The BFI Flare London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, scheduled from March 13th-March 24th 2024, is set to feature a diverse array of films and documentaries, shedding light on LGBTQIA+ themes, experiences, and struggles. As part of this festival, Benjamin Howard’s “Riley” is making its premiere, offering a poignant coming-of-age narrative centred around the challenges faced by a high school football player as he grapples with his sexuality and relationships. Listen to Harvey Morton’s full interview with Benjamin Howard on Harvey’s Brunch Club below: 

 

Riley Director Benjamin Howard on Harvey's Brunch Club

by Queerly Radio | Harvey's Brunch Club

Inspiration and Personal Connection

  • Benjamin Howard’s creation of “Riley” stems from his own adolescent experiences as a former high school football player, providing a deeply personal and cathartic exploration of the struggles faced during his formative years.
  • Howard’s personal journey and emotional investment in the script’s development reflect the internal conflict and roadblocks he encountered while navigating his identity amidst his passion for football.

Audience Impact and Universal Resonance

  • The film’s reception has been unexpectedly broad, resonating with diverse audiences, regardless of sexual orientation or age, evoking emotional responses and gratitude for sharing an authentic narrative.
  • Howard’s intent to convey a truthful representation of his experiences as an out gay man has resulted in a story that transcends sexual orientation, fostering a sense of relatability and connection among viewers.
Courtesy of Windsor Film Company

Industry Representation and Progress

  • “Riley” delves into the complexities of closeted queer athletes, shedding light on the struggles and internal battles faced by individuals in professional sports, particularly in the context of college football and the NFL.
  • While acknowledging the NFL’s efforts to promote acceptance, Howard emphasises the need for greater self-affirmation and support within the sports community, fostering an environment where players feel empowered to embrace their true selves.

Casting and Character Development

  • Jake Holly’s portrayal of the lead character in “Riley” is lauded for its depth and authenticity, showcasing his remarkable commitment to his roles and his ability to breathe life into complex characters.
Colin McCalla (left) and Jake Holley Courtesy of Windsor Film Company

A Journey of Self-Discovery

The film’s conclusion marks the beginning of Riley’s journey towards self-acceptance, echoing the personal experiences of the director, Benjamin Howard. Howard’s own struggle with self-acceptance and his eventual realisation reflect the profound and arduous process of coming to terms with one’s true identity.

The film powerfully mirrors Howard’s personal journey, encapsulating the internal strife, the quest for affirmation, and the eventual liberation that comes with embracing one’s truth. The closing scenes of “Riley” capture the essence of this journey, resonating with individuals who have navigated similar paths of self-discovery and acceptance.

Inspiring Hope and Empathy

“Riley” aims to offer a message of hope and resilience to individuals who may be grappling with their own identities, particularly young closeted athletes. Through the film, Howard seeks to convey the powerful message that individuals struggling with self-acceptance are not alone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The film’s narrative is a testament to the strength and resilience of those who confront societal pressures to embrace their true selves.

Jake Holley Courtesy of Windsor Film Company

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Reflecting on his high school experiences, Howard contemplates the impact of earlier self-acceptance and the potential for a different journey had he embraced his identity sooner. His personal reflections underscore the importance of self-affirmation and the profound effect it can have on one’s life trajectory.

Future Endeavors

As “Riley” continues to resonate with audiences, Howard is already in the development phase of another script, offering a nod to his favourite movie, “Boogie Nights.” His commitment to authentic storytelling and the exploration of diverse narratives continues to drive his creative endeavours, setting the stage for impactful storytelling and meaningful cinematic experiences.

In conclusion, “Riley” is not just a film; it is a testament to the transformative power of storytelling and the resilience of the human spirit. Through the personal experiences and creative vision of Benjamin Howard, the film serves as a beacon of hope, empathy, and self-discovery for audiences around the world.