London Film Festival Shining a Spotlight on LGBT Movies

A Fantastic Woman Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of BFI London Film Festival

"Some of the strongest cinema we've seen this year has been LGBT-themed," says festival director Clare Stewart. "Everyone in the industry is now more willing to take a risk."

In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act came into force in England, partially decriminalizing homosexuality and proving to be a turning point in LGBT history. Half a century on, the BFI London Film Festival is helping to mark the law's 50th anniversary with a bumper selection of LGBT titles in its lineup, with many of those films being given the glittering red carpet treatment.

"It's a profoundly strong year for LGBT cinema," says festival director Clare Stewart. "And we are starting to see that emerge in more cultures and also in more mainstream films."

Luca Guadagnino's story of sexual awakening, Call Me by Your Name, will have a gala screening in London, while Sebastian Lelio's trans tale, A Fantastic Woman — which also has been chosen to represent Chile in the foreign-language Oscar race — is getting a special presentation. In the official competition, Cannes hit (and France's Oscar submission) 120 Beats per Minute, about AIDS activism in Paris, and the Brazilian drama Good Manners are both up for the London festival's big prize. Elsewhere, films such as The Wound, Beach Rats, A Moment in the Reeds and the doc Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion and Disco offer examples of a growing array of gay-themed films from around the world.

"The other thing that we're really seeing, which is exciting and a bit more of a development, is more films that aren't necessarily LGBT films but where the character's sexual identity is being treated as a given rather than the subject," adds Stewart.

Coincidentally, the London Film Festival lands just weeks after a major local LGBT success. Francis Lee's feature debut, God's Own Country, the critically acclaimed microbudget British indie about a male sheep farmer who falls for a male migrant Romanian worker, has amassed more than $650,000 in the U.K. since it bowed in September.

"It's really so encouraging," says Tricia Tuttle, head of the LGBT-focused BFI Flare festival, which this March celebrated its 31st edition and shares its programming team with the London Film Festival. "[God's Own Country] has done really well at the box office, proving that there is a real appetite for [LGBT fare]."

Tuttle argues that this LFF's bigger-than-usual crop of LGBT titles isn't the result of a concerted effort to shine a spotlight on queer cinema but is "genuinely coming out of the strength of work" available in a year when Moonlight became the first LGBT film to win the best picture Oscar.

"Some of the strongest cinema we've seen this year has been LGBT-themed," says Tuttle. "Everyone in the industry is now more willing to take a risk. It's all part of a whole wider fabric of younger people's changing attitudes to people being able to express their sex and gender how they want to."

Among the U.K.'s leading figures for such cinema is distributor Peccadillo Pictures, which will present both Beach Rats and The Wound at the LFF (and had a hit earlier this year with gay Scandinavian biopic Tom of Finland). Peccadillo also is preparing the release of controversial Arab-Israeli pic In Between, which earned director Maysaloun Hamoud a fatwa for its depictions of homo­sexuality. "It's just a little more mainstream than it was before," says Peccadillo managing director Tom Abell. "So you've actually got the larger distributors picking up films that in the past would have come to us."

But while distributors such as Peccadillo may now find new competition for LGBT films, it seems there will be plenty of material to go around, especially given the current political landscape. "We live in tumultuous times, and when there are public debates on issues with gender and sexual­ity, I think that does drive filmmakers to be more creative," says Stewart, adding that features such as A Fantastic Woman are "very important" given U.S. President Donald Trump's recent attempt to ban transgender people in the military.

"In a time where social division is becoming more and more pronounced, the need for these stories to be told becomes more enhanced and urgent," she says. "But yeah, the flip side is that I love that these are great works of cinema."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.