›› Iris Prize Film Festival 2022 highlight reviews ‹‹

In collaboration with the prodigious IRIS Prize Film Festival, the good folk at Film 4 proudly present selected highlights from the 2002 festival grouped into three categories that between them focus on the pressures of growing up young and gay / Queer Youth; looking for love, companionship or acceptance / Lonely Hearts and celebrating the pure joy found in - to thy ownself, being true / Finding Joy. What's not to like?

›› reviews posted: Queer Youth - 31st May, 2023 | Lonely Hearts - 30th June, 2023 | Finding Joy - 19th July, 2023 ‹‹

›› Keep Off the Grass ‹‹

a short film by Francis Rudd.

2022 | 11 mins | UK.

an achingly raw depiction of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality.

Dave says:

From writer and director Francis Rudd comes this achingly raw depiction of a young man coming to terms with his sexuality on the football pitch.

For eighteen-year-old Sunny Cooper (Charles Humphreys) lives for football, ever to be found training with his teammates and in particular with his close friend Josh (Charlie Howard). Only their amateur football club isn't doing too well, a fact not lost on their homophobic manager (KC Flanagan) who lets his views on their dire situation known in no uncertain terms, along the way firmly aiming the words "playing like a f***ing fairy" in Sunny's direction. Desperately in need of a win come end of season match day, can Sunny somehow reconcile his love of the game, with his unspoken love for Josh?

Nurturing a cast of largely fresh faces whose youth and sheer energy give this short a lush sense of realism, by no surprise this is a work dominated by the struggle of a young man to come to terms with his sexuality, both personally and professionally and in doing so, come out to a teammate hoping that in Sunny he's found more than just a friend. To that end, the Howard / Humphreys pairing shine in their respective roles, often letting their eye contact do the talking rather than the dialogue itself, even if Humphreys' lets slip a key line that would have benefited from another take. Then again, Sunny's younger brother Finn (Elliot Douglas) almost ends up stealing the show in accepting his siblings' sexuality, perhaps even before the man himself was able to do so.

That being openly gay in football is not an oxymoron, is to state the obvious. Yet and like many a title I could mention, The Pass included, this emotional work reflects the fact that and in the main, the sport itself remains far from a welcoming environment for anyone of differing sexuality; albeit that is apart from the good folk at Tooting & Mitcham Football Club whose ground was used for filming. What is equally the case, is that this marks a wondrous directorial debut from Rudd; that of a beautifully told coming out story, complete with a touching close-of-play. Need more be said?

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Queer Youth' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - from the waist up | Overall - file under ... 3+ stars

›› Nânt ‹‹

a short film by Tom Chetwode Barton.

2022 | 17 mins | Wales - UK.

a wonderfully surreal take on standing tall as an out 'n' proud gay man.

Dave says:

Radically different to the standard scenario of "to thy ownself, being true," here we find writer and director Tom Chetwode Barton deliver a work that's probably unlike anything you've seen before.

At heart however, this is the story of Dion (Pete MacHale); a young man whose falsetto voice has seen him take the place of the AWOL soprano in the community choir, much to the ridicule of three of its bigoted younger members. Not that it helps that Dion also happens to be the only gay in the village, his out personality all too often resulting with him being subject to both physical and verbal abuse by those of narrow minds. Yet there's a new gay boy in the valley by the name of Jude (Dylan Brady); a youth who's only too aware of the pain of prejudice and how much words can hurt. Only will Jude stand up and be counted alongside Dion, when the bullies from the choir come calling?

For that and in the main is the synopsis of this work; only it's not quite as simple as that. For here Barton has gone out of his way to deliver a short film that whilst proudly gay to the core throughout, is equally as surreal as you can get. Complete with a trio of spirits from Wales' ancient past that help Dion navigate his sexual awakening, with the man himself more often seen wearing a frock than not, this is a narrative that speaks, if not shouts of standing up to homophobia and therein being of support to those struggling to find the inner strength to be true to their sexual self.

To that end, Meredydd Rhisiart has drawn the short straw, having the unwelcome task of portraying the central homophobic bully of the piece in the form of Geraint, even if there's a catch in the tale for those who stay tuned through end credits. That both Brady and MacHale of Dungarees fame shine in their touching roles, goes without saying, in a work that's beautifully Jarmanesque at times, mixing realism with surrealism, gender and sexuality and Welsh myths and legends, as enhanced by the diverse locations of the region, having been filmed in Snowdonia National Park and Galeri Caernarfon area of Wales.

