Cardiff will for six days become the LGBT+ film capital of the world as the city hosts the Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival.

In just 12 years this festival has developed a growing reputation within the LGBT+ filmmaking community, supported by a global network of 25 partner festivals in 20 different countries who nominate the films in competition. The £50,000 prize fund, which includes the world’s largest single short film prize at £30,000, has made a significant contribution to the event’s profile beyond the LGBT+ film community. 

Festival Director, Berwyn Rowlands, reflects on the relationship between the city and the prize and how both have evolved to become a beacon for diversity.

It was 2006. Film funding in Wales was being dramatically restructured, so I knew redundancy was on its way. I had 12 months to think about what I wanted to do next. I was almost 40, still in love with film, still in love with Wales, and still very happy to identify as a gay man. Having considered many options, I made possibly the most selfish decision of my professional life. ‘Let’s combine all of the things I love and try and make a living out of it!’

Initially, it could have been held anywhere. Manchester and Brighton were both seriously considered as hosts, and we now run mini Iris festivals in both cities. Globally, Iris could easily have called Sydney or San Francisco home. But the response in Wales to the idea of Iris was so encouraging that in the end Cardiff was chosen, and looking back it was the right decision. The Iris of today exists thanks largely to that shared vision and enthusiasm.

We had a lot of support in the early years, which continues today, from well-established film festivals like Inside Out in Toronto and Outfest in LA. The global LGBT+ film sector was - and continues to be - quite small, and there were a lot of people who knew each other creating a strong support network. There was no resentment or rivalry, just support and the joy of being part of something that would help film makers from all over the world.

Over the years, people have started noticing that Iris has a very special relationship with Cardiff, or was it Cardiff with Iris? Visiting film makers, jury members and journalists would all mention how much they enjoyed their time at Iris and Cardiff.

And Cardiff’s reputation as a welcoming destination for LGBT+ people goes from strength to strength. This year’s Pride Cymru celebrations, held in August, saw 15,000 people march through the city’s streets, more than double the number who marched the previous year.

The signs of change extend beyond the capital. This week Plaid Cymru members across Wales elected Adam Price, an openly gay man, as their new leader, while the National Assembly for Wales was named No.1 in Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers for the whole of the UK in 2018, followed closely by the Welsh Government at No.12 and Cardiff University at No.14.

Cardiff is a compact city with all the associated trappings of a vibrant European capital. We have world class museums and attractions, shopping, entertainment, great places to eat and sleep. The people are friendly and yes, we love our rugby, and yes, some of us can sing! And once a year Iris makes Cardiff the LGBT+ movie capital of the world, with film fans joining us for six amazing days of watching films, talking about the business of making films, and of course finding time to party!

The 2018 Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival opens on Tuesday, 9 October and closes on Sunday 14 October during the annual awards show which this year are hosted as part of the Iris Carnival in the Tramshed. Find out more and book here.

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