Five years have passed since David Robert Mitchell made a splash by following his unremarkable debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010), with his sleeper horror hit, It Follows (2014). Judging by his sophomore outing, Under the Silver Lake, he seems to have spent his time watching old Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch films and seeking ways to litter a scenario with conspiracy theories and nostalgically chic cultural references that say more about himself than a protagonist whose slackerish charisma is rooted in a kind of male-gazing smugness that will inevitably spark debates about whether Mitchell is being postmodernistically ironic or a misogynist shlemiel. 

There's a dog killer on the loose in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles where Sam (Andrew Garfield) is facing eviction from the apartment where he spies on his neighbours from his balcony with a pair of binoculars. When his mother (Deborah Geffner) calls to tell him Oscar-winning silent star Janet Gaynor's Seventh Heaven (1927) is coming on cable, he lies that he's at work. However, he is distracted from the feud between a topless woman (Wendy Vanden Heuvel) and the bikini-wearing Sarah (Riley Keough) by the arrival of his actress friend (Riki Lindhome), who has brought him lunch. They have meaningless sex while discussing his signed Kurt Cobain poster and watching a news item about the disappearance of billionaire Jefferson Sevence (Chris Gann). During their post-coital chatter, The Actress wonders if the topless woman's parrot is saying anything significant before Sam stops her from rootling through some papers on the bedside table covered in figures. 

Having earlier been startled by a dying squirrel falling out of a tree, Sam notices a skunk scuttling in the undergrowth before fussing Sarah's dog, Coca-Cola, to get her attention. She invites him in and they lie on her bed to watch Jean Negulesco's How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) before she asks him to leave when her flatmates return. On the street, Sam spots the tweenagers who have vandalised his car and, having kicked one of them in the stomach, he forces an egg into his mouth from the box he has been carrying to blotch windows. 

Returning to his apartment, he reads the latest edition of Under the Silver Lake, a zine written by Milo (Patrick Fischler) about the urban myths pertaining to the area that was known as Edendale when the first silent studios were built. Among them is a story about a 1917 film reel showing a suicidal actor holds a card claiming that no one will ever be happy in the neighbourhood until all of the dogs are killed. As Sam reads, the inky monochrome drawings come to animated life to show how the actor had blamed his failure to become the next Douglas Fairbanks on Teddy the Wonder Dog. 

Waking from a nightmare in which he sees a man in Sarah's white dress and hat feeding on the entrails of a dead man, Sam discovers her apartment has been cleared out and doesn't believe the building manager's insistence that she simply paid up and moved out in the middle of the night. He confides his suspicions to a friend at the local bar (Topher Grace) before breaking into the apartment and finding a Polaroid of Sarah in a box of her belongings that had somehow been left in a closet. He darts out of the window as Troy (Zosia Mamet) comes to collect the box and follows when she drives off with Mae (Laura-Leigh Claire) and Fannie (Annabelle Dexter-Jones). Noting down a double diamond symbol he had seen on Sarah's bedroom wall, Sam pursues the girls on to a pedalo lake, where they pass the box on to the man dressed as a pirate, who had been in Sarah's apartment on the night she vanished.

As darkness falls, Sam continues to follow Troy and her friends and wanders into a nightclub called Purgatory to watch a girl in a balloon suit (Grace Van Patten) dance to music by Jesus and the Brides of Dracula. He follows Troy into the bathroom and is spat on and kneed in the groin when he asks if she knows Sarah. In pain, he bumps into Allen (Jimmi Simpson), who spots Millicent Sevence (Callie Hernandez) across the room at the precise moment she is informed that her father has been killed in a fireball crash that also claimed the lives of three young women. 

