17/03/2017 08:39 GMT | Updated 18/03/2018 05:12 GMT

Why We Need To Share LGBT Film With The World

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Film is a powerful medium. It educates, debates and challenges. It opens our eyes up to other possibilities. It connects us with different worlds.

So as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK - surely the most significant piece of legislation for gay people, and the beginning of a journey towards true equality, this is something important to commemorate. At the British Council, the UK's organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, we've chosen to use #FiveFilms4Freedom - the global digital celebration of LGBT film - to do this in front of the world.

Now in its third year, #FiveFilms4Freedom is the world's widest reaching LGBT online short film programme. As a partnership between the British Council and BFI Flare, the British Film Institute's LGBT Film Festival, the programme asks people across the globe to watch five short films, online for free, in solidarity with LGBT communities in countries where freedom and equal rights are limited. For the first time, all five films are from the UK - our own unique way of marking the 2017 legislative anniversary as well as a reflection of the strong crop of UK LGBT short films being showcased at this year's Flare Festival.

But why is it so important that LGBT films reach the wider world?

Well, in terms of #FiveFilms4Freedom itself at least, we can't underestimate the impact the programme has had to date.

When we launched in 2015 we had humble ambitions - it was something of an experiment to see if perhaps we could champion one of the best film festivals in the UK, to raise the profile of some talented new LGBT filmmakers, and to explore the power of film in changing perceptions or encouraging debate. Last year, the programme reached 140 million people in 179 countries, with 1.5 million people watching one of the films over a 10 day period. In addition to the vast numbers, the programme was also successful - and surprising - in having impact in many countries where LGBT (and other human) rights are curtailed and even in some countries where LGBT lives are punishable by the death penalty. The idea that viewers in these places were prepared to risk everything to enjoy five short films that those of us in Europe, America and beyond take for granted was sobering - and highlights the impact that film can make.

And we hope that the impact of this year's #FiveFilms4Freedom is no different. With subjects ranging from transgender parenting to machismo and sexuality, and from school girl crushes to dating apps, the films selected for 2017 are a rich mix of the diversity of UK experience - and ultimately showcase why love is a human right. By championing them in such a momentous year, we want to celebrate - and share - the tolerance and approach to human rights that are so important to UK culture with people everywhere.

The five films will be available to watch online from 16-26 March on the British Council Arts YouTube channel and BFI player. The programme has been selected from, and coincides with, BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival, and builds to a single campaign day - Tuesday 21 March - when people everywhere are encouraged to watch the films in solidarity with LGBT communities in countries where freedom and equal rights are limited. On the 21 March, global audiences are encouraged to watch and share the films using the hashtag #FiveFilms4Freedom to recognise that love is a human right.