That this somewhat dreamlike, if not strikingly bizarre in places tale closes with Dion standing up to the ingrained homophobia from those around him is not a spoiler, given here Barton has taken the meaning of standing tall as an out 'n' proud gay man to a whole new level. A wonderfully surreal delight, if perhaps not for those who prefer a more traditional styled narrative. But you know, I liked it.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Queer Youth' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - bare-arsed cheek | Overall - file under ... 3+ stars

›› Silence ‹‹

a short film by TJ O' Grady Peyton.

2020 | 14 mins | UK.

a beautifully played work on being true to your heart.

Dave says:

In many ways there's nothing remotely gay in this short film from co-writer and director TJ O' Grady Peyton. Yet the premise is one that forms the narrative core of many a gay work; namely being different to those around you.

Not that this is a coming out piece. Rather this beautifully played work revolves around Joseph (Kai Joseph Keenan-Felix); a young man who escapes the boredom of lockdown by venturing out at night to a nearby industrial wasteland to cover decaying walls with paint: graffiti artist fashion. Only it's on one such occasion that destiny is set to play its part, when Joseph chances upon a young girl (Lauryn Bryan) doing ballet to classical music. Intrigued by what he saw and more than curious, Joseph begins to imitate her dance movements in private, all too aware of the repercussions on the home front if discovered, given his bigoted father (Kai Owen) would prefer his son playing football with the lads, rather than practicing pirouettes. Yet when his passion for dance becomes known, will Joseph succumb to social conformity, or remain true to his heart?

In many ways, this short film could be summarized as 'Billy Elliot in Lockdown' and there's nothing wrong with that, given likewise it shines the spotlight on being true to yourself, in spite of the prejudice from others who rather than encourage your natural talent, do everything they can to kill it. To that end, Keenan-Felix shines are the new self-taught ballet boy in town, whose unexpected love of dance is a surprise to him and a total shock to his family; his father being more concerned with how such would reflect on his standing in the community, rather than nurturing his son's gift.

Yet as honest a work as this is in depicting the inner struggle of a young man to dance his way out of lockdown, therein lies the problem with the narrative and indeed it could be argued with society itself. Given twenty-three years after Jamie Bell danced his way into our hearts, it's still assumed that because a young man likes dance / ballet, he has to be gay. Which is the same mindset as saying that just because you like sport, you have to be straight. Thankfully Joseph's sexuality remains undefined throughout, opting instead to let his dance steps do the talking. And frankly, it's all the better for it.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Queer Youth' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - none | Nudity - from the waist up | Overall - file under ... 3+ stars

›› Homebird ‹‹

a short film by Caleb J. Roberts.

2022 | 12 mins | Northern Ireland.

the emotional reunion between a father and his gay son.

Dave says:

From writer and director Caleb J. Roberts comes this well-played work on the meaning of family and if anything, the act of forgiveness, as the two men come to appreciate what means the most to them in life.

Not that it begins that way, given young Conor (Peter Young) flew the Irish coop months ago to spend time with his boyfriend on the mainland. That was then however and this is now, with Conor having returned to Northern Ireland; his University education and boyfriend for that matter, a thing of the past. Only before the family 'welcome home' meal beckons, a tense meeting with his father awaits...

Essentially a two-man play, here we find Roberts vividly showcase the emotional reunion between a father and his gay son, one all the more complicated given the mixed communications between the two. For Conor outed himself to his parents on the day that he ran away across the water with some wee lad: in his father's words and view. Now back on home ground, Conor knows that he must now face the reality of what he avoided back then, namely the homophobic wrath of his father ... or perhaps not?

