For cinephiles across the UK, the BFI London Film Festival is as much a staple of the annual festival circuit as Cannes, Venice and Sundance. But it’s the festival’s nicher sibling that has really grabbed our attention this year. For almost 3 decades, BFI Flare has been a shining beacon for the best emerging LGBTIQ+ films and filmmakers across the world, and has for a long time remained the most prominent queer film festival in Europe.

This year features a strong lineup as any, with a concoction of eagerly awaited first features and indie queer classics making their way to the big screen at BFI Southbank. Running from 13th March up until Sunday 24th, the festival’s programme will leave you spoilt for choice. Below, we’ve chosen five films which we think are the must-sees at this year’s BFI Flare.

Love Lies Bleeding (dir. Rose Glass)

Love Lies Bleeding (dir. Rose Glass)

The most scorchingly anticipated queer film of the year—perhaps even more than Ethan and Tricia Coen’s Drive-Away DollsLove Lies Bleeding is Rose Glass’ sweaty and sexy follow up to her cult-smash horror Saint Maud. The feature has for months been the centre of conversation for featuring two of cinema’s burgeoning queer sex symbols, Kirsten Stewart and Katy M. O’Brian. The story follows introverted gym manager Lou (Stewart) who meets and falls in love with bodybuilder Jackie (O’Brian). Their blossoming romance is soon put to the test when Lou’s criminal family catches the two lovers in a deadly web of violence. In other words: It’s exactly the kind of action film the sapphics have been waiting for. 

You can read our review of Love Lies Bleeding here.

Layla (dir. Amrou Al-Kadhi) 

Layla film
Layla (dir. Amor Al-Kadhi)

British-Iraqi writer-director and drag performer Amrou Al-Kadhi will be presenting the opening film at this year’s festival with Layla. Inspired in part by their own experiences performing drag as alter ego Glamrou, Layla sees a non-binary Palestinian-British drag queen navigating identity, friends and family when they fall into a love affair with a white advertisement executive. The pair’s chemistry is undeniable, though their respective worlds feel miles apart, and the beauty of the film is in how it debunks the idea that there’s only one type of gay experience. 

Heavy Snow (dir. Yun Su-ik)

Heavy Snow (dir. Yun Su-ik)

One of the most underrated queer films in recent years is Moonlit Winter by Korea’s Lim Dae-hyung—an intimate and cosy story set to the backdrop of a small Japanese town during the snow season. Yun Su-ik is offering something similar with Heavy Snow, which is seemingly a cross between Dae-hyung’s feature and a romance echoing Hiroshi Ando’s Blue. The film tells of a queer relationship between two teenagers in an icy seaside village in Korea, but don’t let its name fool you, Heavy Snow is a tender coming of age love story that’ll bring you more comfort than a crackling fireplace on a winter night

The Summer With Carmen (dir. Zacharias Mavroeidis)

The Summer With Carmen (dir. Zachary’s Mavroeidis)

Unlike Heavy Snow, Greek director Zacharias Mavroeidis’ finds his queer romance beachside under the beating sun. Set on a sparkling Greek island, we follow Demosthenes and Nikitas, two gay men trying to write a screenplay about queerness that leads them to reflect on the relationships in their own lives. A sharp gay comedy at its core, The Summer With Carmen has been described as a lighthearted romp that leaves the Greek Weird Wave in the rearview in favour of the Greek Queer Wave.

Best of Year Strand (featuring 20,000 Species of Bees, All of Us Strangers, Bottoms, and Rustin)

20,000 Species of Bees (dir. Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren)

There’ll be a few familiar faces in Flare’s Best of Year strand this year, which collects a few of the best queer stories of the past year in movies. You might recognise Bottoms and All of Us Strangers from our exclusive interviews with directors Emma Seligman and Andrew Haigh, respectively. You’ll get another chance to revisit Rustin, George C. Wolfe’s Civil Rights story starring Oscar-nominated Colman Domingo, but it’s 20,000 Species of Bees that we’re really excited about, which follows three generations of women spending a summer together in the Basque countryside, just as the youngest comes out as transgender.

You can buy all tickets for BFI Flare here.