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IRIS PRIZE FESTIVAL | LGBTQ+ FEATURE

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Chris Williams rounds up this year’s Iris Prize Festival, Cardiff’s celebration of international LGBT cinema.

Ten years ago, when the Iris Prize Festival started it was a three-day festival; now in its 11th year, the Iris Prize is a six-day long, BAFTA recognised festival – meaning automatic BAFTA qualification for the 15 British films – and recognised by Movie Maker Magazine as one of the Top 50 Film Festivals in the World for three years in a row.

LGBT culture has come a long way since the first Iris Prize Festival in 2007, and even further in the last 50 years as 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. There’s still a long way to go though, as Iris Prize chair, Andrew Pierce, has commented there are far too many countries where being gay is a crime, and the black cloud of Chechnya tragically looms large over the rainbow umbrella. Pierce says that the countries not represented at Iris are a distressing reminder of this.

“What will you see in Cardiff?” is the slogan for this year’s festival, fitting then that filmmakers from around the world come to show their films at one of the world’s most prestigious LGBT film festivals.  “The 25 nominating partners located across the globe are our eyes and ears” says Pierce, “I think Iris is a window on the world”. Over the festival, in Cardiff venues like Cineworld and Park Inn, films made by or aimed at the LGBT community will be shown. As well as the UK and Ireland, USA, Canada and Australia, the festival brings LGBT films to Cardiff from Taiwan, Brazil, India, Isreal, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Hong Kong, Germany, Norway and China. There are even collaborations between Indonesia, Egypt,the  Netherlands and the USA with the film Half a Life, and The Nettle (Kopriva) the result of a partnership between Czechia and China. Overall this year’s films “give a very clear picture of what it’s like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender in 2017”, according to Andrew Pierce.

Sponsored by the Michael Bishop Foundation, the Iris Prize continues to be the world’s largest short film prize at £30,000, helping them to make their next film. Alongside that is the Best British Award, sponsored by Pinewood Studios Group, with a prize valued at £20,000. Other awards are Best Feature, Best Performances in Male and Female Roles, and the Youth Jury Award for Best Short.

Trans lives and rights are coming more to the forefront of LGBT issues and this is represented in the British finalists. Trans stories are celebrated at this year’s festival by making up a third of the Best British Shortlist. These include Yellow, a documentary focusing on transgender and non-binary young adults; Where We Are Now about the changing relationship of a daughter and a transgender parent; Sununú: The Revolution of Love, a portrait of a transgender couple and how they balance raising their six-month-old baby and political activism in Ecuador, and lastly a profile of veteran celebrity entertainer/magician Fay Presto, Queen of Close Up.

Rounding up the group of documentaries in the British shortlist is An (Un)Natural Birth, Laura Kingwell and her partner Maria document their search for a sperm donor online, from a European sperm bank. The rest of the shortlist deals with coming of age stories showing how varied the lives of LGBT youths can be; Pillowtalk and Rink both deal with young girls and their burgeoning feelings for other young girls, while Outlines is a slightly different take on the same subject – a teenage girl unexpectedly spending an evening with her father’s hired escort, the escort recognises the girl’s feelings towards a delivery girl and offers to help. Growing up as a young gay man is also presented in various forms: Colours deals with the unforgiving world of grass roots football, when the team discover Adam’s best friend Tom is gay; One Summer tells the story of a frustrated young sheep shearer and his growing attraction to a colleague; Sunday Morning Coming Down is set at during the height of Britpop as Max journeys to the decaying seaside resort of Hastings to find his tribe. Meanwhile, Wolves looks like it could be one of the most cinematic offerings of the festival – teenager Josh’s life takes an unexpected turn when he meets a mysterious, mute boy in the nearby woods and discovers that love doesn’t need words – whereas the Kickstarter backed Leroy is a down to earth, North London-based comedy about the title character who is forced out of his shell after the death of his beloved grandfather. One of the highlights, animated short Bearable, asks “what if your tribe within the gay community defined you? What if you lived with a real bear?”

Bearable is one of three animations in this year’s festival alongside two shorts in the running for the main Iris Prize – Half a Life, a gay activist’s first-hand account on the streets of Cairo; and India’s The Fish Curry (Maacher Jhol) in which the special occasion of 28-year-old Lalit’s coming out calls for a special dish.

Hollywood actor and American comedy legend, Danny DeVito is nominated for his film Curmudgeons, a film that’s already played well at festivals such as BFI Flare. DeVito directed and plays one of the curmudgeons, Jackie, lover to Ralph – two men who find love late in life.

Brendon McDonall’s film All God’s Creatures won the Iris Prize at the 2014 Festival and his next film, the Cardiff-filmed Spoilers, went on to receive a BAFTA Cymru and BBC Two screenings. In this year’s festival McDonall becomes the first Iris winner to be shortlisted twice, thanks to his film school in Sydney submitting his latest short film The Dam   in which long ago suppressed feelings make themselves known when two lifelong friends revisit the titular dam that defined their youths.

Alongside these already celebrated directors are three films from some of Britain’s brightest upcoming film makers; as well as competing for the Best British Iris Prize, One Summer and We Love Moses are also competing for the main prize, along with The Colour of His Hair, based on an unrealized film script written before the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.

As well as these films, on the Friday is the 2017 Producers Forum. The festival culminates on the Sunday with the Iris Carnival – at Depot, one of Cardiff’s most original venues – along with the awards ceremony (often referred to as the Gay Oscars) where we find out the winner of the Iris Prize 2017.

The Iris Prize, Various venues around Cardiff, Tues 10 – Sun 15 Oct, Tickets: prices vary per event. Info: www.irisprize.org

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