For here Roberts has turned the coming out scenario on its head, given and with a spoiler warning firmly in place, the narrative finds Conor's father furious not with his son for being gay; rather for having upped sticks without a single goodbye to his parents, leaving both distraught by his sudden absence. To that end, seasoned actor James Doran as Conor's Da Dermot excels as a man desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged son, hoping that a night at the local seaside amusements may somehow help bring the two together, knowing at some point he has to discuss his son's sexuality and utter words that he's unaccustomed to using. Doran thankfully does not overplay the part, allowing actor, writer and director Young to shine as his son, with a wonderfully natural performance throughout. Frankly, I wanted to see more of this short film that's simply; a pure delight.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Queer Youth' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - none | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

›› Hornbeam ‹‹

a short film by Mark Pluck.

2022 | 17 mins | UK.

a beautifully played short on the quest to find true love.

Dave says:

This beautifully played short film from director Mark Pluck tugs at the heartstrings by showcasing a love that came so close and yet so far, from being perfect.

Not that love was in the air when two strangers met in the middle of the night; a deserted car park the pick-up point for the fortysomethings to get to know each other intimately well. Only sex is not on the agenda here, as a gardener by trade (Daniel Lane) is set to discover when he finds himself in the company of a man (Christopher Sherwood) so closeted that he's not even out to his parents, or almost anyone else for that matter. Cutting their time together short, the two men go their separate ways, only to repeatedly meet each other over the course of the next few nights that soon turn into days; for conversation, friendship and perhaps something more akin to a beautiful thing.

Essentially a two-man play, here actor, writer and producer Lane has crafted a telling work on the quest to find true love; namely when that one person feels the same way about you in their heart, as you do about them. Only and with a spoiler warning firmly in place, here Lane opts to pull the rug out from under the feet of romantics, by dropping two key lines from each party into the conversation; revelations that will have dramatic consequences on their burgeoning relationship.

Well-played throughout by the Lane / Sherwood pairing who wonderfully capture the 'yin and yang' styled nature of their relationship, the result is a deeply touching work on life, love and if anything regret over what could have been and what, nearly was. Captivating, if ultimately quite sad.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Lonely Hearts' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - none | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

›› A Fox in The Night ‹‹

a short film by Keeran Anwar Blessie.

2022 | 11 mins | UK.

how things in life are not always as Black and White, as what they may at first appear.

Dave says:

From writer, director and star of the show Keeran Anwar Blessie comes this telling work in which the name of the game is how appearances can be deceptive, or to put it another way and as my mother used to say: don't judge a book by its cover.

For excited about a night out on the town, perhaps the first post lockdown, flamboyant Lewis (Blessie) is taken aback when a friend asks him to 'pick up a package' for him, from his local dealer Daniel (Korey Ryan). Apprehensive to say the least, Lewis walks the darkened streets until he finally arrives to meet the man himself and do the deal. Yet Daniel is far from the stereotype of a drug dealer that Lewis had envisaged. As words such as "you look beautiful" echo around the apartment balcony, could their encounter be a case of how opposites attract?

For it's here where Blessie packs a narrative punch by going out of his way to highlight how you can at times form an opinion on something or someone based solely upon their appearance, without knowing the true facts involved. For Daniel is far from the hardened individual Lewis thought he would be. Daring each other to reveal their true self, Daniel finds in Lewis a man dressed up for the night, complete with pearl earrings and eye shadow, only for Lewis to find in Daniel a man yearning to be more like the overtly gay man standing in front of him.

Well-played throughout, in many ways this is a short film that and in spite of the pitch-perfect performances from the Blessie / Ryan pairing, the real star is the story itself, one that here challenges stereotypes and in the process perfectly illustrates how things in life are not always as Black and White, as what they may at first appear. A thought-provoking work; indeed.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Lonely Hearts' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - none | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

›› Jim ‹‹

a short film by Tom Young.

2021 | 15 mins | UK.

the inspiration story of The Diana of Earl's Court.

Dave says:

Set in West London in 1982 comes this poignant work from writer and director Tom Young that vividly highlights the dangers of selling yourself on the streets to strangers.

For this is the story of 41-year-old Father Jim Fitzsimmons (Gary Fannin); a parish priest who for one night only is finally letting his gay side run free, in his desire for man-sex. Nervously selecting a rent boy from a chorus line of young men, the two end up back at Jim's place, smoking, drinking and dancing the time away as a precursor to the act itself; more for Jim's sake if truth be told, than for the boy himself. Only when things start to get intimate between them, the young man (Cary Ryan) throws up, not used to sherry at the vicarage; nor for that matter the kindness of a man who shocked by his own yearning for sex ahead of the boys' needs, realizes the reality of the situation, only to then discover the true age of the young man in his arms.