Convinced he's being stalked on his way home, Sam hides in the bushes and is squirted by a skunk. As he tries to clean himself, he deduces that Sarah is one of the women in the car. The Actress comes to see him while he's in the bath and reads a Milo zine article about a female killer known as The Owl's Kiss. She asks Sam about the scribblings beside the bed and he outlines a theory that everything from album covers to quiz shows are filled with subliminal messages that are intended only for the powerful elite that has mollified the global population with television and the Internet. Spooked by his intensity and the reek of the skunk stink, The Actress leaves and Sam dozes off to dream of a blonde swimming in the complex pool who barks like a dog when she looks up at him. 

Having had his car towed for failing to keep up with the payments, Sam goes to see Milo, who shows him the collection of life masks on his wall that includes Abraham Lincoln, Johnny Depp and Grace Kelly. He reveals that the double diamond symbol is from the Hobo's Code and means `keep quiet'. Moreover, he confirms Sam's conspiracy theory and produces an old cereal box printed with a map of the Silver Lake area that he thinks relates to an ongoing plot to hide the truth from ordinary folk. Even Sam is dubious, but such is Milo's intensity that he feels decidedly unnerved. He drops in to see his bar buddy, who is using a drone to spy on a female neighbour. They discuss how computers have replaced bogeymen in the paranoid modern mind and stop watching the spycam when the woman starts sobbing.

Wandering through into an outdoor screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Sam sees the film's starlets (Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Sydney Sweeney) leaning on a gravestone marked `Hitchcock' and recognises the pirate when the girls disappear into a stretch limo. Remembering the cookie ticket he had been given at Purgatory to a secret party, Sam ventures into the gallery venue, where one of the Brides of Dracula is performing `To Sir With Love'. Accepting a free single of `Turning Teeth', he buys Balloon Girl a drink and asks if she knows Sarah. She admits to seeing her around and takes Sam to a crypt club, where she insists that Jesus (Luke Baines) wouldn't put hidden messages into his lyrics. They dance to REM's `What's the Frequency, Kenneth?' before Sam succumbs to the drug in the cookie he had eaten to gain admittance to the party. 

Emerging from the washroom after throwing up, Sam sees Troy and chases after her when she leaves the club. However, the effects of the drug overpower him and he crashes out in the cemetery. He wakes next morning to a phone call from his mother about the Janet Gaynor movie and discovers he has spent the night beside her grave. Wandering the streets he sees a poster advertising contact lenses that bears the slogan, `I Can See Clearly Now', and he notes the irony. Spending the afternoon with his bar pal, Sam skims through a book about codebreaking, while they discuss the fact that the Information Era has taken the mystery out of life. 

Returning home to masturbate to his favourite magazine images, Sam finds the number of an escort agency with pictures of the shooting stars he had seen at the cemetery screening. On calling the number, he hires one of the girls (Sweeney) and she reveals that she once saw Sarah at a party thrown by a swanky Hollywood producer at the home of a famous songwriter. This makes him think about the lyrics of `Turning Teeth' (which he had tried playing backwards for any hidden messages) and he detects a code which takes him to the busts of James Dean and Isaac Newton at the Griffin Park Observatory, where he is met by the Homeless King (David Yow), who blindfolds him and leads him to a network of caves, while confiding that the city is really owned by its wild coyotes. Creeping through the tunnels, Sam finds a bomb shelter and makes his way back to the street through a grille in the pavement.

Calling on Milo, Sam sees the police cordoning off his home because he's committed suicide. He breaks in and removes the panel to the secret room containing the CCTV monitors that Milo has rigged up to protect himself. Looking on in astonishment, Sam sees the Owl's Kiss slip into Milo's room and he leaves hurriedly with the cereal box map. Meeting up with Allen, he goes to an exclusive chess club and spots the Balloon Girl and the Swinging Star among those in attendance. He also sees Jesus and follows him to the bathroom, where he pummels him into revealing that his hits were penned by The Songwriter (Jeremy Bobb). Remembering the gated mansion the Swinging Star had mentioned, he asks her to take him to the address and she leaves him gazing up at a San Simeonesque pile on a hill.

