The legendary Iris Prize returns for October 2023 clutching another sparkling selection of films, long and short, from and about the LGBTQ+ community. With screenings and events popping up all over Cardiff across one fabulous week, Rowan Davies breaks down the 2023 programme and reviews three selected highlights.
For 17 years and counting, the Iris Prize has been a cultural platform for aspiring LGBTQ+ filmmakers. The Cardiff-based film festival has evolved into the largest LGBTQ+ short film prize on a global scale, offering a safe space for queer creators to share their stories through the art of cinema. More than a creative space, the Iris Prize is a committed organisation that vows to increase audiences for LGBTQ+ narratives. Here is what you can expect from 2023’s Iris Prize.
The Iris Prize returns to the Welsh capital between Tue 10-Sun 15 Oct, attracting filmmakers and cinephiles from all around the world. For what its director Berwyn Rowlands describes as “a week of emotions”, this year’s festival will screen 12 new feature films and 35 short films from 21 countries competing for a £30,000 prize.
This year has already teased a lineup of star-studded casts across its diverse array of short films, each having a distinct and important message. Requiem, by Em J. Gilbertson, stars Bella Ramsey (The Last Of Us), while Thomas May Bailey’s The Talent stars Emma D’Arcy (House Of The Dragon): both hope to claim the grand prize. Meanwhile, highly anticipated feature films like Femme and the Billy Porter and Luke Evans vehicle Our Son are also due to show at the festival.
Iris’ opening night will begin with a ceremony presented by Angharad Mair, who will be joined by guests onstage. Among the filmmakers in attendance will be notable Welsh industry names Russell T Davies (Doctor Who, Queer As Folk, It’s A Sin) and Euros Lyn (Heartstopper) – local heroes of film and television production.
The Stadium Plaza will host the launch of this year’s Iris Prize, equipped to cater for screenings and events. Other venues include creative organisations that have contributed to the growth of Iris over the years across the city, including Chapter Arts Centre and the University Of South Wales’ Atrium. A new addition to the lineup of venues, 2023’s Iris Prize will also host a gig at Enby’s, welcoming Cardiff’s newest queer hotspot to the family.
Following the 2023 festival, the Iris On The Move scheme will return, taking Iris’ films on the road next year. Confirmed locations so far are Aberystwyth, Bangor, Belfast, Blackpool, Caernarfon, Manchester, Pontardawe, Plymouth and Swansea: be on the lookout for more. The Best British short films, meanwhile, should be available at a later date to stream for free via Channel 4.
Whether you’re a frequent visitor or a first-timer, this is a great opportunity to see some exclusive and unique cinema, network with other creatives, or simply make some new like-minded friends.
Three films to catch at Iris this year…
THE QUEEN OF MY DREAMS
Dir: Fawzia Mirza (97 mins)
The directorial debut of Fawzia Mirza, The Queen Of My Dreams’ perfect balance of comedy and drama has proven to be a triumph since its initial release. The film follows Azra (Amrit Kaur) as she travels to Pakistan from her home in Canada to deal with the unexpected loss of her father; as she mourns him, she must also navigate her mother’s obvious disregard of her sexuality.
Mirza’s storytelling ability is captivating, brilliantly grasping the tribulations of being queer in a conservative culture and religion. As much as its focus is about the queer experience though, it’s also a journey of self-discovery for both parent and child. In between the awkward silences, a beautiful mother-daughter bond is rekindled through flashbacks, proving that their similarities outweigh their differences.
Introduction and Q&A with Fawzia Mirza, Vue Cinema screen 2, Stadium Plaza, Cardiff, Wed 11 Oct (7.30pm)
Also showing at Vue Cinema screen 1, Sat 14 Oct (12.15pm)
CHUCK CHUCK BABY
Dir: Janis Pugh (101 mins)
Chuck Chuck Baby has a romantic comedic flair that is quintessential to a British cinematic love story. However, its depiction of the human spirit is what sets it apart from other features in competition at this year’s Iris Prize. Directed by Welsh filmmaker Janis Pugh, protagonist Helen is bound by a tough living situation with her ex-husband and his dying mother for whom she cares. Her job at the chicken factory is taxing and grating, but the only time Helen gets to escape the tensions of her home life. But when her secret school crush returns to the town, Helen’s life is altered.
Pugh’s depiction of older queer relationships is charged with emotion, aided by a once-forbidden love surfacing into something beautiful later in life. More importantly, it’s told from perspective of a relationship between two queer women, something that lacks representation in cinema to this day.
Introduction and Q&A with Janis Pugh, Vue Cinema screen 1, Fri 13 Oct (8pm)
Also showing at Chapter Arts Centre screen 1, Market Road, Cardiff, Sun 15 Oct 5.30pm)
CAPTAIN FAGGOTRON SAVES THE UNIVERSE
Dir: Harvey Rabbit (72 mins)
The story of Captain Faggotron can only be described as unapologetically wacky, which, let’s be honest, is implied by the title. From writer and director Harvey Rabbit, this colourful feature film is an on-the-nose metaphor for internalised homophobia. Told through the standpoint of an in-denial gay priest, his former extraterrestrial lover plots to turn Earth into the habitat of rampant homosexuals.
The film’s use of arts and crafts sets and costumes paired with cosmic chaos harks back to campy sci-fi movies, albeit with a more explicit nature. At times you wonder what’s happening… but then realise it doesn’t matter if you don’t know.
Introduction and Q&A with Harvey Rabbit, Vue Cinema screen 2, Fri 13 Oct (9.30pm)
Iris Prize, various venues, Cardiff, Tue 10-Sun 15 Oct. Tickets: £140 full festival pass; £45 full online pass; £90 weekend pass; £30 per day; events also available individually.
words ROWAN DAVIES