Taking inspiration from the life of noted Church of England priest Bill Kirkpatrick, aka "The Diana of Earl's Court", known for his acts of compassion during the peak of both the AIDS crisis and the then exploitation of young male sex workers in Earl's Court during the 1980s, here Young has crafted a compelling story that's far removed for the inner conflict of those who devote their lives to a doctrine that forbids their very sexuality. Rather this well-played work shines the spotlight on the plight of sex workers who literally put their lives on the line when encountering strangers in the night. To that end, Fannin is exceptional in the role of Jim; his emotions laid bare for all to see. Yet it's Ryan as Simon, the rent boy of the piece, who captures your heart courtesy of his achingly real portrait of a vulnerable young man longing for affection, only to find himself one of many young men selling their body to seemingly the lowest bidder; their aspirations in life all but cast aside for the odd pound or two.

That the real life Jim / Father Bill, so shocked by the news of the death of a rent boy at the hands of a group of paedophiles, went on to found a charity that supported hundreds of male sex workers in the '80s and '90s, is not a spoiler. Rather it's credit to a man who sought to bring protection, comfort and care to young men working the streets and to those living with and indeed dying from AIDS at the height of the pandemic.

The result is a captivating work that here is played as a platonic love story, given Jim would never forget the teenager who he held in his arms that night; namely a boy who for that brief moment in time, was moved by a tender touch of a man who saw in him not a rent boy, but a young man longing for love and acceptance. That said, it's Jim's / Father's Bill's relationship with male sex workers that would forever change his life and indeed the lives of others for the better, that remains the powerful narrative core of this 'inspired by real life' work. Deeply moving, goes without saying.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Lonely Hearts' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - from the waist up | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

›› Skinny Fat ‹‹

a short film by Mathew David.

2021 | 5 mins | Wales - UK.

a compassionate mother reminds her son that it's the man wearing the shirt that counts.

Dave says:

Written, directed and starring Mathew David as the gay man at the heart of the story, alongside Welsh acting star Ruth Madoc as the mother of the piece, this all too short - short, addresses an issue that all too many men and women have to face at some point in their life; namely an ever increasing waistline.

For Mathew (David) is out shopping in a department store for new shirt for the night, with the changing room curtain the dividing line between his mother Bernie (Madoc) and her son. As potential shirts get rejected, memories of a troubled past relationship begin to surface, when his then boyfriend Aled (François Pandolfo) made jokes at his belly fat expense. Only could the love of a mother remind Mathew that it's the man wearing the shirt that counts?

There's some really nice touches to this short film from David, one uplifted by the ever vibrant presence of Ruth Madoc who brings to the screen the compassionate spirit of a mother who simply loves her son, whatever his sexuality and for that matter his waistline, are. Played for all it's worth, David graciously gives the best line of the narrative to Madoc who wonderfully comments: "when you smile, you sparkle and that's a gift. Anyone who tries to take that gift from you, is nothing but a thief."

Complete with a neat twist-in-the-tale styled ending, above all this work is testament to the reality of life itself. For in a world filled with the 'body beautiful' media hype of seemingly endless pretty boys and girls to sell their product, this short represents the shape, build etc. that most folk, actually are. All of which makes for five minutes worth of pure joy. Delightful.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Finding Joy' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - from the waist up | Overall - file under ... 3+ stars

›› The Rev ‹‹

a short film by Fabia Martin.

2021 | 15 mins | UK.

a bored priest finally lets rips his inner disco diva.

Dave says:

There's a divine inspirational feel to this uplifting short film from writer and director Fabia Martin.

For here Jack Holden stars as the Reverend Neil Marlow; a parish priest devoted to his calling in life and therein his elderly congregation, even if his duties are as repetitive as the religious festivals of the year. Only it wasn't always that way, as Neil was once a disco diva, dancing the night away in the days when he let his gay side run free. That however was yesteryear, well before the repetitious work of the priesthood robbed him of his joie de vivre. But could a postcard from an old friend set free the dancing queen that lies behind the cassock?

