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Ten unmissable LGBTQ+ movies from BFI Flare 2023

Here is our list of ten unmissable LGBTQ+ movies coming to BFI Flare 2023, so you can catch all the best films at the festival this year.

Best LGBTQ+ movies 2023 BFI Flare

Sometimes people question the need for a film festival like BFI Flare that focuses exclusively on LGBTQ+ content. They question why queer movies are kept separate like this or even the need to celebrate them in the first place. Shouldn’t LGBTQ+ films just be included in mainstream festivals like any other kind of cinema?

Sure, integration is important, but queer-specific festivals like Flare remain vital still. Without these spaces, many queer films and queer filmmakers would struggle to have their voices heard in a world that still prioritises straight storytelling, even within arthouse cinema. And crucially, these are safe spaces that help build a community where LGBTQ+ people from all backgrounds can feel like they belong and see themselves represented in all the new movies on offer.

For people who often live on the margins, who are often erased in the stories they see on screen, it’s truly a radical act to see yourself and people like you foregrounded in every single film shown, be it a short, documentary, or full-blown feature. So, we’ve put together this list of all the best movies on offer at BFI Flare this year.

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As the UK’s largest queer film event, BFI Flare is the loudest, proudest voice we have when it comes to LGBTQ+ cinema, and we are so, so lucky to have it.

2023 has proved itself to be yet another banner year for the festival, so picking just ten of the best 2023 movies to highlight here was not an easy task. But choose we did because queer cinema is essential cinema, and we need to do absolutely everything we can to celebrate that fact.

(In case you’re wondering why this year’s opening and closing films didn’t make the cut, that’s because we’ve already celebrated them in our The Stroll review and Drifter review, so go check those reviews out when you’re done absorbing all these other stellar queer picks).

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Before I Change My Mind

Coming-of-age teen movies are a dime a dozen at queer film festivals, and the 80s high school genre is well-worn as well, but that’s precisely why Trevor Anderson’s combination of the two is so arresting.

With the story of Robin, an androgynous newcomer who’s just moved to a small-town high school, Before I Change My Mind challenges and subverts all the usual clichés you might expect a film like this to indulge in. Vaughan Murrae is mesmerising in the lead role, but even they are briefly overshadowed by a synth-pop musical piss-take on Jesus Christ Superstar that had audiences cackling at our screening.

BFI Flare: Big Boys

Big Boys

Big Boys is another coming-of-age film with a difference. Here, we meet a teenage boy called Jamie who starts to develop feelings for his cousin’s boyfriend while they’re away together on a camping trip. Script-wise, the story of this romance movie isn’t all that groundbreaking, even though it is sweet and lovely and absolutely worth your time.

What does set this film apart, though, is the focus on Jamie as a plus-sized gay boy, an experience that is almost much never depicted on screen. In a community often consumed by its own obsession with body image, seeing Jamie come into his own and lust after another “Big Boy” is truly game-changing and really holds the power to help so many of us who might struggle to find pride in the way we look when it deviates from unattainable, Adonis-like standards.

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Chrissy Judy

Chrissy Judy is the kind of queer indie we need to see more in the world. Everything about this story of a struggling drag queen who’s suddenly ditched by their best friend feels intrinsically queer, from the music and the acting, to every detail in every frame.

That’s because Todd Flaherty, the director, also wrote and starred in this stunning black-and-white debut as well. It’s funny, it’s poignant, and in another timeline, it would be up for all the Oscars you could imagine. Not bad for a comedy movie that only cost £20k to produce.

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Kokomo City

Kokomo City is a bold and ferociously queer documentary that unpacks how racism and transphobia impact the lives of four Black trans sex workers in America. But make no mistake. Grammy-nominated producer-turned-director D. Smith hasn’t set out to tell a sob story here.

The harsh realities of this world aren’t shied away from, but there’s so much joy and strength to be found here too. Kokomo City might only be 70 minutes long, but the impact it makes in that short span guarantees it a spot on any end-of-year list that seeks to celebrate the best filmmaking in documentary storytelling and beyond that too.

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Lotus Sports Club

Lotus Sports Club tells the moving story of Pa Vann, a Cambodian trans man in his 60s who coaches a team of young LGBTQ+ football players. Many of them are homeless or struggling in various other ways, so they look up to Pa as a father figure who’s always on their side, no matter what. Filmed over five years, this moving documentary resonates with the strength of community and what it means to have a trans elder be the role model so few trans people are lucky enough to have in their lives.

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As a record-breaking weightlifter, Mel Daluzyan was the pride of Armenia until he was publicly outed as a trans man, which led to transphobic protests across the country. To escape this harassment, Mel and his girlfriend sought asylum in Amsterdam, where they found sanctuary at the expense of his career.

Directors Inna Sahakyan and Paul Cohen use Mel’s story as a way to sensitively portray what queer migrants gain and lose after being forced to leave their country, and in doing so, they also shine a light on the dangerous politics queer people continue to face today in Armenia.

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Filmmaker Shamim Sarif juggles a lot in her fifth feature. There’s the tension between small-town Americana and the Palestinian immigrants who have come to set up their businesses in a place where they’re not welcome.

Then there’s also the sexual tension that develops between two women from these communities, Lisa and Dalia, who both have reason to resist the urges they feel for each other. But Sarif balances these themes in his drama movie admirably with a gorgeous, visually arresting piece that finds beauty in the juxtaposition between these two worlds as they clash and combine in surprising ways.

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The Empress of Vancouver

Drag queens abound, but how many people can you call a true “Empress” of drag? Oliv Howe discovered her craft as a teenager in NYC before setting up shop permanently in Vancouver, where she went on to lead Canada’s first official pride parade in 1981.

David Rodden-Shortt’s deep-dive documentary chronicles this and more across 40 years using astonishing archive footage that brings to life so many faces and spaces that have been lost to time. The Empress of Vancouver speaks to the resilience of queer history in opposition to those who would erase it, and to see all this through the eyes of someone as special and impactful as Oliv makes the whole journey even more remarkable.

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Puberty sucks, and navigating romance as a teenager is doubly hard, but for Jay, things are even more complicated because they have the added pressure of dealing with all this as an intersex person who wonders if who they’re attracted to will dictate who they become.

It’s a lot, but XX+XY also finds the fun in this journey too with the kind of messy love triangle that K-dramas do so well. Come for the refreshingly positive take on intersex experiences, and stay for the silly, sex-positive hijinks.

Those are our top picks from BFI Flare 2023, but there’s so much more to enjoy out there. While you’re here, dive into other LGBTQ+ content with our guides to the Heartstopper season 2 release date or the Euphoria season 3 release date.