Leather forecast: leather men in the New York gay pride parade, 1980. Photo: Getty
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It turns out there’s more to LGBT films than sex. Sometimes

From London leather men to prostitution in American suburbia, the renamed BFI Flare offered up an eclectic programme.

A cinema with hardly any straight people in it is one of my favourite places to be. When we’re in front of a screen with something queer on it, the sense of camaraderie between us – from middle-aged old-school butch lesbians to young gay men in “I work in the media” glasses – is palpable.

The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was renamed BFI Flare this year to encompass other sexual identities represented in this beautifully eclectic programme. From Concussion – a film about a lesbian who gets hit on the head and decides to become a prostitute – to Age of Consent, a graphic documentary focused on London’s gay male fetish scene, this was cinematic queerness at its most flamboyant. It wasn’t all sex, though (it turns out that there’s more to LGBT films than that). Lilting is a poignant account of grief and the turbulent but tender relationship between a gay man in his thirties (played by Ben Whishaw) and his dead boyfriend’s elderly Chinese-Cambodian mother.

But back to sex. I saw Age of Consent by accident. Thinking (for some reason) that it was a documentary about the more mainstream side of the gay club scene, I was stunned and tickled to be confronted with scenes of leather-clad men doing stuff to each other’s orifices. It’s a surprisingly political film about the refusal of a particular section of the gay community to assimilate heterosexual culture and be “good gays”. An incongruously besuited Peter Tatchell outlines the legal history of gay sex, intercut with some hardcore scenes from inside the London gay leather club the Hoist.

Then there’s Concussion. In Stacie Passon’s debut, Abby Ableman is trapped in the privileged ennui of the suburban American dream. She and her lawyer wife, Kate, live in a green and affluent New York suburb, with their two young children. Abby is a high-end interior designer and is renovating a loft in Manhattan that will soon become her . . . whatever a prostitute’s version of an office is, after a nasty knock on the head during a baseball game makes her question her comfy existence. Concussion is probably the most witty lesbian drama since The Kids Are All Right (2010), though its exploration of prostitution seems naive. The darker side of the trade is hinted at when one client becomes abusive but in general it’s approached as sport for bored, middle-class women – a sort of slutty tennis club.

BFI Flare wasn’t all about sex and neither was it all about films. A highlight for me was an hour between films that I spent in the bar chatting to the 70-year-old trans woman artist Margaret Pepper and wondering whether she’s a modern-day Hogarth. I think she might be.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Tech Issue

All photos: BBC
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“You’re a big corporate man” The Apprentice 2015 blog: series 11, episode 8

The candidates upset some children.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read up on episode 7 here.

“I don’t have children and I don’t like them,” warns Selina.

An apt starting pistol for the candidates – usually so shielded from the spontaneity, joy and hope of youth by their childproof polyester uniforms – to organise children’s parties. Apparently that’s a thing now. Getting strangers in suits to organise your child’s birthday party. Outsourcing love. G4S Laser Quest. Abellio go-carting. Serco wendy houses.

Gary the supermarket stooge is project manager of team Versatile again, and Selina the child hater takes charge of team Connexus. They are each made to speak to an unhappy-looking child about the compromised fun they will be able to supply for an extortionate fee on their special days.

“So are you into like hair products and make-up?” Selina spouts at her client, who isn’t.

“Yeah, fantastic,” is Gary’s rather enthusiastic response to the mother of his client’s warning that she has a severe nut allergy.

Little Jamal is taken with his friends on an outdoor activity day by Gary’s team. This consists of wearing harnesses, standing in a line, and listening to a perpetual health and safety drill from fun young David. “Slow down, please, don’t move anywhere,” he cries, like a sad elf attempting to direct a fire drill. “Some people do call me Gary the Giraffe,” adds Gary, in a gloomy tone of voice that suggests the next half of his sentence will be, “because my tongue is black with decay”.

Selina’s team has more trouble organising Nicole’s party because they forgot to ask for her contact details. “Were we supposed to get her number or something?” asks Selina.

“Do you have the Yellow Pages?” replies Vana. Which is The Apprentice answer for everything. Smartphones are only to be used to put on loudspeaker and shout down in a frenzy.

Eventually, they get in touch, and take Nicole and pals to a sports centre in east London. I know! Sporty! And female! Bloody hell, someone organise a quaint afternoon tea for her and shower her with glitter to make her normal. Quick! Selina actually does this, cutting to a clip of Vana and Richard resentfully erecting macaroons. Selina also insists on glitter to decorate party bags full of the most gendered, pointless tat seed capital can buy.

“You’re breaking my heart,” whines Richard the Austerity Chancellor when he’s told each party bag will cost £10. “What are we putting in there – diamond rings?” Just a warning to all you ladies out there – if Richard proposes, don’t say yes.

They bundle Nicole and friends into a pink bus, for the section of her party themed around the Labour party’s failed general election campaign, and Brett valiantly screeches Hit Me Baby One More Time down the microphone to keep them entertained.

Meanwhile on the other team, Gary is quietly demonstrating glowsticks to some bored 11-year-old boys. “David, we need to get the atmosphere going,” he warns. “Ermmmmm,” says David, before misquoting the Hokey Cokey out of sheer stress.

Charleine is organising a birthday cake for Jamal. “May contain nuts,” she smiles, proudly. “Well done, Charleine, good job,” says Joseph. Not even sarcastically.

Jamal’s mother is isolated from the party and sits on a faraway bench, observing her beloved son’s birthday celebrations from a safe distance, while the team attempts to work out if there are nuts in the birthday cake.

Richard has his own culinary woes at Nicole’s party, managing both to burn and undercook burgers for the stingy barbecue he’s insisted on overriding the afternoon tea. Vana runs around helping him and picking up the pieces like a junior chef with an incompetent Gordon Ramsay. “Vana is his slave,” comments Claude, who clearly remains unsure of how to insult the candidates and must draw on his dangerously rose-tinted view of the history of oppression.

Versatile – the team that laid on some glowstick banter and a melted inky mess of iron-on photo transfers on t-shirts for Jamal and his bored friends – unsurprisingly loses. This leads to some vintage Apprentice-isms in The Bridge café, His Lordship's official caterer to losing candidates. “I don’t want to dance around a bush,” says one. “A lot of people are going to point the finger at myself,” says another’s self.

In an UNPRECEDENTED move, Lord Sugar decides to keep all four losing team members in the boardroom. He runs through how rubbish they all are. “Joseph, I do believe there has been some responsibility for you on this task.” And “David, I do believe that today you’ve got a lot to answer to.”

Lord Sugar, I do believe you’re dancing around a bush here. Who’s for the chop? It’s wee David, of course, the only nice one left.

But this doesn’t stop Sugar voicing his concern about the project manager. “I’m worried about you, Gary,” he says. “You’re a big corporate man.” Because if there’s any demographic in society for whom we should be worried, it’s them.

Candidates to watch:


Hanging on in there by his whiskers.


Far less verbose when he’s doing enforced karaoke.


She’ll ruin your party.

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here for the previous episode blog. The Apprentice airs weekly at 9pm, Wednesday night on BBC One.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.