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THE VIEW FROM ROW E: The price of (queer) inclusion.

NEW ATTRACTION: In the first of an occasional series of opinionated posts, our Barker-In-Chief at RADIANT CIRCUS shares some thoughts from his favourite seat in the auditorium, Row E (slightly to one side…*). First up, a perspective on the price of a ticket at BFI Flare. Feel free to comment or share!


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Tomorrow morning (12 MAR), BFI Flare will release another batch of tickets and screenings for this year’s LGBTIQ+ Film Festival on the South Bank. One of London’s major annual queer film events, Flare (18 to 29 MAR) is a regular feature in our listings and I hope you’ve found our guide to this year’s programme handy (fingers crossed some new tickets are released for our top ten must-see movies…).

As I wrote this year’s guide, carefully filleting the programme for its many treasures, it became clear how much effort is put into representing global queer cultures and the challenges festivals face to engage with the ever-changing dynamics of our queer communities. Significant for 2020 is a focus on intersex culture and activism, led – as at last year’s Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest – by activist Valentino Vecchietti. Similarly, I was delighted to see sex-positive films like BLOODSISTERS and ASK ANY BUDDY feature so prominently in the programme, as what we queers do with our genitals (and other body parts) is an inalienable but always politicised part of our difference.

One final area of acclaim for this year’s programme is in its commitment to neurodivergence. Venues like BFI have faced their own challenges in the past with how to accommodate this facet of audience diversity, but if healing comes from pain, the introduction of (affordable!) relaxed screenings is a very welcome one. Of course, how all screenings are made more accessible in this regard remains an ongoing challenge, and whilst not every screening environment is right for everybody, becoming more appreciative of diversity is as much an audience responsibility as it is that of the programming venue.

The area where I think BFI Flare could use their clout to do more to promote queer inclusion is in tackling wealth inequality aka poverty. Whilst ticket prices aren’t ridiculous for a flagship festival (ranging from £8 to £15.20 for general admission, concessions reduced further to £6.50 for BFI Members), there aren’t many free film events for a major cultural programme backed by significant public subsidy and corporate sponsorship. I found only one free screening of shorts (24 MAR), five online films (search #FiveFilmsForFreedom when the festival’s on), two live events (Lesbian Cinema + Drag Queen Story Time) and entry to the various party nights across the entire 12 days (forgive me if I missed anything…). The discounted rate of £8 for all tickets/screenings on the final day (29 MAR) is a boost, but with travel factored in, the costs always rise.

BFI is developing strong schemes for audiences aged 25 and under (in-keeping with their national audience development focus on everyone aged 16 to 30). Their £3 on the door rate is a good deal (if you don’t mind what you see or who you sit with…). However, financial hardship does not respect age boundaries and I sincerely hope BFI Flare will do more to address such inequalities of opportunity in future editions. Whilst free film events aren’t a silver bullet for this issue – they can sell out quickly to established audiences and always lead to empty seats on the day – they do offer an uncomplicated declaration that the festival is committed to creating an accessible and inclusive space for everyone.

Instead of another hard to administer ticketing incentive scheme, what would be really exciting is a more boundary-breaking approach to how queer screen culture is shared and celebrated. Taking a distanced look at the Flare programme, squinting my eyes so only its shapes remain visible, everything becomes rather two-dimensional… There are ticketed film screenings inside cinemas and there are free talks and party nights (let’s not forget the quiz!). For a venue with BFI’s strategic clout and positioning on the South Bank (both culturally and literally), I’m surprised to see such little variety in how queer film culture is presented.

Audience development – but this also has something serious to do with queer equality and inclusion – requires cultural academies not just to put relevant content on their screens, but to consider how all aspects of their activities can be re-imagined to make sure their doors are wide open. Sold out screens and packed party nights aren’t the only measure of success for an organisation with BFI’s social purpose. Some alternative, open access, on- and off-site, large-scale screenings (despite what we now know about the virus…), would lift the programme dramatically and start to showcase queer screen culture in more accessible, creative and disruptive ways. Perhaps what BFI Flare needs for future editions is a more dynamic queer cultural manifesto, one that seeks to broaden engagement with alternative screen culture for all queer communities, friends and allies, no matter how deep their pockets.

As the new release of tickets inevitably sells out, it becomes even more important to consider who is getting in… Access to the liberating power of queer screen culture shouldn’t be so heavily gated by the price of a ticket. Whilst it’s vitally important that BFI Flare continues to use its incredible programming expertise to shine on a light on every facet of queer diversity – ensuring black, trans, intersex, d/Deaf, neurodiverse and many other lives find their beautiful image on BFI’s big screens – if queer people can’t afford to get in, seemingly open doors slam back in our faces.

See you in darkness…

Richard – Barker-In-Chief, RADIANT CIRCUS

*FEATURED IMAGE: Not me (or Row E for that matter)…! Our image library is always a work in progress…

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