of 5
Sleepover (Sova Over)
Director: Jimi Vall Peterson
In this Swedish short, two young men, Emil and Adam, head off to the cinema and joke around. They then go back to one of their places to spend the night and have a sleepover. However, sharing a bed proves difficult for one of them, due to his feelings for the other. I liked the way in Sleepover it played with how the intimacy of close friendship and lovers is very close and yet drastically different at the same time. At the cinema you could almost believe they were already dating due to the closeness of their relationship, but it’s only later that the real gulf between then is revealed. It’s a situation many LGBT people will be familiar with, where unspoken feelings mean that two people’s perspective of their friendship can be drastically different. I’d have liked the film to delve a bit further into its themes as it doesn’t feel like it’s dug that deep, but it’s still sweet and affecting.
3 out of 5
Director: Joao Queiroga
It’s rare that I worry a film might be morally reprehensible, but Our Skin raises difficult questions due to the fact that if it is what it purports to be on the surface, it’s potentially exploitative of one of its participants. As it goes on it gets rather murky due to one of the participants being potentially much more vulnerable and potentially fragile than they first appear (although he may been more aware and have had more aftercare than the film shows).
Our Skin is a telephone conversation between two people we are told are strangers, and from what they say have met via Craigslist. The woman initially doesn’t reveal she is transgender, while he gradually reveals his life as a veteran dealing with PTSD. At best the film is ethically complex, indeed worryingly so. It’s certainly intriguing how these two people relate to one another in unexpected ways, as well as who has the control. However, if the setup is as the opening describes and the veteran had no idea what was going on, it can’t help make you wonder whether the filmmakers are complicit in something potentially emotionally dangerous, and whether by proxy the viewer is complicit too.
2.5 out of 5
Director: Erica Rose
Mia is a young, queer woman who feels confident in her sexuality. She thinks she’s in control of the sexual and emotional situations she gets involved in, and is happy to talk about this candidly with her friends. She meets another young woman who she’s attracted to, although this woman already has a girlfriend. Mia isn’t about to let that stop her, especially as three isn’t too many for her. However, what happens next challenges her perception of how much control she really has, both with this new potential conquest and with others she’s slept with in the past.
Girl Talk is undoubtedly one of the most fully fleshed-out and realised films at the festival. With great acting, a smart and layered script, as well as confident direction, Girl Talk takes some interesting ideas and runs with them. Perhaps most interesting is how it deals with consent, and that while verbalising consent is important, that doesn’t mean everyone is involved for the reasons others may think. It’s also one of the rare occasions where a film is relatively explicit but it genuinely feels intrinsic to what the film is saying, rather than being gratuitous, political or unnecessary. As with the first day of Iris, the best film of the day was the last one screened.
4.5 out of 5
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
Click here to read Iris Prize Festival LGBT+ International Short Films 2018 – Part 1