Movie Review: BOYS ON FILM 18: Heroes 

Peccadillo Pictures presents its eighteenth installment in its Boys on Film series, this time subtitled Heroes. Following on from their previous title Love is a Drug, the collection of 10 films looks to explore tales recounting the lives of everyday heroes with no special powers except striving for their own identities and fighting for the right for us all to be ourselves. Since the first Boys on Film collection in 2009, Peccadillo have continued to bring together an eclectic mix of short films from emerging filmmakers exploring gay issues and even after eighteen releases the quality remains higher than ever.

The first in the series is Daniel, starring Poldark’s Henry Garrett, where a London male escort is invited to his best friend’s house for dinner to meet her new partner. Directed by Dean Loxton, this film really has a delicate feel to it, where the camera moves around with such ease, placing you in the room with Daniel the whole time. It never feels sordid or wrong, but instead just offers an insight into a world where Daniel seems comfy and happy. The plot doesn’t really go anywhere and nothing is resolved but there is a subtlety about the film, posing questions rather than answers that makes a great opener for the collection. This is followed by a bitter sweet drama about a young guy escorting his ex to a HIV test. This Dutch film from director Niels Bourgonje manages to beautifully capture the intense claustrophobia and tension of waiting for test results but manages to avoid any judgment on unsafe sex. The focus is instead on the tragedy of the broken relationship.

Perhaps the most memorable of the collection is Half a Life, a highly stylised animation from Tamara Shogaolu. The piece accompanies the interview of a gay activist who narrates his way through the unrest in Egypt over the past few years, focussing on the LGBTQ+ struggles that continue to this day. A brutal and heart wrenching story, juxtaposed by vivid animation, flowing through various styles as it portrays violent and emotive acts. The film, not only manages to be stunning in its design but emotionally stunning as the fight for human rights is made so honestly explicit.

A big shift for the series, is that the two longest pieces in the collection both are documentaries. Sam Ashby’s The Colour of his Hair uses a mix of drama and documentary to explore the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 and Alejandro Medina’s AIDS: Doctors and Nurses tell their stories interviews medical professionals about their time working at the height of the AIDS crisis. Whilst these titles have interesting things to say, they lack the cinematography and craft of the more fully formed documentaries out there such as We Were Here, which has become a benchmark in documentary filmmaking about the AIDS crisis. That said, it is great to hear British voices discuss such an important time in gay history.

The Boys on Film series continues to be an important playground where not only emerging talent can develop their craft but also important issues of sexuality, self-acceptance and homophobia can be explored and presented in short, dymanic and exciting pieces of cinema. With the success of the first major studio release centering on a gay character this year, there may come a time when this series is no longer needed to explore gay voices, but until then, let the platform continue to grow and grow.

© Dan Phillips 2018

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