Who won big at the UK’s queer film festival?
The Iris Prize film festival has been completed for 2019, and the winner of the main prize is the film Black Hat.
Black Hat is a drama set within LA’s Hasidic community. Director, Sarah Smith, wins the £30,000 prize for Best International LGBTQ Short Film. The prize was presented by queer creative powerhouse, Russell T Davies.
My Brother is a Mermaid, directed by Alfie Dale, won Best British Short, as well as the Audience award, and the Youth award.
The Iris Prize is an annual film festival held in Cardiff, Wales. It’s one of the biggest prizes in the world for queer filmmakers, and can really help boost careers.
Black Hat – directed by Sarah Smith
Black Hat tells the story of a closeted Hasidic Jewish man living in Los Angeles.
“It shone a light on an often unseen community in a sensitive, tender and positive way, without casting judgement…” said Jake Graf, International Jury Chair, speaking about the film. “We found the lead charming and likeable, the film visually stunning, and responded well to this perfectly crafted and concise work of art. Accomplished, enjoyable and captivating.”
This was a second nomination for director Sarah Smith and producer and writer Philip Guttman, who were shortlisted for their comedy D. Asian in 2015. Smith is the fourth woman to win the prize since the awards began.
For this year’s festival, 36 films from 19 countries were shortlisted in competition for the Best International LGBTQ Short Film category.
The £30,000 prize – supported by The Michael Bishop Foundation – allows US-based Smith to make another short film in the UK.
My Brother is a Mermaid – directed by Alfie Dale
My Brother is a Mermaid is a magic-realist story about a trans teen living in a dilapidated seaside community.
Director, Alfie Dale, collected a prize of £20,000 – sponsored by Pinewood Studio.
And Then We Danced
The award for Best Feature went to And Then We Danced – a romantic drama set in a prestigious Georgian dance academy.
Best Performance in a Male Role went to Henry Golding for his performance in Monsoon by Hong Khaou.
Best Performance in a Female Role went to Linda Caridi for her performance in the Italian comedy Mamma + Mamma.
We caught up with Berwyn Rowlands, Festival Director, for a behind-the-scenes look at the Iris Prize.
Why are LGBTQ film festivals like Iris important?
Representation is the key reason why LGBTQ film festivals continue to be important. It’s very difficult to challenge the fact that we’re seeing more representation of our communities in mainstream media - especially television where every soap must have a quota of gay characters - but this is not yet true of the film industry. Do we need more LGBTQ characters in movies, yes! Do we need more diversity within the movies, yes! This is where film festivals fit in. We’re a great place for the communities we represent to see themselves on a big screen.
Festivals are also important because we can also make a stand and be political with a small “p”. Taking for granted our liberties would be complacency on a grand scale - things change in the world very quickly. As LGBTQ communities, we need to be able to talk and listen to each other. Social media is a powerful tool for communication, but it can funnel discussion into an echo chamber, where it’s difficult to listen and understand each other. Festivals like Iris continue to have a role as we offer people a chance to watch, talk, and listen in a safe environment.
With the availability of content online and streaming services, are LGBTQ film festivals still relevant?
Festival audiences are generally getting older, but most film festivals that are still relevant today will work with the other platforms to maintain and build their audience.
Well-produced film festivals, with the right resources, offer something that streaming and online platforms can’t offer - direct access to the talent. You’ll meet directors, writers, producers, and actors if you come to Iris in October. This is fantastic for the audience, as it gives them an opportunity to engage directly with the film makers and ask questions, or simply take a selfie.
Festivals can also be a great way for the industry to meet and share experiences – the good and the bad - which will contribute to a sustainable LGBTQ film sector.
Each year the Iris festival seems to be becoming bigger - what’s driving interest in the festival?
The main reason I guess is the £30,000 cash prize to make a new short film. I’d also like to think that it’s word of mouth. We look after our visiting film makers by offering hosted accommodation, a free festival pass, and daily lunch.
Cardiff is also a fabulous capital city – small enough to feel intimate, but with all the attractions you’d expect from a modern city. We always talk about the Iris Family, and over the years this has grown from the modest 1,500 admissions in 2017 to the 10,000 we’re expecting this year.
How is the festival evolving to reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community and experience?
When we launched in 2006, the Iris Prize was focused on stories about sexuality – primarily gay and lesbian, bisexuality was invisible or just ignored. The main change since those early days has been the increase in trans visibility, which culminated in a name change in 2013 when we added “T” to “LGB”.
Where do short films fit in the creative development of LGBTQ filmmakers?
I’ve always enjoyed watching short films and get quite angry when some just see them as a calling card on a journey to make a feature film. In the same way that some writers enjoy writing short stories, we have film makers who enjoy the short film form – a place to be experimental and challenge some of the norms of story-telling.
You’ll find more originality at Iris than in many a mainstream festival, because of the freedom that is afforded to short film makers. The digital revolution has also made it easier to create content – but that doesn’t make everybody a film maker!