The 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival kicked off in flamboyant style last night with the opening gala screening of I Am Divine, a new documentary about the legendary actor and drag queen Divine.
An LLGFF favourite following the screening of his film Vito at last year’s Festival, director Jeffrey Schwarz flew in for this international premiere, four days after the film was unveiled at its world premiere at America’s SXSW festival. Several friends of Divine were among the audience, including sculptor and performance artist Andrew Logan, record producer Pete Waterman and Mark Moore of S’Express.
The after-party was held aboard HMS President, in tribute to Divine’s legendary performance on a paddle steamer on the Thames during the Gay Pride parade in 1985. During this short boat-top concert, Divine passed by the National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank), the site of last night’s gala. Festival programmer Brian Robinson was there on the riverbank in 1985 and recalls Divine’s show:
It was a very funny day, very busy. There were lots of stalls along Jubilee Gardens. You could hear the sound of Divine singing on the boat before you could actually see Divine. And when the paddle steamer hoved into view, you could see Divine gyrating. It was an extraordinary sight. In the middle of the river, even Divine looked small, but it was a great moment that I’ve never forgotten.
I have touched Divine. There was a performance in Heaven around the same time, and I came face to face with Divine, who had just come off stage. I was almost dumbstruck, but felt the need to touch Divine in the centre of his chest. His security guard hit my hand so hard that it was still hurting a week later. But I feel like I touched a part of history. And I do have an autograph as well: ‘To Brian, love Divine.’