Venturing inside, Sam finds The Songwriter waiting for him in a room full of stuffed animals and such musical instruments as Paul McCartney's Hofner violin bass and Kurt Cobain's Fender Mustang guitar. He asks if he wrote the Jesus song and he claims to have been behind every major hit single for the last 60 years. Sitting at the piano, he dashes off some familiar riffs, including Nirvana's `Smells Like Teen Spirit', and cacklingly informs Sam that he has been the voice of rebellion that generations have followed and he delights in watching his face fall when he realises that the soundtrack to his life has been devised by a Tin Pan Alley hack smuggling hidden messages into his lyrics at the behest of the rich and powerful. Suddenly, the old man produces a gun and starts shooting at Sam, who rushes forward and caves in his skull with Cobain's guitar. Taking the gun, Sam beats a hasty retreat. 

That night, he watches Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1954) on TV and gazes across his tenement courtyard as a storm blows up. Waking with a start at the sound of broken glass, Sam turns to confront the Owl's Kiss, who escapes through his bedroom. As he searches for her, there's a knock on the door and Sam has to negotiate with a cop who has come to evict him in order to buy another day to find his rent. Peering down from his balcony, he sees a coyote rummaging through the bins and, recalling the Homeless King's remark, he follows the animal through the woods and arrives at a house party, where he runs into the ex-girlfriend from the contact lens billboard (Summer Bishil). 

He also sees Millicent, who is looking at a picture that was painted by Janet Gaynor. She is intrigued when he mentions Sarah and goes for a walk with him. They stroll by the reservoir and Sam loses his temper with a beggar asking for money and reveals that he thinks the homeless are like poltergeists who hover on the fringes of society. Millicent suggests the go for a swim and climb the wire fence with the Hollywood sign glinting in the moonlight. She gives him a bracelet that she found among her father's things and he recognises it as Sarah's. However, a sniper fires at them and Sam has to rush home naked after Millicent is killed. 

Realising that the bracelet is inscribed with chess moves, Sam scours the Internet for clues about NPM and finds a game reference in Nintendo Power Magazine that leads him to the Spacestones cereal box and the cellophane map given away as a free gift. He lays this over the NPM grid and finds two locations near the reservoir that are blocked out on aerial photographs. Heading into the hills and ignoring a Hobo Code danger signal, Sam discovers a shack and finds Troy and her friends taking tea in white robes with their `husband' (Don McManus). When pressed, he reveals that he is a member of the same elite as Sevence and has chosen to live in an underground bunker in the lap of luxury with his brides while waiting to ascend to a better world. 

Sam listens incredulously before realising that Sarah may still be alive in Sevence's retreat and asks if there is any way to communicate with her. They make telephone contact and he has a video chat with Sarah, who promises (albeit tearfully) that she is content with her decision. She urges Sam to take care, as Mae describes a dream she had in which she passed to the next world surrounded by her happiest memories. The Last Man and his wives lie down to sleep and Sam passes out from the drugged tea and is taken away by the Homeless King. He accepts Sam's improvised explanation for having dog biscuits in his pocket and lets him leave. 

Getting home, Sam watches Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven (1927) on the video his mother had sent him, while munching on Sarah's favourite crackers. He hears the parrot talking from the neighbouring balcony and pays a call on its owner, who readily seizes the opportunity to sleep with him. Wandering on to the balcony, Sam sees the building manager and the sheriff enter his room to evict him and he smiles at having dodged them (and everything else that has been raining on him). 

Delighting as much at leaving gaps in his narrative as filling them in, writer-director Mitchell leads the audience in a merry dance in this capricious shaggy dog story, which is so pleased with its own insider insight and imagistic ingenuity that it leaves itself open to accusations of being more self-indulgent than self-reflexive. There's no question that this journey into inconsequentiality has its amusing moments, with the pick being the simulated glass shot to show the mansion on the hill. But they are outnumbered by instances of gratuitous nudity and shameless chauvinism. Mitchell might argue that he is merely reflecting a debased milieu of privilege and machismo, but Mike Gioulakis's camera lingers over long on the exposed flesh of female characters who seem to exist solely to bring pleasure to entitled males. 

