Divine Documentary Opens 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

Opening Night of the 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (LLGFF) spotlights a new documentary ‘I Am Divine’ about the life and legend of the extraordinary actor, drag queen, performer and singer, born Harris Glen Milstead in Baltimore but known to the wider world as Divine.

New for this year’s festival, the programme is divided into three easily navigable sections:  Hearts; Bodies; and Minds and you’ll find shorts, feature length drama or documentary, events or archive classics across each section.

There are over 100 titles in the festival offering a dizzying variety of films reflecting the LGBT community around the world. Highlights include James Franco who co-directs and stars in Interior. Leather Bar., hot from the Sundance Film Festival, an Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, and there’s a powerful account of LGBT life in Jamaica in Taboo Yardies.  There are sexual antics amongst Australian lesbians in Submerge, youthful lesbian desire in Mosquita y Mari or indy girl rockers in She Said Boom; the story of Fifth Column.

As London braces itself for the V&A’s new Bowie exhibition We Love David Bowie is an evening devoted to the chameleon of rock, with an illustrated lecture and a rare screening of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars followed by an after party.  There are events and screenings about Pier Paolo Pasolini (subject to a major retrospective at BFI Southbank March / April) and Chantal Akerman, live accompaniment to Nazimova’s Salome (1923), trans animators and musicians Rae and Spoon present Gender Failure, and much more.

The LLGFF’s Opening Night screening of I Am Divine will be the European premiere following the world premiere a few days earlier at SXSW. Divine became notorious for his appearances in John Waters’ early films and this is a fascinating account of a larger than life, queer icon of the cinema with contributions from a large cast of friends, colleagues, actors and, most notably, Divine’s mother. Director Jeffrey Schwarz also made the inspiring documentary about AIDS activist and film historian Vito which was in last year’s festival and this is a worthy successor.

The festival’s Closing Night film is a heart-warming Canadian drama called Margarita about the dilemmas facing an attractive young Mexican nanny who has a complicated love life and a host family who adore her but can’t afford to keep her. It underlines the human issues around immigration and offers an insight into the emotional life of a bright young lesbian with lots of heart.

The festival welcomes back as Principal Sponsor, Accenture (rightfully celebrating their recent award as Stonewall’s Employer of the Year in the annual survey of the UK’s top 100 employers). The Accenture Gala screening will be Out in the Dark, a powerful love story from Israel set against the backdrop of political conflict.

Some key themes across  this year’s festival are the documenting of the history of the AIDS crisis and its activism in films such as the Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague, and United in Anger: A history of ACT-UP; and the importance of preserving historical memory and older people’s place in our community is  highlighted in a rare documentary where older French LGBT people have a voice in Les Invisibles directed by Sebastien Lifshitz, or in Jeremy Jeffs & Mark Ravenhill’s celebration of activist-actor-legend inBette Bourne: It Goes with the Shoes.  The position of trans people and the many varieties of trans experience are strongly represented with a range of powerful documentaries and dramas such as I Am A Woman Now starring April Ashley and the first generation of trans women to undergo the journey to Casablanca for sex reassignment surgery.

The 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (LLGFF) at the BFI Southbank, London with a festival of 11 days and a new look programme that’s packed full of films, special guests, events, workshops, and music.  

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