The 11-day festival drew its curtains on Sunday (March 27) and screened both features and shorts of which several had South Asian filmmakers behind them…
By Mamie Colfox
CONTROVERSIAL and ground-breaking, ‘Dakan’ is a reminder of how some parts of the world used to – and still do react to queer storylines – attracting severe censure for a romance featuring two men.
‘Dakan‘ Screened at BFI Flare on Saturday (March 26) on the penultimate day of the 11-day long, London LGBTQIA+ film festival; the curtains on the fest fell with the Closing Night Gala of ‘Tramps‘ on Sunday. It’s a documentary about the late 1970s British punk scence and the emergence of a social/fashion grouping referred to as New Romantics. Often associated with pop phenomena Spandau Ballet, director Kevin Hegge takes a much wider look, “proudly centring the LGBTQIA+ stories that are so often erased from our history”, writes Michael Blyth in the BFI Flare guide.
This year’s South Asian contingent was made up of short films and included ‘Coming Out With The Help Of A Time Machine’ by Naman Gupta, following character Sid as he continuously tries to find the best way to come out to his parents, as well as Shiva Raichandani’s British made ‘Queer Parivaar’, which acv covered in its preview of the festival and carried an interview with director Raichandani – (see links below) in its mid-festival roundup.
The other shorts at the fest were Canadian Fawzia Mirza’s ‘The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night’, the India-set ‘Muhafiz’ by Pradipta Ray and Indian Arun Fulara’s ‘Sunday’ which was screened at the festival and was also available online as part of the British Council’s annual BFI Flare Five Films for Freedom, focusing on queer work from countries with underrepresented filmmakers. There was also Hetain Patel’s ‘Trinity’. There was an additional screening of the Family Affairs strand programme on Sunday (March 27), which was posted on the BFI website and social media and comprised ‘Queer Parivaar‘ and ‘The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night’ . The shorts were divided into themed strands, with ‘Muhafiz‘, playing in the Strength in Vunerability strand, alongside ‘Trinity‘. We reviewed ‘Sunday’ and ‘The Syed Family Xmas Eve‘ – see our midfest post link below.
Acv attended a pre-screening of ‘Queer Parivaar’ where director Shiva Raichandani and drag queen Asifa Lahore, who features in the film, did a post screening Q&A. Its themes of love, marriage and acceptance are universally relatable, shining a light on queer stories that have not previously been shared before. It is definitely worth a watch.
The major feature work in BFI from a filmmaker of colour was ‘Dakan’.
Directed by Guinean born Mohamed Camara, ‘Dakan’ follows two high school boys, Manga and Sory, as they embark on a secret love affair under the scrutiny of their parents.
Based in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, Manga lives in poverty with his mother, whilst Sory’s wealthy father is preparing him to take over the family business. Both parents disapprove of their relationship, a stark reminder that, even now, being gay in some countries on the African continent is forbidden; in Somalia, Somaliland, Mauritania and Northern Nigeria the punishment is death, whilst it is still illegal in Guinea.
In this sense, the film was frustrating. Manga’s mother and her persistence to ‘heal’ him through witchcraft leads to him experiencing some disturbing aversion therapy, involving hot stones being burned into his head. It was difficult to watch and was a sorry sight to see him suffer so much, just because of his sexuality. And the shame that Sory’s father makes him feel is unjust, especially after Sory has bravely opened up to him. It is unfathomable that these laws are still in place in Guinea, 25 years later.
BFI Flare brought these issues to the fore with this screening, introduced by programmer Grace Barber-Plentie, who explained that due to the controversy surrounding the film, it was never commercially released, only being screened at some film festivals since its premiere at Cannes Film Festival in 1997, where it got a mixed reception.
Senegalese film director Djibril Diop Mambety, a veteran of African cinema, reportedly walked out of its press conference, saying “you can be sure that your career is over, but in a hundred years, people will still talk about you”. Controversy around the film’s theme led to the government rescinding financial support, making actors hard to recruit. Camara’s brother, Mamady Mory Camara, played Manga, whilst he himself played Sory’s father, Bakary.
Although the film was received badly in West Africa with its national controversy, its reception in Soweto (South Africa) and Washington DC was positive for black, queer and diasporic audiences. In Camara’s interview with the AfroQueer podcast (see link below) in 2019, he admits swapping hotels every day during screenings and leaving before the end to avoid any violence.
Camara’s previous short films also dealt with contentious issues. ‘Denko’ (1993), which won awards at many festivals, dealt with the theme of incest, when a mother sleeps with her son to cure his blindness; whilst ‘Minka’ (1994) dealt with the theme of child suicide when a 10-year-old orphan is treated badly by his stepfather. However, while he continues to work on projects, he hasn’t made a full- length feature since ‘Dakan’.
As well as this, Flare screened the Best of the Year and Best of Fest to round off the festival, including Johan Rasmussen’s award-winning animation ‘Flee’ (2022) and Taiwanese lesbian romance ‘Fragrance of the First Flower’ (2021), directed by Angel Ihan Teng.
In its final tweet, BFI Flare (https://twitter.com/BFIFlare/status/1508449589275377673) thanked the sponsors for helping retore the festival to its in-person avatar with more than 56 features and 84 short films, from 42 countries.
*Three of the South Asian filmmakers – Raichandani, Ray and Fulara were involved in a panel discussion titled ‘Desi Pride’ at the Nehru Centre in London on March 24 to discuss queer filmmaking and a video will drop in due course – to find out when, please see/follow panel moderator and activist and author Raga Olga D’silva.
Interview with Shiva Raichandani: http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/bfi-flare-interview-director-of-queer-parivaar-shiva-raichandani-on-creativity-inspiring-stories-and-work-that-has-universal-appeal/
AfroQueer Podcast: https://afroqueerpodcast.com/2019/11/07/dakan/