The casting of Andrew Garfield takes off some of the curse, although Mitchell also exploits the actor's tendency to resemble Anthony Perkins to make him seem so furtive and idiosyncratic. But, with his Spidey Sense faltering, Sam remains a resistible enigma. We never discover the nature of the `work' to which Allen often refers, but he must have had some source of income, as his rent problems appear reasonably recent. Maybe he is/was an actor or a writer, as he is friends with benefits with The Actress and his ex is a poster girl. Yet Mitchell seems keen to prevent us from getting too close to his protagonist, as the more questions we ask, the more likely we are to realise the role that smoke and mirrors are playing in the entire enterprise. 

In many ways, this is a lament for a bygone Hollywood, with its innocent silent ingenues, glamorous widescreen divas and the kind of private eyes fashioned by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. But it's also a reminder that Los Angeles has always been a crazy, mixed-up town with its share of scandals and tragedies involving both people with more money than sense and those who have been driven to desperation by envying them. It's hardly a profound message and the musings on hidden codes and conspiracy theories are scarcely more revelatory. 

Yet, with its Semiotics 101 vibe, this Trumpist parable could easily become a cult item, even among those who can only recognise the obvious allusions to Rear Window (1954) and Mulholland Drive (2001) and the scores of Bernard Herrmann and Angelo Badalamenti pastiched by Richard Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace) and miss the subtler nods towards directors like Vincente Minnelli, Orson Welles, Nicholas Ray, Robert Aldrich, Roman Polanski, Robert Altman, Richard Kelly and Paul Thomas Anderson. Mitchell knows a good idea/image when he sees one and has the stylistic élan to make his millennial Illuminati seem disconcertingly credible. But the solution to his meticulously pieced together puzzle is somewhat underwhelming and smacks of the superficiality he is seeking to expose. Seek out a copy of Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) instead.

The anonymous French adoption system known as `L'Accouchement Sous X' comes under scrutiny in Jeanne Herry's second feature, In Safe Hands. This might seem something of a leap after Herry had explored the relationship between a middle-aged woman and a fading rocker in the César-nominated Number One Fan (2014). But, in reuniting with the ever-dependable Sandrine Kiberlain, Herry (who is the daughter of singer Julien Clerc and actress Miou-Miou) again explore the notion of co-dependency, as she shows how various health and social care professionals collaborate to find a home for an unwanted newborn, or `pupille' (which is the French title). 

Forty-one year-old Alice (Élodie Bouchez) is so surprised to be offered a two-month baby boy named Théo (Maël Le Bihan) by L'Accouchement Sous X that she had trouble taking in what Irène (Miou-Miou) is saying. Meanwhile, foster parent Jean (Gilles Lellouche) is having such trouble with a pair of traumatised brothers that he informs his case worker that he needs to take a break because he's emotionally exhausted. 

We flash back to Brest on 26 September, as 21 year-old Clara (Leïla Muse) gives birth to Théo, but doesn't want to hold or look at him before giving him up for adoption. While the child is dressed and fed by Elodie (Stéfi Celma), social worker Mathilde (Clotilde Mollet) comes to see Clara in the recovery room and offer her services over the next three days, so that she comes a satisfactory decision about the boy's future. She calmly explains the options and processes and nods when Clara asks if the baby can go to someone who couldn't have children. 

The hospital contacts child welfare officers Isabelle (Julie Recoing) and Karine (Sandrine Kiberlain), who has a feeling that Jean might benefit from fostering a newborn after having such a rough time with his last few teenagers. He wants to turn down the offer, but wife Laure (Anne Suarez) is concerned that he is giving up too easily on his vocation and reminds him that they need two incomes to run the household and care for his daughter, Pauline (Zaig Castel). 

