I recently attended the Iris International Film Festival which focuses solely on Queer cinema.
The Iris Prize, which began in 2007, is an international LGBT film prize which is open to any film which is by, for, about or of interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex audiences and which must have been completed within two years of the prize deadline. The prize is open internationally and judged by a panel of international filmmakers and artists. The winner receives the largest prize for a gay and lesbian film in the world—a package valued at £30,000—allowing the winner to make their next film. The festival takes place over four days and shows 35 short films and 12 British Short Films. I have reviewed every single film that was in the show. Here is the first batch of films from The Iris Film Festival.
Iris Prize Shorts 1
To kick off my first of many reviews of the Iris Prize Film Festival, I will begin with the first series of Iris Prize Shorts. The first theme of the Short Film Programme was ‘With Friends Like These.’ As a programme of shorts, this was a difficult and heavy in terms of subject matter. Two films depicting rape in the space of an hour is a lot for a Wednesday morning and with no warning. There was a lot of violent films in this year’s Iris. None of the films came with a warning, which is extremely careless.
For many young LGBT+ people, our friends form a kind of surrogate family when our real families aren’t as accepting as we’d like them to be. But what if friendship sours? What if the friends we have don’t really know us at all, or aren’t ready to accept us for who we are? The four films in this programme take a look at troubled young friendships, exploring childhood and young adulthood with often brutal honesty, but also tenderness and tremendous insight.
Name: Wild Beasts (Villdyr)
Director: Sverre Kamme
Duration: 10 Mins
Plot: Midwinter in the northern reaches of Norway. A group of children runs riot in the snow. But their playful mischief exposes a strange tension between two of the boys. An authentic, convincing story of childhood friendship and jealousy, told with stark simplicity and with great performances from its young cast.
Opinion: I want to start by talking about its cinematography which was absolutely beautiful. I found myself captivated by the scenic beauty of Norway. The film had a minimal amount of colour, mostly grey and blue for background scenery, which made some of the primary colours stand out a lot more.
There was soo much anger in this film. All you saw was these children wrecking absolute havoc and destroying anything they could find in an abandoned house. A very aggressive film which ha no explanation as to why these kids were so violent. Exploring a young boys sexuality and their own personal desires is a subject matter that you do have to tread carefully around, and I feel this film explored it a such a careful yet caring way.
The music which was used was lovely, suited the look of the film well and I loved the use of strong bass to represent his heartbeat at the beginning of the film, I thought that was nicely done. His feelings for his friend is soo strong he can hear his heartbeat in his ears. I felt like the director left the ending of the film open to interpretation. His friend rejects his plight for him not to jump into the freezing water as he didn’t want to see him die which I interpreted as his friend rejecting his feelings without him having to reveal them at all.
The film ended with him jumping in the water. I interpreted this as him ended his own life since he didn’t want his friend to jump into the water and die but he does it himself. I found it to be a bittersweet and tender film, in which the audience had the freedom to decipher it however they wanted.
Name: Pink Pill
Director: Xiaoshan Xie
Duration: 30 mins
Plot: A teenage girl is outed as a lesbian in gossip that spreads quickly across her school. She finds herself judged and insulted by her peers and coerced into trying to change herself by someone she took to be her friend. Based on true events, Pink Pill is a hard-hitting examination of bullying and its emotional consequences.
Opinion: The film was seen from one perspective, and that was through the eyes of the young boy, Li Bo who has unrequited love for Zhang Le, a female friend whose sexuality has been made public by a fellow classmate which leads to bullying and humiliation. Her drink is spiked with a pink pill which is meant to be an aphrodisiac. The film took a path I was not expecting. For me personally, the path it took was extremely disappointing. I was expecting Li Bo to come out as gay himself after he also took the pink pill as it was insinuated that he may be gay himself. Instead, he sexually assaults Zhang Le.
I’ll give the director credit for leading us to believe that the plot was going to go in one direction and for it to head into a different route entirely. The fact that the film was inspired by true events boiled my blood. Don’t make films that profit on the misfortune of others. It’s disgusting.
A stellar performance from both lead actors as well as the supporting cast. Visually, it’s an incredibly grey, leak looking film. However, some of the location shots took my breath away. Some of the scenes were incredibly cluttered which some may find distracting. I never lost sight from the characters or the plot itself by continuously looking at what else was going on.
Personally, I wouldn’t have taken the plot down the route it did. I think that having to rely on a rape scene as being the main plot point and your main twist is a cop-out from thinking of anything truly original and creative, and especially with this film as there were definitely stronger more interesting routes, it could’ve taken.
Name: Three Centimetres
Director: Lara Zeidan
Plot: In the oldest fun park of Beirut, four young friends go on a Ferris Wheel. During this claustrophobic open-air journey, they touch on intimate subjects such as relationships and sex, but Suzie’s breakup advice for Joanna leads to an unexpected confession.
