|Chance, by Jake Graf, is about a chance meeting on a park bench. Photograph: BFI|
Five gay-themed films are to be made available free of charge to a worldwide audience and actively promoted in more than 70 countries, the British Council and the British Film Institute will announce on Wednesday.
The bold initiative is about showing support for freedom and equality and getting the message over that “love is a basic human right,” said Alan Gemmell, the British Council director who hit upon the idea about six months ago.
All five films have been chosen from BFI Flare, the UK’s leading Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender film festival, which opens on Thursday.
Each one will be on the BFI player during the 10-day festival and on Wednesday 25 March there will be a “fiveFilms4freedom” campaign day, when people will be encouraged via social media to come together to watch a film.
The five films chosen are Chance, a self-funded film by Jake Graf about two older men with troubled pasts finding love after a chance encounter in a park; Code Academy, about a girl masquerading as a boy in cyberspace to get the girl of her dreams; Morning is Broken, a coming of age drama set in the English countryside; True Wheel, a documentary about a Detroit bicycle workshop for the city’s gay, transgender and women’s communities; and An Afternoon, about a teenage boy plucking up the courage to tell another boy how much he fancies him.
Gemmell said most gay people remembered watching a film or seeing something that helped them in their lives. “I hope this endeavour will do that in places where it is hard to see that content, where you might be lonely or scared.
“What we’ve really done is select a bunch of films I think are about love – young love, older love, unrequited love and learning what love is. We’re saying that love is a basic human right and it is something we all share.”
The availability of the films will be actively promoted in more than 70 countries, including China, India, Ukraine, Poland and Israel, where Gemmell is based.
For obvious reasons, that promotion won’t happen in many of the 77 countries where homosexuality is still illegal, including Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt and Uganda.
“We have been absolutely clear throughout this that there was some risk to doing a festival in this way,” said Gemmell, and he added they were working closely with partners including the Foreign Office and the UN “to make sure we do things in the right way and that we have the widest possible reach for our films”.
Tricia Tuttle, the BFI’s deputy director of festivals, said: “Queer filmmakers have delivered some of cinema’s most striking, vital, challenging, provocative and beautiful films and BFI Flare has been key in bringing these to UK audiences over the last 29 years.
“We’re thrilled this partnership will open up the festival to audiences around the world, giving millions of people the opportunity to enjoy great new LGBT films.”
James Taylor, the head of campaigns at Stonewall, said the initiative would bring together the international LGBT community. “In 77 countries around the world it is still illegal to be gay, and in five it is punishable by death, so the opportunity to showcase LGBT stories and filmmakers worldwide is fantastic.”
Gemmell said the BFI Player, created in 2013, was a transformative thing. “It means we can reach a lot of people at once and bring the conversations together. I really hope we will have people around the world sharing on social media and showing that gay rights, freedom and equality are things the majority of us believe in.”
BFI Flare meanwhile opens on Thursday with the UK premiere of I Am Michael, a true story that stars James Franco as a gay activist who renounces his sexuality after he finds God.
This year’s program me includes more than 50 feature films and 100 shorts and will take place in London until 29 March when the closing film will be Malcolm Ingram’s Out to Win, charting the experience of LGBT sportspeople who have reached the top of their fields, with contributions from Martina Navratilova and the basketball players John Amaechi and Justin Collins.
Mark Brown Arts correspondent