Out to Win
dir Malcolm Ingram; with Billie Jean King, John Amaechi 15/US ***.
Exploring an important topic with some strikingly personal insight, this documentary feels long overdue. But it's pegged to a news event that's essentially an over-hyped non-story, which leaves the film without much compelling narrative momentum. Even so, it opens the door to discussing why professional sports has had such a difficult time accepting openly gay athletes.
dir Mikel Rueda; with German Alcarazu, Adil Koukouh 14/Sp ****
A loose, ambiguous style makes this Spanish teen drama remarkably involving. It's a bit elusive about developing the central relationship, as much of it seems to be off-screen. But the film beautifully gets under the skin of the two central characters, teens struggling to admit that they don't fit in as expected.
dir-scr Sydney Freeland; with Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore 14/US ****
Filmmaker Freeland clearly knows the importance of the subject matter of this three-pronged drama, which skilfully explores a range of issues in a Native American community through stories that are easy to identify with. And the deep human connections bring this scruffy movie come to life, thanks to some understated performances and real-life interaction. Set on the edge of a Navajo reservation in New Mexico, the characters give insight into hapless crime, issues of identity and birthright, community connections, and even gender issues. But all of this emerges organically through characters that get under our skin simply because they seem just like people we know. So it's a bit surprising as the storylines continue and intersect to discover that the film has some bracingly strong things to say about America.
We Came to Sweat
dir Kate Kunath, Sasha Wortzel; with Dennis Parrot, Linda King 15/US ***
With a mixture of archive footage and a narrative urgency, this documentary explores the life of an unusual community venue struggling to survive against the odds. Important both in the past and present, the Starlite Lounge has been an oasis of openness in a constantly shifting Brooklyn neighbourhood. But this isn't a big statement film, it's a low-key look at a slice of history that's been lost forever.
There are always several very strong programmes of short films at BFI Flare - films in every conceivable genre that explore themes from a variety of angles. I only managed to catch 10 shorts this year (a small number for me!). Two higher profile shorts touched on issues of ethnicity and immigration: Chance (by Jake Graf) is an earnest, moving exploration of unexpected love, while the somewhat elusive drama Followers (by Tim Marshall) is an Iris Prize production about a religious woman who has a revelation in a very unexpected place. Other favourites included Caged (by Dylan and Lazlo Tonk), a beautifully shot and edited Dutch short about teen athletes grappling with self-discovery and peer pressure; Hole (by Martin Edralin), a bold, important drama about a physically disabled man who asks his carer for something that definitely crosses some sort of line; and Been Too Long at the Fair (by Todd Verow and Charles Lum), a witty, warm autobiographical documentary about an unusual cinema in Queens, New York, that managed to buck the trend for shutting down adult theatres.