Capital is proudly sponsoring this year's Iris Prize Producers' Forum. Here, in his guest blog, David Llewellyn from the Iris Prize explains what the festival is all about.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which led to the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Since then, the journey towards greater acceptance and equality for people who identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender hasn’t always been a smooth one, but a great deal of progress has been made in the last fifteen years alone, with the introduction in 2005 of civil partnerships and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2014.
Between those last two dates the Iris Prize was born, and since 2007 has been awarding filmmakers the world’s largest prize for an LGBT+ short film and an opportunity to make another short film here in the UK. In just over a decade, the festival has expanded to include prizes for Best British Short (sponsored by Pinewood Studios), Best Feature, and Best Performances in Male and Female Roles, as well as a prize awarded by a jury of young adults. Lord Glendonbrook became the prize’s chief supporter in 2013, via the Michael Bishop Foundation, and Pinewood followed suit, sponsoring the prize for Best British Short by providing a prize of £20,000 worth of post-production services. All this has enabled Iris to further expand into education and outreach projects, working with schools and communities across Wales and the UK to develop a greater understanding of diversity and equality.
You might well ask if a specialist LGBT+ film festival was necessary in 2007, let alone 2017, but the answer to this must be a resounding yes. The hard-won rights of LGBT+ people can’t be taken for granted, and there are still far too many places in the world where one’s sexuality or gender identity can result in bullying, abuse, imprisonment and so much worse.
Even in more progressive countries, it’s essential that LGBT+ audiences – and, indeed, film audiences in general – see LGBT+ stories on the big screen. Though there are notable exceptions (the recent Oscar-winner Moonlight is one example) the vast majority of movies screening in multiplexes up and down the country are centred on heterosexual and cisgender characters. The reasons for this are varied and complex. Filmmaking is a business, bringing a film to the big screen is expensive, and the LGBT+ community will always represent a minority of cinema-goers. Festivals such as Iris (or her partner festivals in cities as far-flung as Los Angeles, Tel Aviv and Mumbai) provides audiences with an opportunity to see films on the big screen that they might otherwise see only via home video or a streaming site.
What has been astonishing, throughout the last ten Iris Prize Festivals, is the sheer diversity and quality of storytelling that makes it into the competition. The short films competing for the Iris Prize are selected through both open submissions and nominations from partner festivals. As such, they represent the cream of the crop of that year’s LGBT+ short films, and are often a calling card for the next generation of great filmmakers.
Occasionally, filmmakers who have gone on to direct feature films return to making shorts, and this year’s most surprising example of this is Danny DeVito, who at 72 has directed the Iris-nominated short film Curmudgeons, in which he plays one half of an elderly couple who find romance in a nursing home.
But it’s the up-and-coming filmmakers who make the Iris Prize what it is; the energy and enthusiasm of their work is infectious. Dee Rees, whose film Pariah won the very first Iris Prize back in 2007, would use her prize to make the film Colonial Gods in Cardiff, and went on to write and direct the HBO film Bessie, starring Queen Latifah as Blues singer Bessie Smith. Pariah and Colonial Gods’ cinematographer, Bradford Young, has since provided the incredible visuals for films such as Selma and Arrival, and is currently at work on the as-yet-untitled Star Wars Han Solo movie.
This year’s feature film strand includes three films which will be hot off the back of the BFI London Film Festival: Beach Rats, The Wound and the gripping Icelandic horror movie Rift. The Wound has already earned rave reviews at other festivals and is being tipped for a nomination at next year’s Oscars, so watch this space!
From the very beginning, Iris has fostered a community feel in the festival, with a small army of volunteers helping run the show and providing hosted accommodation for some of the visiting filmmakers. Many who first came to Cardiff with films in competition return year after year simply to see what the festival has to offer and enjoy the city’s nightlife, and the Producers Forum, sponsored by Capital Law, has become an essential networking event for independent filmmakers keen to learn the practical side of getting their vision to the screen.
This year’s Iris Prize Festival will end with the inaugural Iris Carnival, hosted at Cardiff’s DEPOT. As well as featuring the Iris Awards Show – in which we’ll find out who has won the coveted Iris Prize itself – there will be a Food Village, sponsored by Co-op Food, and live entertainment from local artists Lili Beau and Climbing Trees, not to mention a headline performance from M People’s Heather Small!
The Iris Prize Festival is on at venues around Cardiff from 10-15 October 2017. For more information, visit www.irisprize.org.