Boys on Film, for those of you who don’t know, is Peccadillo Pictures’ compilation series of gay interest short films. Featuring award winning films produced worldwide, these compilations have gained iconic status since the release of the first collection, Boys on Film 1: Hard Love, back in 2009.
As the title suggests, Boys on Film 9: Youth in Trouble, is a collection of films dealing with various difficulties young gay men may face; from the purely domestic as in Deep End (Dir. Bretten Hannam), in which a gay man’s younger brother has to battle with his own homophobia, to the wildly outlandish, such as Together (Dir. James Cook), which blends routine drama with slasher horror.
As with any compilation, there is a mix of strong and weak moments. Luckily in this case, the strong far outweigh the weak; the final three films in particular are exceptionally successful. From the director of PARIAH (Dee Rees, 2011) comes Colonial Gods, which is the tale of a complicated friendship between a Somali man and a Nigerian man which unravels as the surrounding migrant community is displaced at the hands of developers. Rees’ handling of multiple themes, including racism, religion, and homosexuality, is exemplary. Her great success here is how subtly she interweaves these many complex issues into the narrative, creating a piece that is rich, layered, evocative and extraordinarily beautiful. At no point does this film feel forced or insincere, which allows you to become entirely absorbed in the drama without those jarring moments that lesser filmmakers can scarcely avoid. This and fine performances from the cast result in a film that is both fascinating and resonant.
Moving in a more light-hearted direction, It’s Not a Cowboy Film (Dir. Benjamin Parent) is another highlight. This film begins the day after Brokeback Mountain (Dir. Ang Lee, 2005) has aired on television and portrays intimate conversations between teenagers in the school toilets describing their reaction to seeing the film. It’s an intriguing concept for a film, especially in the light of current discourse surrounding homophobia in schools. The lightly comedic format of this film is engaging yet does not detract from the exploration of teenage concepts of homosexuality and masculinity. It feels distinctly truthful in its portrayal of teenagers navigating the conflict between a society that is becoming progressively liberal, and the politics of playground identities; something that will strike a chord with a large proportion of the young gay community. It’s Not a Cowboy Film is highly engaging, and will be particularly enjoyable for anyone whose school days are in the not-too-distant past.
The final film of the collection is Prora (Dir. Stéphane Riethauser), which beautifully captures the first sexual experience between two friends. The cinematography enhances the stark simplicity of the narrative, with each frame capturing the bright heat of summer and sex. This is meditative piece, more concerned with externalising emotion rather than showcasing dialogue, and as such the mood of the film is enhanced; it seems to radiate heat, and possesses a nostalgic vibrancy all its own.
As mentioned, this compilation does suffer from weaker moments, for example Together seems to be lacking in purpose and substance, and so feels slightly amateurish and less refined than other films in this collection. However, this is a minor point as fundamentally Boys on Film 9: Youth in Trouble offers some fine examples of international gay cinema, some of which could easily become classics in the realm of gay film shorts. The breadth of styles here is in itself testament to how gay cinema is continually evolving and embracing divergent streams of influence from cinema more widely; this is reason enough to applaud the Boys on Film series for providing a continuous insight into the development of gay cinema as it gains momentum internationally.