Arbor has been on a steady, golden crescendo since his first breakout at 16 winning the BFI’s Most Promising Talent award, going onto write and direct a number of highly acclaimed short films and plays, many of them focused on the realities of queer identity, each of them searingly honest and stunningly realised; his play Butterfly (co-written with Clodagh Chapman), which ran in London on the cusp of the pandemic, was a kaledescopic romp through queer history. His latest film project, however, centres its gaze firmly on the concerns of the present.
In Baba, Ali plays the raucous, feisty Britannia, a queer man forced to live in the neon-tinted, underground tunnels of Libya, where queerness is still criminal. He dreams of a life lived in Britain, a country which, in his eyes, is the zenith of queer experience; he imagines strutting down Manchester’s Canal Street and holding hands with a man - any man - in glorious sight of the whole world. For his interview with the British Embassy, he must return to his family home for his passport, a home he was turned away from due to his sexuality years before. This nocturnal pilgrimage will place him in the harsh spotlight of a revelation, in the form of his imperious, complicated Baba. It’s a film that not only displays a love of queerness, but a love of Libya too; it’s a celebration at heart, and it shows a warm tenderness for it’s subjects, both in character and setting. For Arbor and Ali, this deeply important virtuosic film planted in the fertile grounds of unashamed joy and becoming has borne a glitter of conversation-starting award-winning neon-coloured fruits.