Gay cinema steps into the limelight

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

London's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival has grown from a marginal event to a major showcase for some of the best movies made today, writes Geoffrey Macnab

Welcome to the world of the 23rd London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Highlights include I Can't Think Straight, a British film about lesbian Muslims, while John Hurt is expected to attend the British premiere of An Englishman In New York, the long awaited follow-up to The Naked Civil Servant, with Hurt again coifing up as Quentin Crisp. Over 27,000 cinemagoers will attend screenings. Bill Clinton has recorded an introduction to one short film. Out In India tells the story of David Gere, Richard Gere's brother, an activist working to raise awareness of Aids in India. Comedian Matt Lucas will be hosting a discussion to mark the 30th anniversary of Nighthawks, the first British feature to deal unapologetically with homosexuality.

The old stereotype of a marginal festival with tiny audiences watching agit-prop films no longer applies. In the festival's early years, grumblings emanated from local councillors that public money was being spent on such an event. It was – its critics claimed – "pornography on the rates". Such a charge would never be made today, with the festival now regarded by cinemagoers gay and straight alike as a chance to see some of the best new movies around.

"It's an index of how the world has changed that, when the festival was founded in 1986, it was still almost a political act to go to a gay festival. Sometimes, one wasn't just there for the quality of the films," suggests Brian Robinson, senior programmer at the festival. "You were desperate for any contemporary account of homosexuality."

Robinson adds that you only need to look at the sponsors of the British Film Institute-backed event to see how far the festival has moved toward the mainstream. Twenty years ago, the notion that car companies, big banks, airlines, beer brands and even the Metropolitan Police might support a lesbian and gay film festival "would have seemed an impossible dream".

Certain films in this year's programme are bound to stoke up controversy. For example, in Fairytale of Kathmandu, Neasa Ni Chianain follows a celebrated Irish poet to Nepal to chronicle his activities helping young people. For Ni Chianain, the poet was an inspirational figure: a talented gay writer who was frank about his sexuality. However, as she spent time with him in Nepal, she began to suspect that he was exploiting the boys he was there to help.

Fairytale of Kathmandu is provocative but very uncomfortable viewing. On the one hand, it's a chronicle of its director's growing disillusionment with a poet she had formerly revered. On the other hand, it is an exposé of a Westerner using his power and status to take advantage of poor Nepalese boys.

The film explores the nature of relationships between older men and younger boys. Another documentary, Chris & Don. A Love Story has a similar theme, but a very different slant. It is about the love affair between artist Don Bachardy and writer Christopher Isherwood. At the time they met on a beach in California, Isherwood was in his late 40s and Bachardy was only 18. In the Hollywood of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the 30 year gap between the lovers was considered scandalous. Nonetheless, the two stayed together until Isherwood's death. Robinson describes them as "one of the 20th century's great gay couples".

A strong nostalgic undertow runs through this year's event. One figure whose life and works will be prominently showcased is the flamboyant and eccentric Quentin Crisp. Not only will the festival host the British premiere of Richard Laxton's An Englishman In New York, in which we see Crisp (Hurt) in 1980s Manhattan, falling foul of the gay community for not being "on message" about Aids. There will also be screenings of Hurt as the young Crisp in Jack Gold's 1975 classic, The Naked Civil Servant. Meanwhile, a 1970 World In Action portrait of Crisp will be screened, as will the 1990 documentary Resident Alien. Intriguingly, the festival has also dug up a previously unseen Bernard Braden interview with Crisp from 1967. Rounding off the tribute is Uncle Denis? a short documentary by Crisp's great nephew Adrian Goycoolea which features home movies of Crisp and interviews with relatives.

The gay rights campaigner Cleve Jones, a close associate of Harvey Milk and one of the characters featured in Gus Van Sant's recent biopic Milk, will be in town. Festival audiences will also see the special introduction recorded by Bill Clinton for Pedro, a biopic about Pedro Zamora, the gay, HIV-positive Cuban, who appeared on The Real World.

The festival was able to rifle through the BFI archives for titles to showcase. One sidebar, Out of the Shadows: Queer Film Noir, will include Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The American Soldier, Bob Rafelson's Black Widow and Joseph H Lewis' classic, The Big Combo.

The first festival showed nine films. In those early days, gay cinema was poorly funded. Movies would often have (in Brian Robinson's words) "very poor sound and a lot of dodgy camerawork". Even a decade ago, programmers were so short of films to screen that they would be thankful for what they called "the lesbian at a bus stop film." This was the kind of movie that would have only a token gay character.

Thanks to technology and increasing ambition, production values have shot up. So has the range of countries making gay and lesbian movies. The festival will be screening films from 25 countries. Meanwhile, film-makers are moving away from the clichés of old-fashioned "coming out" stories: Robinson argues that gay films are becoming ever more sophisticated: "People don't live in a gay bubble. They come from families. They have complex sexualities. They interact with the straight world. It's a much richer world we're in."

Relatively few UK films are screening. Robinson points out that the history of lesbian and gay film-makers in Britain is littered with directors who've made well-received shorts then gone on to try to make features only to disappear without trace. There is nobody to match Gus Van Sant in the US, Pedro Almodovar in Spain or François Ozon in France. Nor are there experimental film-makers with the stature of the late Derek Jarman. The irony is that, while the festival seems to be booming, the local film-making talent isn't there to take advantage of the showcase it provides.

25 March to 8 April (


1. 'An Englishman
In New York' 34 years after 'The Naked Civil Servant', John Hurt is back as the great British eccentric, Quentin Crisp.

2. 'Cecil Beaton: The Beaton Image'
Adam Low's documentary profile of the photographer, aesthete and society figure.

3. 'The Devil's Cleavage'
Cult 1975 film from George Kuchar parodying 1940s and 1950s Hollywood melodrama

4. Experimental Visions
A sidebar celebrating avant garde work. Titles include 'A Horse Is Not A Metaphor' by Barbara Hammer and John Di Stefano's '(tell me why): The Epistemology of Disco'.

5. 'I Could Go On Singing'
Judy Garland's final film in which she plays a brilliant, emotionally vulnerable singer.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders