The Iris Prize 2021 is one of the biggest LGBTQ+ film festivals to grace British shores, casting a light on emerging talent within the queer filmmaking community. Each year creatives from across the globe come together for a week to discuss, debate and appreciate new works on the short film scene.

An overview.

This year Iris Prize, Cardiff’s LGBTQ+ international film festival, celebrated its 15th year with an impressive programme taking place in Cardiff from 5th to 10th October and online until 31st October.

During the week at Iris, the shortlist of 35 international filmmakers competing for £30,000 prize money is unveiled, each with its own specific take on the queer experience, representing nineteen countries including Iran, Brazil, Philippines, Bulgaria, and South Korea, played alongside a program of handpicked feature films. The week culminates in an award ceremony where those whose work showed true integrity and skill were given a prize that enables them to produce new works here is Wales. Able to boast Oscar nominated alumni, after the weeklong drum roll, the air was vibrating with anticipation as to who was to take the titular Iris Prize.

The Iris Prize has been running since 2007 and each year showcases an internationally diverse selection of LGBTQ+ centres of cinema, with many previous winners going on to garner widespread critical acclaim; The Wilding (Grant Scicluna), Black Hat (Sara Smith) and Pariah (Dees Rees) have all won the prestigious award.

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&A’s by many of the filmmakers, actors and tea makers that create the LGBTQ+ magic that we so desperately need to see in more inclusive abundance on our screens.

The films.

Still from Cwch Delien.

The films take us into some of our darker depths but also celebrate our moments of pure joy. Diversity and representation are highly visible in many of this year’s stories. Leo LeBeau’s Birthday Boy focusses on a transgender teenage whilst Three Letters from Welsh filmmaker stars former Mr Gay Wales, Paul Davies, who is also an advocate for disability. Directed by Ian Smith, he’s one of three Welsh filmmakers nominated alongside Eli Blose-Mason and Rosemary Baker who directed the animated Cwch Delien and dramatic Lesbian.

Mencap ambassador George Webster is the charismatic star of S.A.M, directed by Neil Ely and Lloyd Eyre-Morgan who are no strangers to Iris Prize, having both been received Best of British nominations in previous years, with Lloyd winning for the hugely popular Closets. Interestingly, their frequent collaborator as cinematographer Mat Johns has directed the nominated Inertia.

A worthy winner.

The winner of the festival was BABA, taking home both the prestigious £30.000 Iris Prize and Best British award. The movie is described by the film makers here:

“Rejected by his family for his queerness and oppressed by his country for the same, reckless Libyan teenager “Britannia” gets an interview at the British Embassy, taking him one step closer to his childhood dream of stepping foot on Manchester’s Canal Street, the pulsing queer centre of the world. Being British and gay is everything he’s ever dreamed of. But he needs his passport. Plagued by memories of his oppressive Baba but supported by his found family of queers, he sneaks back to the family house to retrieve it. There, an unexpected discovery strikes deep and forces him to question where his dreams truly lie.”

The short film prize, sponsored by The Michael Bishop Foundation enables directors Sam Arbor and Adam Ali to make a new short film in Wales, becoming the thirteenth Iris production.  

In addition, BABA also won the Best British Award, supported by Film4 and Pinewood Studios. This is only the second time in the festival’s 15-year history that a film has won both categories. 

Friendly and inclusive.

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.

Iris does so much in terms of representation and diverse platform championing right in our wonderful Welsh capital. Remarkably this year’s nominees reflect a 50/50 divide of male and female filmmakers representing the full diversity and gender, including trans and non-binary individuals, actively engaging across the LGBTQ+ community. 

I was a little taken aback by the lack of diversity and visibly queer celebration at events such as the opening night and in particular the award ceremony. As a festival that prides itself on diversity on the big screen, I only wish I experienced as much in person.

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 LGBTQ+ one for that matter; we can find them in our city, and they will be waiting for us.


Love film festivals? Check out what’s coming up at Raindance.

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