Back in Brest, Clara has a sleepless night and decides to act on Mathilde's recommendation that she should say goodbye to Théo in person and leave him a letter or keepsake should he ever wish to trace his roots. Mathilde is pleasantly surprised by Clara's change of heart, but raises an eyebrow when she announces that she is off to a seminar at college, as she hasn't told anybody about her pregnancy and doesn't want her mother to know that her daughter is capable to giving away her child. 

While Mathilde registers the birth and establishes that the mother has two months to change her mind, Karine takes Jean to meet Théo and he picks up the infant and talks gently to him, in the same way that Karine had explained what will happen over the next few weeks. It's not all plain sailing, however, as one couple (Servane Ducorps and Thibault Vinçon) get angry with ??, when she tells them that the adoption agency doesn't consider them suitable parents. Even Jean gets snapped at by one of the medical team when he comes to bond with Théo. But he is too experienced to be fazed and keeps up a mumbled dialogue with the child sleeping in his arms. 

Through a report into her background, we learn a bit about Alice's personality and circumstances. We also see her yelling at a neighbour who has allowed his pet python to slip into her apartment. She travels to meet adoption assessor Lydie (Olivia Côte) with partner Stéphane (Yannick Choirat), who explains that they decided to adopt after four years of trying for baby of their own. Lydie reassures them that she is here to support not judge them and tells Alice that having counselling to cope with her infertility makes her human not unsuitable. She claims we all walk through minefields and fields of flowers and hopes that such experiences will help them negotiate the problems they will encounter and the awkward questions and behavioural problems they can expect down the line. 

One of Karine's pupilles is struggling with supervised visits with her mother and she reports back to her panel. She also mentions that Théo is a very quiet baby and thinks they should monitor his levels of alertness, as well as the slight heart murmur that was picked up during medical tests. Karine has great faith in Jean and confides in him that her own kids are acting up after the walked out on their father (Bruno Podalydès). He is taken aback because she is always so cheerful, as she sees the best in most situations and always has a sweet or a piece of  chewing gum on the go. 

At the agency, Irène puts Lydie in charge of Théo's case and tells her about a rule change that will allow single mothers to adopt for the first time. As Alice has split up with Stéphane, this keeps her in the frame. She is now working with her doctor father (Jean-François Stévenin) in providing live commentaries for theatre presentations. This development also works in her favour, as it has been discovered that Théo has issues, as he rarely demands food or cries in the night and Karine has to reassure Jean that he is doing a good job with a mite who needs all his attention and affection. 

She is concerned about the boy, however, and is with Jean when Théo fails to respond to his bedroom door slamming. Child psychologist Sophie (Judith Siboni) runs tests and wonders whether there was a trauma during the pregnancy that might explain why the child is so detached. Isabelle calls Mathilde, who insists that Clara has a right to her anonymity and refuses to divulge the contents of her confidential letter. But Sophie and Karine badger her down the phone and ask if she wants the baby's well-being on her conscience, as this matters more than the mother's feelings, as Théo's entire future depends on them understanding the circumstances of his birth. 

Nettled, Mathilde returns to the hospital and learns from Elodie that Clara had remained silent during her 10-minute stay and this prompts Mathilde to read the letter and confide its contents to Théo, while Jean and Karine wait downstairs. That night, he cries for his bottle and Jean notices him fixing his gaze as he feeds. We also see Alice describing the action of a Chekhov play and flashback a couple of years to see her touching base with Lydie. She is expecting her third child and notes that Alice has recovered from the disappointment of failing to adopt a child from Colombia and thinks she is getting close to serious consideration for a newborn or toddler, especially as she has affirmed her readiness to take on a child with special needs. 