Vividly detailing the essential, if somewhat mundane tasks of a local priest in the form of Church services, funerals and the like, as interspersed with bingo nights and the ever requisite need for fundraising, here Martin has crafted a lush work that wonderfully merges an exuberant life that was, with the religious responsibilities of the Reverend's life that now is. The result is a gloriously OTT "Praise the Lord" glitter ball styled finale, one that Holden delights in, more than letting his boots do the walking.

Sure it's a fantasy sequence, given how else could the narrative work? Yet come close-of-play Martin leaves you with a touching reminder of how God does indeed work in mysterious ways, as a bored priest finally lets rips his inner disco diva. A pure discolicious delight, thanks in part to the spirited folk of Thorncombe, Dorset.

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Finding Joy' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Gay Visibility - overt | Nudity - none | Overall - file under ... 3+ stars

›› Queer Parivaar ‹‹

a short film by Shiva Raichandani.

2022 | 27 mins | UK.

an exuberant Bollywood styled ode to love.

Dave says:

From co-writer, director and star of the show Shiva Raichandani comes this exuberant Bollywood styled ode to love.

For love is indeed in the air, as Madhav (Raichandani) and Sufi (Raimu Itfum) along with close friends, dance the night away to celebrate their forthcoming wedding; an old discotheque now transformed with the sounds of Indi-pop. Yet just when the two are exchanging loving glances, a face from Madhav's past appears in the form of a grandmother (Taru Devani) long thought dead. Only grandmother Dadi is alive and well and with many a tale from the family closet to tell.

Bursting with Indian song, dance and sparkling sartorial splendour and seemingly filled with more colours than the rainbow, this joyous short film cannot help but bring a smile to your face. Yet between all of the narrative highs, lies many a telling word on the realities, often bitter, faced by those living a non-binary life. To that end, Raichandani excels in the lead role, delivering a passionate and vibrant performance throughout, one that's aided by fine support from Itfum and in particular from Devani who wonderfully captures the empathetic nature of a loving grandmother with rainbow blood proudly running through her veins.

Sure, the narrative may well be too saccharine-coated for some and yes, it could have done with a bit more bite to it in places, given the delicate balancing act between the party atmosphere of the piece and its core trans theme, resulting in a short film with a distinct theatrical feel to it, as lush as the musical sequences are. But that said, this nonetheless is a captivating feel-good work on gender diversity and if anything on what truly makes a family, with Raichandani's eye movements and facial expressions beautifully showcasing the central theme of 'to love and be loved' whatever your sexuality / gender be and in these ever troubling times, that's a message that cannot be said loud enough. A pure Bollywood delight; albeit - made in London!

›› an Iris Prize nominated short film.
›› screened as part of the Iris Prize 'Finding Joy' / Film 4 short films collection / UK.

Trans Visibility - overt | Nudity - none | Overall - file under ... 4 stars

Also included in this series:-

›› The Piss Witch / Queer Youth.
2022 | 7 mins | UK | dir: Jason Barker.
Fed up with the judgement of her peers and cruel comments about her body, Clare finds power in rebellion.

›› Fluorescent Adolescent / Queer Youth.
2022 | 7 mins | UK | dir: Charlie Sharp.
Set in 1987 against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, this is the story of bored teenager Brittany, whose life is enlivened when she meets out 'n' proud Faras, as the two come to bond over a love of music and their experience of being outsiders among their clique of friends.

›› Tommies / Lonely Hearts.
2022 | 15 mins | UK | dir: Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccleston.
In Regency-era London, five women waiting for a carriage descend into a frenzy of vicious gossip about a notorious scandal - with devastating results.

›› Jelly / Finding Joy.
2022 | 17 mins | Wales - UK | dir: Samantha O'Rourke.
Kerry is bored of small-town life. Her shop job is mundane and the family TV is tuned into an endless stream of Brexit, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Nearing breaking point, she follows a cliffside path to a hidden cave and the chance of an underground escape filled with jelly, snacks and hope.

›› Looking for Barbara / Finding Joy.
2022 | 9 mins | UK | dir: Helen Kilbride.
A stylish and visually ravishing celebration of the work of the pioneering lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer who died in 2019, discussing the meaning that her work had for lesbians and experimental filmmakers the world over.

›› reviews copyright © 2023 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com ‹‹
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