The BFI has revealed the opening and closing night films of its forthcoming BFI Flare queer London film festival.
This year’s BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival runs from 13 to 24 March at BFI Southbank and on BFI Player.
Opening the festival will be the European premiere of Amrou Al-Kadhi’s Layla. The film recently had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and opens the festival on Wednesday 13 March.
Deeply personal and engaging, starring Screen Star of Tomorrow Bilal Hasna in the title role, Layla tells the story of a struggling Arab drag queen whose confident façade hides their desperate desire for love. When their performance at a belittling corporate Pride event turns into a transgressive takedown, they are surprised to catch the eye of marketing executive Max, whose attentions sweep Layla off their feet. The two start an intoxicating romance, but as Layla starts altering who they are to keep Max’s interest, they both face uncomfortable truths.
Closing BFI Flare on 23 March will be the world premiere of Luke Willis’s docu-fiction movie Lady Like.
The movie follows the story of London-born, San Francisco-based drag queen Lady Camden, aka Rex Wheeler, as she is catapulted into the spotlight on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 14. In this rags to riches origin story, Lady Camden struggles to manage the demands of her freshly minted international fame, while Rex is forced to come to terms with the troubling childhood he left behind in Camden which drove him to so desperately seek joy, fantasy and escape through the performing arts.
The BFI Flare 2024 programming team are Grace Barber-Plentie, Jay Bernard, Diana Cipriano, Zorian Clayton, Rhianna Ilube, Darren Jones, Wema Mumma and Brian Robinson, who said in a joint statement: “We’re thrilled to be bookending BFI Flare with home-grown talent,” say the programmers. “Our opening night film, Layla, welcomes drag queen and filmmaker Amrou Al-Kadhi back to the festival, with their debut feature about a British-Palestinian drag queen learning to embrace their identity. And we close the festival with Luke Willis’s Lady Like, an intimate portrait of RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist, British-born Lady Camden and her journey to success. These films are reminders of the power of drag in a world that deliberately misunderstands it in order to persecute the queer community.”
Layla is written and directed by Amrou Al-Kadhi and produced by Savannah James-Bayly, developed and financed by Film4 and the BFI Filmmaking Fund, with executive producers include Farhana Bhula, Louise Ortega, Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Kevin M. Lin, Michael Y. Chow and Mary Burke.
Amrou Al-Kadhi said: “It’s such a profound honour and joy to be opening BFI Flare this year. BFI Flare has been utterly instrumental to my career. The fantastic BFI Flare x BAFTA mentorship programme was where I met Savannah James-Bayly, my now forever producer and best friend, with whom I went on to make four shorts, almost all of which screened at the festival. So, we are deeply proud to be bringing our first feature, Layla, home to BFI Flare. Layla is a film dedicated to the creative resilience of the queer community, and a love-letter to queer joy to be opening the festival where I first felt the impact of joyful representation on screen, found my people and laid the foundations of my career, is a cosmic gift, and I simply cannot wait to celebrate Layla with my community.”
Lady Like is the first feature film by Luke Willis, whose previous credits include Pool Boy and The Summer House. Willis produced the film along with Cookie Walukas (Saleh and the Spades, Black Is King).
Luke Willis said: “I cannot think of a better place to premiere Lady Like than BFI Flare! This story builds to Lady Camden‘s long-awaited return home to London to perform for the first time at the very nightclub that he ever went to as a young gay boy – Heaven. It will be such a blast to share this inspiring story that starts in Camden, finds itself in San Francisco, traverses the globe, and ends in London with BFI Flare audiences!”
BFI Flare’s full programme is going to be released on Tuesday 13 February at 11am.