Lydie puts Alice's name forward at Irène's next meeting and is frustrated when one of her colleagues rudely challenges her assertions in putting forward a couple of his own. They are offered the chance to adopt Théo, but are three months into their own pregnancy and Irène understands that two children at once might be a bit tricky. So, Alice is chosen and she thanks Lydie for all her help. She gets to meet Théo at the agency, with Isabelle, Jean and Karine looking on. The latter pair have had a bit of a hiccup, as Karine has told Jean she fancies him and he has to admit that his feelings are strictly platonic. But they are focused on their task and help Alice bond with her son, whom she has renamed Matthieu. 

She has a nightmare on the last night of her play, when she loses the remote control for the sound system and her desk lamp fails so that she can't read her script. But Alice wings it, as she must now do as a mother, and she leaves the theatre by giving the haughty male lead (Amaury de Crayencour) a kiss and an offer to call her in six months time. She also promises to keep in touch with Jean, who is sad to see Théo leave, but knows he is doing a job and must retain his distance. Karine comes to the same conclusion, as she sees Jean and Laure together at a party thrown for the staff who have helped bring Alice and her baby together. On arriving home, she gets ready for bed and gazes adoringly at the contented child lying beside her, who reaches out to grasp her finger. 

It's infeasible that Jeanne Herry didn't see and admire Katell Quillévéré's Heal the Living (2016), as that chronicle of a heart transplant has much in common with this dramatically and emotionally riveting adoption saga. In each case, the backstories of the `donor' and `recipient' are sketched in around docurealist segments detailing the medical and social care procedures involved in securing a happy ending. Moreover, both films maintain the delicate balance between involving and informing the viewer by ensuring that the everyday feel carries over from the professional into the domestic situations. 

Although this is an ensemble piece, in which nobody puts a foot wrong, three performances stand out (four, if you count the remarkably impressive Maël Le Bihan). Going on the longest journey, Élodie Bouchez capably conveys how Alice matures as a woman and as a potential parent, as she learns to stand on her own two feet without her father or partner and comes to realise that she will be capable of loving and rearing any child entrusted into her care. Gilles Lellouche also impresses, as the foster father dealing with both a sense of emasculation in having to be the homemaker for his careerist wife and burnout after failing to cope with a pair of disturbed siblings. But it's Sandrine Kiberlain who steals the show, as she manages to compartmentalise her feeling of failure after walking out on her husband and her crush on Lellouche in maintaining a devotion to duty that sometimes requires her to browbeat her colleagues and bend the rules,

Working from a laudably researched script that consistently shows care workers explaining things to the infant to involve him in the process. Herry directs steadily and is ably abetted by production designer Johann George, cinematographer Sofian El Fani and editor Françis Vesin. Pascal Sangla's score can becomes a little emphatic in places, but the tone is never mawkish, as Herry celebrates our interdependence and the truism that life goes on, because it has to. 

Despite its cinema release managing to miss both the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on 28 June 1969 and the annual Pride marches on 6 July, Ashley Joiner's Are You Proud? still provides a timely reminder of the journey that LGBTQ+ activism has been on since the passage of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act - and the distance it still has to travel. Inspired to make the film by the memory of the mother of a former partner questioning his knowledge of gay history, Joiner has set out to celebrate the achievements of a long-repressed community and to castigate it for a lack of inclusivity that has raised some discomfiting issues about the wider movement's make-up and priorities. 

Taking a largely chronological approach, the documentary opens with Second World War veteran George Montague confessing to being dismayed that he was a `brown hatter' and that he had to live a lie by marrying a woman who accepted his homosexuality. A clip from a BBC programme about what the French called `la maladie anglaise' presages Sir John Wolfenden's declaration that private homosexual acts between consenting adult males over the age of 21 should be decriminalised. Andrew Lumsden, from the Gay Liberation Front, recalls the role played over five years by Anthony Wright of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, who used the pseudonym Antony Grey because his mother was terrified of his true identity leaking out. 

