This year’s Iris Prize Festival went online, allowing viewers across the UK to take a look at some of the world’s best LGBT+ short films. There were some great films available, so if you’ve already taken a look at what we thought of the films from the first three programmes, you can see below what we thought of the next selections, which included everything films about coming out as trans in rural Uganda, to the insecurities of losing your virginity.
All the films that screened as part of the Iris Prize Festival are available to view on a pay-as-you-go basis to viewers in the UK until the end of October 2020 – Find out more here.
Director: Adrian Chiarella, Australia, 15 mins
Hong is living a small and staid life as an abalone trader – a business that’s on the edge of the law. He’s derided by some for having been in the business for decades but never having made much of his life. He travels to a remote part of the coast where he stumbles upon two men having sex – one of whom is the man he often gets his abalone from. However, while he initially went there for business, he gets more than he expected. Black Lips is an interesting if slightly oblique film, drawing parallels between the immigrant experience and that of gay people in a place that doesn’t understand them. It’s a film interested in what separates and connects us, as well as the roads we do not take.
4 out of 5
Director: Andrey Volkashin, Macedonia, 20 mins
I think this may be the first LGBT-themed from Macedonia that I’ve ever seen – but then, I can’t claim I’ve seen a vast amount of non-LGBT Macedonian cinema either. Nine-year-old, Mario, escapes onto a stranger’s balcony, trying to get away from a bully. The balcony belongs to an eccentric gay man, who intrigues Mario and who he befriends. However, in small-town Macedonia, prejudices are still rife and being transmitted from generation to generation. There’s a fascinating complexity to Snake, which manages to cover a lot of ground in 20 minutes, delving deeper into ideas and motivation about what happens between generations and the perpetuation of fear and intolerance, as well as what may be able to break the cycle.
4 out of 5
Director: Nichola Wong, UK, 15 mins
The Passing certainly has an interesting set-up. A mortician pulls the sheet from the face of a body, only to realise it’s someone she once knew. While she has a job to do, she cannot help but reminisce and consider the paths not taken in life, as well as the regrets we may end up taking to the grave. While it has a slightly film school-ish edge that tries to push the characters in directions that don’t quite feel natural, the core of what The Passing is trying to do is strong and it does it in an interesting (if occasionally a tad contrived) way. It certainly manages to convey a sense of sadness and longing over what might have been.
3 out of 5
On My Way
Director: Sonam Larcin, Belgium, 23 mins
A Nigerian migrant, Dayo, arrives in the middle of the Belgian countryside, sheltering with a friendly local, Niels, as he tries to make his way to the UK. However, Dayo’s arrival causes unexpected issues between Niels and his married lover, Antoine. There are some interesting ideas in On My Way about the barriers that are in our way, both those created by society/the law and those we create for ourselves. There are moments when the film is a little too on the nose, but it’s an interesting look into three men’s lives, which makes you question how we in the west can still end up torturing ourselves (and being tortured) over our sexuality despite the progress in LGBT rights, as well as how it’s easy to ignore that for people in many countries, persecution against gay people is still enshrined in law. We are all still on our way, even if those journeys are in different places.
4 out of 5
Director: Hanxiong Bo, China – USA, 16 mins
Yan was born under the Chinese One-Child policy, but as he was an illegal second child, his parents decided to hide their older daughter in the countryside and raise Yan as a girl in order to escape punishment by the authorities. As a young adult, Yan struggles to understand how he fits in, as well as struggling with his gender identity. Seeking escape, he drifts his father’s old taxi around parking lots. A rather melancholic film, some may take issue with its take on gender identity, especially the slight inference you could make a person trans by dressing them as a girl as a child. It’s the sort of film that should be powerful but I have to admit it left me rather cold, not helped by a slightly nihilistic edge that presents life as closed circle you merely drift around – but even that feels like it’s been contrived.
2 out of 5
Director: Piaoyu Xie, Czech Republic, 6 mins
It’s a summer’s day and a young boy is looking for cicadas. He spies two other, slightly older boys, who engage in a game of ‘death’, where one is supposed to mimic killing the other. However, things may not be all they appear as the spectre of death hangs over everything. Short and a little mysterious, Cicada is a slightly creepy and ominous Czech film where you can’t help but wish it had gone on a little longer and unveiled a little more of its somewhat unnerving world.
3 out of 5
Director: Mae Mann, USA, 8 mins
Dembe is a teenager in Uganda, who decides it is time to reveal to his mother that he is transgender – something that society will not accept. In recent years, Uganda has infamously been periodically trying to enact a law that would made homosexuality punishable by death. October comes at that sideways, considering both the particular issues of trans people in such a culture, as well as how parts of the prejudice against gay people is bound up in misogyny and a need for men to be seen as macho. It’s intriguing and thought provoking but there’s undoubtedly a feel of this being a film outside looking in at an experience rather than fully inhabiting it.
