Culture Festivals

A Look Back on IRIS 2019 | Film Festival Review

by Tabitha Jukes

Another year, another Iris comes and goes and, being my first, it certainly won’t be my last.

The weeklong Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival saw Cardiff transform once more into a vibrant carnival of LGBT+ film celebration. Embracing both diverse stories and people, this global Festival connects Cardiff to an array of new friends and talent from the British Born makers to a multitude of film professionals from a spectrum of cultures and countries. All whilst showcasing the best in international and independent LGBT+ film. Iris sees Cardiff become home to a number of creatives within the film industry from across the world and the buzzing festival invites us all to join in again next year.

I was lucky enough to have an exclusive access pass to this year’s Iris Prize Film Festival that took place in the heart of Cardiff from the 8th to the 13th of October. The Film festival takes over a few prime spots including Cineworld, where the dynamic programme of LGBT+ short and feature films are screened over the week, from early morning tales to late-night stories.

Keeping to tradition, there is a strong emphasis on discussion at the Iris Film Festival, where audiences and guests have plentiful opportunity to experience and participate in personal Q and A’s by many of the filmmakers, actors and teamakers that create the LGBT+ magic that we so desperately need to see in more inclusive abundance on our screens.

Despite the importance and seriousness of the subject in much of the content and intentions behind these films, the festival has a constant yet organic positive energy to it, in both style and experience. I’ve never felt so warmly welcomed into an environment full of professionals and ‘industry’ has never felt so friendly and inclusive, despite it often being such an isolating world we live in, the Iris Film festival is such an inviting event, from which visitors take so much.

Iris, like all visual experiences, asks you to stop and be really present where you are. But, more than that, the Film Festival encourages us to take a look at the world around, and all the different people from all the different places and it asks you to listen, to understand and then it invites you to share. It’s a beautiful week of stories, diversity, representation and better visibility for all those who have been and continue to be harmed and shunned by society.

I particularly enjoyed this year’s filmmaking emphasis on using documentary as a vehicle to project both present and past struggles of LGBT+ people. The deeply emotional tale of Northern Ireland’s refusal to legalise same-sex marriage in Gillian Callan’s EQUAL, which shows the documentary filmmaker Callan’s own difficult personal journey of navigating the emotional political spheres that deny her and many other’s rights within their home country. In contrast to this, Joe Morris’s We Are Dancer’s is a harrowing reminder of the 1930’s fascist political attitudes- and what can and will happen when hatred and difference encompass authority and power.

It seems to me that LGBT+ film is a step forward in our efforts to create societies that don’t tell people to be anything but authentically themselves, and I for one am standing for that kind of world. River Gallo’s exceptionally beautiful short film Ponyboi is one of the most memorable pieces of visual art I’ve ever seen; not only is the story an original narrative of an Intersex character, but proves that we are breathing, fighting and loving human beings at the end of it.

Cubby by Mark Blane is a tale of mental health, love, sexuality and being best friends with a seven-year-old kid called Milo. Think New York in 5OO Days of Summer meets a gay Napoleon Dynamite; sounds pretty great, right? It’s raw, it’s funny and I’d never understood when people said, “it made me laugh and cry” and now I can proudly wear my dual emotional movie badge of honour.

Iris does so much in terms of representation and diverse platform championing right in our wonderful Welsh capital. It’s a privilege to be able to experience such a rich celebration of important creativity right where we are. Long gone are the days of struggling to find those people made invisible by societies and governments. But it is so crucial for those still facing persecution and death that we use these platforms to promote and share visibility, and after all, it’s right here in front of us. We don’t need to travel to L.A, New York, Venice or even London to experience an international film festival, nor an LGBTQI one for that matter; we can find them in our city, and they will be waiting for us.

What will we see in 2020?