Be part of the queer film festival that’s touring the UK
Queer film festival, the Iris Prize, is taking some of its award-winning films on the road – kicking off 2020 with a UK tour.
And Then We Danced
The highlight of the tour will be preview screenings of And Then We Danced, a story of rivalry and desire set within the world of a prestige dancing academy in Georgia.
Berwyn Rowlands, Iris Prize, commented:
“The film is a visually ravishing drama and has secured lavish praise at festival screenings across the world, winning many awards including the Best Feature Award sponsored by Bad Wolf at Iris this October…” says Berwyn Rowlands, of the Iris Prize. “The controversy surrounding the film’s premier in Georgia a few months ago only proves what we’ve been saying at Iris for some time – we should not take for granted the freedom we have secured for ourselves as LGBT+ people. Things can change very quickly in this world and more often than not it is minorities like us who are targeted.”
Sandro Bregadze, leader of Georgian nationalist group Georgian March, pledged to stop the screenings in Georgia going ahead, describing the film as “a striking example of gay propaganda that has no artistic value. This is propaganda of sodomy and foulness.” His comments were echoed by Andria Jagmiadze, head of public relations for the Georgian Orthodox Church, who described the film as “yet another attempt to downplay Georgian, Christian values.”
“So many people have asked me about what’s going on in Georgia regarding the premiere of And Then We Danced…” said Levan Akin, the film’s director, responding to the protest in Georgia. “Some far-right groups and the Church have basically condemned the film and are planning to stop people from entering the sold-out screenings. It is absurd that people who bought tickets need to be brave and risk getting harassed or even assaulted just for going to see a film. I made this film with love and compassion. It is my love letter to Georgia and to my heritage. With this story I wanted to reclaim and redefine Georgian culture to include all not just some. But unfortunately these are the dark times we live in and the pending protests just proves how vital it is to stand up against these shadowy forces in any way we can.”
My Brother is a Mermaid
The tour will also include My Brother is a Mermaid – a magic-realist story about a trans teen living in a dilapidated seaside community.
Joining director Alfie Dale on tour will be the film’s lead actor Cameron Maydale, who will be performing a selection of his music to entertain audiences post screenings.
“I’m very excited that My Brother is a Mermaid will get to travel across the UK as part of Iris on the Move…” said Alfie Dale. “We make films to be seen and the Iris tour is a great way to reach a new audience and share an important story. It’s an honour and a delight to be a part of the Iris team who have a passion for bold cinema, and really champion the films that come up through the festival.”
Iris on the move
2017 Iris Prize winner Mikael Bundsen from Sweden will also be joining Iris on the Move in Plymouth and Bournemouth for screenings of his film Involuntary Activist, the 10th short film made with the Iris Prize.
The organisers have announced that the Wales-based Education and Community Awards, now in their 4th year, will for the first time be accepting entries from across the border in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. They also confirmed the addition of Micro Shorts as a new category in the competition. Submissions close on 20 December and the awards will be presented on Friday 24 January 2020 in Llandudno Junction.
“It is important that Iris engages with audiences across the UK…” said Andrew Pierce, Iris Prize Chair. “I’m thrilled that during 2020 we will be adding Plymouth to our list of destinations, as Iris on the Move returns to Newcastle, Manchester, Bournemouth and Brighton. I’m also pleased that we will also be expanding our coverage in North Wales visiting Bangor and Caernarfon as well as our traditional base in Llandudno Junction.”
Queer filmmaker says we need to fight for festivals such as the Iris Prize
Speaking at the 2019 Iris Prize festival, filmmaker Russel T Davies explained why LGBTQ events like Iris Prize are so important.
Black Hat – directed by Sarah Smith
The winner of the 2019 Iris Prize film festival was 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.
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!