Opinion: This was the winner of the Iris Prize Short Film Award and what a well-deserved win it was!! The film explored the concept of how someone coming out can affect people in different ways. The film was ten minutes long and was done all in one shot!! It also took place in a ferris wheel, so it is visually claustrophobic. It was mostly portraits and since you couldn’t see anything else your attention was constantly on these four girls.
At the beginning of the film, you have a 360 degree shot of the location around this ferris wheel which looked absolutely beautiful! There was also no music or any sound apart from the ferris wheel which added to the uncomfortable tension that occurred between these four characters. Even though there was dialogue throughout the film, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence between the characters after one of them comes out. You could tell plain as day how each character felt about this confession.
This film is a great example of how you don’t require dialogue in order to convey specific emotions, and the reactions were executed well by the actors involved. The acting as a whole was solid throughout and the characters were well rounded, and the chemistry and the relationship that all four of them had was believable. An incredible contender and a well-deserved win. The director challenged herself with this one shot. I repeat, a well-deserved win!
Name: Don’t Call Me Bro (Nenn Mich Nicht Bruder)
Director: Gina Wenzel
Duration: 18 mins
Plot: Cheyenne (Marie Schulte-Werning) is the only girl in a boys’ football gang known as “The Kick-About Crew.” Boozing and violence play a central role in the life of the gang, of which Cheyenne’s boyfriend, Josh, is also a member. Then, one day, Dany (Moritz Reinisch), a new boy with something mysterious about him, appears at the pitch.
Opinion: This film left a sour taste in my mouth. A key point of the film is when a transboy is raped by a bottle of vodka. Because it was filmed using a phone camera it made the entire situation seem all too real and made for uncomfortable viewing. The film didn’t show the aftermath of the ordeal, neither was it a survivor story. For some reason, it wasn’t his story even though it should’ve been.
The story is centered around the young girl who sees first-hand what’s happening, and she sees how her male friends treat women and doesn’t bother to stop it. I feel there was a missed opportunity of her confronting her friends or even stopping the rape from happening which would’ve bought the story to a full circle. Instead, she ignores them, which didn’t do much for anyone in the audience.
The film relied heavily on shock factor hence this brutal and unnecessary scene, and it was unnecessary because nothing really came from it. The film visually was incredibly urban with this grey hue that became its permanent colour throughout which suited the subject matter. A raw, unfiltered film, unapologetic in its nature with a very unsatisfying ending. It should’ve been Dany’s story, so I do not understand why it was focused on some straight white girl.
Iris Prize Shorts 2
Next up on the agenda is the Iris Prize Shorts 2, the theme of the programme was Gender and Family. Each film focused on many different themes and points when it came to gender and family. While one film focused on the lack of understanding in one, the other film focused on the beginnings of a family. Whilst films were tearjerkers, and others created discussion and talk.
How does coming out as transgender, or introduce a transgender partner, affect our relationship with our family? How does it alter our role as a parent, a daughter, a son? These three films take very different approaches to the subject of gender and family, from a moving exploration of motherhood to a touching tale of family reunion and a bittersweet comedy of manners. At a time when transgender rights remain a major talking point, these stories remind us that away from the headlines, real life is often most importantly about the ones we love.
Name: There You Are
Director: Lisa Donato
Duration: 17 mins
Plot: To say goodbye to her dying Grandma Betty, Jessica must become the man her family remembers. Resigned, she looks at herself in the mirror and wonders how she can pass as male after all these years. With some reluctance, her girlfriend Alex helps her rummage through their closets to find the perfect “boy” costume. But what will her family say when she turns up at her grandmother’s house in oversized suit as “Jason”?
Opinion: Honestly, I am really really surprised that this film did not make the top 3. The audience reaction to it was extremely positive too. Neither Jessica nor Alex have any dialogue throughout the entire film, and they didn’t need it as you knew what they were going through and what they were doing. Even when she’s at her Grandma’s house, Jessica still has no dialogue, and she doesn’t need it as all the other characters around are setting the scene and creating the plot and storyline for her.
What I loved about it was the mother’s sudden change of heart. Of course, this all occurs in a very short space of time (the film is 17 minutes long), but it worked so well due to the setting. It was her mother’s deathbed. She’s obviously realized that life is way too short to be soo angry about something that is trivial and petty and showing her change of heart was done so simply with no over-dramatics (all she did was refer to her as Jessica) and yet it had such an impact!
I had a tear running down my eye when the mother sent Jessica that text, I thought that was incredibly touching and such a great end to a great film. The music was perfect. It really set the tone for each scene and the actress playing Jessica was fantastic. She conveyed each emotion the character felt so well! It was a right tear jerker and such a sweet, uplifting film. I felt it was definitely overlooked.
