Last year the British Council and the British Film Institute (BFI) created the world's first online, global LGBT film festival. fiveFilms4freedom made five short films from Flare, the BFI's LGBT Film Festival, freely available to everyone everywhere. Millions of people in 135 countries watched at least of one of the movies or participated in our global social media campaign with the United Nations Free & Equal campaign.
In many countries the last three years have been momentous ones for LGBT communities. The Australian Marriage Equality Campaign lists 63 places (countries and states) that allow same-sex marriage. A list England, Scotland and Wales joined in 2014 and America joined this year through a landmark Supreme Court decision and a near forty-year campaign for gay rights.
But millions of people continue to live in places that outlaw same-sex relationships. More than 70 countries continue to imprison people because of their sexual orientation. In at least five countries being gay is punishable by death. It's not only that gay people in those countries can't love and lead fulfilling lives, anti-gay laws fuel the AIDS epidemic by denying people the chance to get information, get tested and, if needed, get treated. An international campaign by the Elton John Aids Foundation is trying to address this stigma.
The British Council and the BFI set up fiveFilms4freedom because we believe in the role of culture to make positive change. We wanted to connect with people living in societies that don't recognise who they are. We wanted to let them watch an LGBT film as safely as those us in the 63 places on the Australian list. We also wanted to use film and stories to help people think differently about LGBT issues.
The films we selected told wonderful stories about love - young love, older love, unrequited love - even love of bicycles. The 2015 message was love is both a human right and something we all share. The changes we want to see in those 70+ countries will come when the majority of people believe that we are all born free and equal regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. I believe film and culture can help achieve that.
We're have launched the international call for the five short films we will screen online and everywhere in 2016. We hope to find LGBT film-makers who can help us share the story of life and love around the world. We know there's more to do in the UK too, including ensuring our media shows positive images of all LGBT communities. In 2015 we screened Chance by trans filmmaker Jake Graf in 2015. So we'll be including UK films in our final selection.
Find out how to submit a film to Flare and fiveFilms4freedom 2016 here