4 out of 5
Untitled Sequence of Gaps
Director: Vika Kirchenbauer, Germany, 13 mins
An essay film, Untitled Sequence of Gaps is a disembodied voice discussing life, experience and the small and large traumas we experience. The visuals are a mix of reflections, light being obscured and allowed through, or things such as infrared light which we can’t ordinarily see. These sorts of films are intriguing, but it always feels like you’d need to watch them several times to really appreciate what you’re seeing. There’s undoubtedly something worth experiencing here as it delves into how we experience things and how those experiences exist afterwards – obliquely, seen through other things or by the effects they cause. Undoubtedly though it’s the type of short that many will feel is pretentious and more interested in itself than it is imparting anything to the audience.
3 out of 5
Director: Shae Xu, USA, 9 mins
Tammy has been seeing Marcus for a couple of weeks, but hasn’t discussed with him the fact she is trans. However, when he comes to her yoga class it becomes a subject that can’t be avoided – whether that’s fair or not. To be honest I’m surprised more films have tackled this issue head on, but that may be because it raises complex issues that don’t have simple answers. Should trans people have to reveal their past and identity right away to potential partners? Does that partner have the right to know? However much we may want to live in a world where such things don’t matter, that’s not the one we currently reside in. Unsurprisingly Down Dog doesn’t have all the answers, but it does a pretty good job of raising some of the questions without judgement or hyperbole. It is also, thankfully, more interested in the trans point of view than that of the cis man involved.
4 out of 5
His Name (Hann)
Director: Runar Thor, Iceland, 13 mins
For a country that has only 365,000 people, Iceland produces some pretty good film and has made some good LGBT cinema over the years. In His Name, teenager Andri is planning to go out on his first date. His masculine father assumes it’s with a girl and at first Andri doesn’t feel ready to say who he’s going out with. But how can he tell the truth without needing to make it a big revelation? His Name is a sweet film that successfully taps into the excitement and fear of adolescence – a time when everything is new but can also be scary to navigate. The film doesn’t want to get too bogged down in the angst, but it does want to be true to the teen experience, something it does very well. It’s a film that’ll make you smile.
4 out of 5
Director: Matthew Puccini, USA, 11 mins
Marco is in high school, but decides to cut class so he and his boyfriend, Graham, can spend some time together alone at his house. While it’s a chance for them to take their relationship to the next level of intimacy, it soon becomes a negotiation between two people who don’t really know what they’re doing. O One of them is being penetrated for the first time, which brings certain insecurities to the fore when things don’t turn out as expected. Dirty if the sort of film that dissects an individual, personal experience in a way that helps make it universal – we may not have exactly the same experience that Marco and Graham do, but we can understand the uncertainty and trepidation the film is exploring.
3 out of 5
Pretty Girl (Cailín Álainn)
Director: Megan K Fox, Ireland, 8 mins
In rural Ireland, the teens are having a disco where the boys and girls are supposed to turn up dressed as the opposite sex. However, for Kevin it becomes an opportunity to introduce his trans identity to the world. In a very short running time, Pretty Girl deals with a lot of ideas while telling a charming story with a dark edge. It deals with the difficulties of trans lives while also offering hope. It also nicely and subtly finds a way to look at the difference between being trans and the more purely performative aspects of gender identity.
4 out of 5
Director: Nick Bechman, UK, 18 mins
Michael (played by Harry Potter and Backbeat star, Ian Hart) is a quiet man living a quiet life. However, he has decided to do something new, so after work he gets on the bus, heads to a bar and into the world of drag for the first time. The film spends a surprisingly long time on the bus getting to the bar, but it is perhaps this part of the film that is most interesting, as Michael watches the other passengers, illuminating how little we know about the people we pass every day and what’s going on in their lives. Indeed it’s a film that often likes to spend a few extra seconds on things, successfully allowing the viewer to consider what they’re seeing and filling in the interior world of the characters. It also has a nice pivot about two thirds of the way through, where for a few moments you wonder whether you’ve made a few too many assumptions about what this film is all about, and that things may not be completely as they appear.
3 out of 5
Director: Jessie Levandov | USA | 8 mins
Worlds collide within the city of New York, as Ali, a Dominican-American teenager from the Bronx hood, navigates an emerging queer identity that seems at odds with the world he grew up in. However, it may be that it’s our expectations of this world that are at odds with the reality, not the world itself. It is a very specific ode to this part of New York, but it manages to expand it something that feels more universal and romantic.
3 out of 5