Name: Profane Cow (Vaca Profana)
Director: Rene Guerra
Duration: 15 mins
Plot: When Ana Maria makes plans to leave Brazil for Italy, trans woman Nadia agrees to take custody of her child. Being a mother is something she has always dreamt of. She adores the child, but a change of plans threatens to jeopardize her dreams.
Opinion: Sisterhood was one of the key themes of this short film. It was heavily implied that the women in this film looked out for each other (notably the scene where they start attacking a young man for grabbing a young girl). Another key theme of the story was postnatal depression, a tricky subject that always needs to be handled with care. The story itself is refreshing and is more focused on Nadia starting her own family rather than how her family accepts her.
Everyone around seems to know who Nadia is in the film and she doesn’t get treated any differently which is also a refreshing concept. What stood out for me in this film was the use of depth of field. The director was incredibly creative with his use of depth of field, focusing on intricate objects in front of faces. There was a minimal amount of colour, mostly white and grey but it did have excellent use of UV lighting.
They also used a trans actor to play a trans character which is amazing! The acting was also superb throughout, and the relationship between Ana Maria and her child was executed well and done with some delicacy. The film managed to pack a lot of content in such a small space of time, but none of it felt rushed either. A great, great film with an uplifting ending.
Director: Severine de Streyker, Maxime Feyers
Duration: 22 mins
Plot: When France (Ingrid Heiderscheidt) and her husband Luçien arrive home earlier than anticipated, they have a surprise introduction to their son’s new girlfriend, Cléo (François Maquet). But with all the family gathering for supper, will France manage to keep her cool?
Opinion: This film created some heated discussion among some of my peers due to its representation of trans characters. Trans characters are often always used as a gag joke in cinema. I understand why the director wanted to use comedy to explore the idea of the family attempting to understand the situation. Humour is always the best medicine, and with so many films taking this sort of plot down a more serious route, it’s refreshing for a film to try and a pinch of humour and comedy.
However, using a trans character as a butt of every joke adds further to the problem. The film was just clumsy in its humour. Also, they did not use a trans actor to play a trans character. The director said he couldn’t find the right actor to play the part and I’m not buying that excuse. There are many fine trans-actors out there, who are deprived of this work. If you do it a film based on a trans character, use a trans actor! They will understand the character better than anyone else.
The film included a scene where France forces Cleo to grab one of her breasts which I thought was not needed and definitely didn’t suit the tone of the rest of the film. One of the key points of the film was of France questioning her own identity and learning from Cleo which I personally thought was done quite nicely with the synced smoking.
The use of colour was incredible in the film, where they used specific colours for specific moments as well as the use of light. The primary colours were blue and brown as well as red which was seen on Cleo. The fact she was wearing something so bold meant that we couldn’t take our eyes off her, she was centre stage. The film meant well, but it had a lot of explaining to do.
Iris Prize Short 3
The third and final installment of films during my first day at the Iris Film Festival. The theme of this programme of shorts was masculinity. This was one of the strongest out of the nine programmes with focus being mainly on male masculinity. This programme included a lot of experimental films exploring the themes of masculinity, none of the films were similar in the slightest.
The interactions between men can be brotherly, romantic, erotic, aggressive, and sometimes all at the same time. What does it mean to be a man in a world where traditional gender roles are being challenged while age-old rituals and prejudices persist? From hard-hitting drama to contemporary dance, spanning from Israel to the urban tower blocks of modern Britain, these five films each explore a different facet of modern-day masculinity, provoking and questioning both the character’s preconceptions and our own.
Name: Crashing Waves
Director: Emma Gilbertson
Duration: 4 mins
Plot: Two young men meet on an inner-city housing estate, against a backdrop of high rises residential buildings. Are they about to fight or kiss? Crashing Waves explores the tension between both possibilities through expertly choreographed dance in the unlikeliest of settings.
Opinion: I was incredibly excited for this film as it included interpretive dance and I was not disappointed! The film was short, but it had such an impact on the audience who were captivated by the incredibly routine they were witnessing by the two dancers. It dancing would be aggressive at one point then romantic the next. The film managed to capture so many emotions and feelings in such a short space of time.
You knew exactly what the story was about and what these boys were going through. It was set in a housing estate in London, so the characters are working class. You don’t see many working-class gay characters depicted on the big screen so here is their representation. A very beautiful, clever film and the choreography was exceptional!
Name: The War Room
Director: Ben Hantkant
Duration: 15 mins
Plot: Video artist Ben Hantkant looks back at the often traumatic experience of having served in the Israeli Army in this bold, experimental work that explores the difficulties of being a gay man in the military. Blurring the lines between reality and a very dark, dreamlike fantasy, War. Room raises questions about perception and about the values of present-day Israel.
Opinion: I loved the use of sound in this film. It felt like the director created music and scores with the military equipment that was on hand which was incredibly clever. This was probably one of the more art-house experimental films at the festival. I think it would appeal to a specific type of audience viewer and unfortunately, this wasn’t to my personal taste.
It says in the synopsis the film is a look back at Mr. Hantkant’s traumatic experience when serving in the Israeli Army. Because the film was a mixture of reality and dream-like fantasy, it was hard to grasp what traumatic experiences he was referring to. I feel like this film was trying so hard to be ‘out there’ that it got slightly lost and went slightly off course and it couldn’t be reeled back in. I loved the use of photography in it when he was chained/bounded (this was reference I definitely got). Mr. Hantkant also specializes in installations, and this would make a very interesting installation piece as well as a film. You can definitely see Mr. Hantkant’s incredible eye for art and fantasy. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Name: Michael Joseph Jason John
Director: Scott T. Hinson
Duration: 10 mins
Plot: This romantic thriller explores the emotional aftermath of a one-night stand (and the inherent risks of hook-up culture) as a lonely man imagines what life might be like with a mysterious stranger he picks up on the New York City subway.
Opinion: I personally liked this film. I know it had a mixed response from the audience, but I personally thought it was good. Not going to lie when I saw the brunette coming on screen I genuinely thought it was Paul Rudd. It was not Paul Rudd. What I like was the fact it was relatable and just for specific people but it relatable to everyone! We’ve all done it where we’ve fantasized after a good one night stand. Your brain just goes into overdrive where you imagine every possible scenario.
What made it stand out for me, in particular, was the fact it was about the aftermath of a one night stand and just so happens both characters are gay men. It wasn’t a coming out story or a story of struggle. I feel sometimes gay cinema can be repetitive when it comes to its plot and storyline. I’ve only ever seen one gay film where it’s a proper love story and just so happens both characters are gay and this film reminded me of that.
I loved the music that was used in the film, which reminded me a lot of The Sims music. There is a scene where the brunette brings out a knife. You think something horrible is going to happen (luckily it doesn’t). The director said when he has a one night stand he always thinks whether you might be killed by this stranger. Personally, I’ve never worried about that, but now I’m going to. Thank you, Mr. T. Hinson, for adding an extra worry into my life. I also enjoyed the sex scene too. You cannot go wrong with some vigorous nipple licking.
Name: Wren Boys
Director: Harry Leighton
Duration: 11 mins
Plot: It’s the day after Christmas, and Father Conor, a priest from County Cork, drives his nephew to prison to visit one of the inmates. This is modern Ireland, a country that’s often critical of tradition and willing to embrace modern values, but within the prison walls different rules apply, and life is often overshadowed by the threat of violence.
Opinion: This was my favourite film out of all the contenders!! It one the audience award and was one of the three finalists for both awards, The Best British Short and The Iris Award and rightfully so! It had me at the edge of my seat! I’ve never felt soo much from watching a short film before. I felt immense relief. I felt angry, and I was left in shock. It evoked soo many different emotions from me. It left me lost for words.
Aesthetically the film looked masculine, it had such strong colouring, it was incredibly dark in tone, and it had a grainy texture to it. It fitted this category perfectly. The acting was superb, and the characters themselves apart from the priest were incredibly and angry and aggressive a testosterone-run rollercoaster. The kissing scene was incredibly hot! I know that isn’t professional, but I literally can’t think of any other way to describe it.
Every scene is a new plot twist, and it’s never ending. I’ve never heard an audience react such a way to a film. The ending of the film caught the audience by surprise, and you could hear gasps coming from every direction of the theatre. Everyone fell in love it when they saw, and people could not stop talking about it. I loved it, and even now a week later it is still my favourite film and I highly recommend that you see it.
Name: Something About Alex
Director: Reinout Hellenthal
Duration: 19 mins
Plot: Alex, a troubled and isolated teenager, finds a true and supportive friend in his sister’s boyfriend, Hendrik. But when Hendrik and Annelies announce their plans to leave the family home, Alex must face what is troubling him.
Opinion: A fresh, bright film it was aesthetically. So far most of the films have been dark in tone, and this film looked like a Fairy Non-Bio advert. It was refreshing. Each frame and each seen looked clean and so bright. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and how the actors portrayed the characters on screen. The actor playing Alex was fantastic. He highly emphasized this aggressive, masculine facade that Alex seems to have.
The plot twist at the end was fantastic – I only didn’t see it coming. Although, I was left slightly confused by the ending. I interpreted the ending in two ways: the first being Alex was a boy trapped in a girls body. The second was that Alex felt like he was a girl trapped in a boys body and he couldn’t come to terms with or didn’t want to feel that way. The acting from the young girl was Oscar-worthy, both young actors were incredible in that particular scene. An incredible film which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was incredibly invested in it while I was watching it.
Thus concludes Iris Prize Day 1. Day 2 will be coming out very soon.