GLF members Stuart Feather and Theodore York Walker Brown outline the terms of the Sexual Offences Act and note that its terms did not apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Moreover, they clam that arrests for gross indecency rose fivefold, as the police sought revenge on the gay community and Stonewall's Michael Cashman concurs that cops often lured suspects into soliciting and importuning, with a pretty pair operating around Earl's Court being known as `the Beverly Sisters'. 

Gay Liberation started in New York in 1969 after police harassment at the Stonewall Inn following the death of Judy Garland led to an outbreak of violent protest. The British branch was formed by London School of Economics students Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter, who are fondly remembered for their courage by GLF members Simon Watney and Nettie Pollard. Stonewall's Lisa Power recalls the sense of release that many gays and lesbians experienced as they were finally able to be themselves. Then, at Antony Grey's suggestion, GLF held a candlelit demonstration at Highbury Fields against police harassment on 27 November 1970 and Lumsden proudly avers that this was the moment that the torch was passed from the 1950s to the future. 

As we see old home movies of a gathering in a park, Lumsden and Brown reflect on the first Pride march, from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, on 1 July 1972. Veterans of the procession recall the police presence, the curiosity of passers-by and the euphoric feeling that the straight world had been confronted with the notion of being `out and proud'. Even then, however, there were cracks in the united front. Feather exposes the resistance that drag queens felt from the younger brigade, while Brown condemns the racism that kept many black gays away and Pollard denounces the sexism endured by the lesbian membership. Watney agrees that GLF was imperfect and ill-equipped to tackle a range of issues. But it gave people the confidence to start gay newspapers and book publishers, helplines like the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and the Pride marches (of which there are now over 140 across the UK, more than in any other European country). 

Pride in London's Michael Salter-Church reveals how rapidly numbers have increased on the annual parade, while Alison Camps explains how every effort has been made to ensure it remains a free event, even though it costs about £800,000 to stage. As we hear about the diverse causes represented at an average march, Greg Owens of I Want It PrEP Now and Dan Glass from Queer Tours of London note that awareness of so many causes needs to be raised within the LGBTQ+ community and beyond. However, the latter is vocal in his condemnation of Pride having been hijacked by big corporations, who exploit it to seem right-on, while cynically seeking some free publicity. 

Veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell doesn't necessarily blame the organising committee for the commercialisation of Pride, as he is conscious of a growing fragmentation caused by minority groups promoting their own causes rather than rallying behind a common goal, such as challenging the Muslim world's attitude towards same-sex liaisons. On the same march, however, was Usmann Rana from LGBT Against Islamophobia and human rights activist Jason Jones worries that equality of  marriage and adoption rights has tilted the balance too far in the direction of heteronormative concerns and lifestyle choices. Activist Sarah MacGuire and YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf suggest that young people and those on the margins don't always have their voices heard.

Jacob V. Joyce talks about the workshops offered by Queer Picnic, while Fox Fisher extols the work being done by Trans Pride Brighton to challenge the cisgender hegemony and promote non-binary acceptance. Deacon Joy Everingham from Kent & Christ Church University claims that LGB people have a problem with the Trans community because their focus is on gender not sexuality and they feel threatened because same-sex attraction can only exist in a binary understanding of the spectrum. But Chryssy Hunter from Opening Doors London suggests that there are also Trans hierarchies and hopes that education and debate can promote greater understanding and tolerance and the movement can truly echo the words of Stonewall pioneer Marsha P. Johnson, `No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.'

As the focus switches to UK Black Pride, drag performer Son of a Tutu states that a democracy's strength rests on its treatment of minorities and he insists that there is a need for a separate celebration. Phyll Opoku-Gyimah agrees that BAME people felt marginalised at mainstream events and wanted a platform to proclaim their own difference and diversity. Artist Isaac Julien concurs that there is a white supremacy in UK culture and Son of a Tutu loves the fact that millennials call people out for cultural appropriation. However, Femi Otitoju of the Challenge Consultancy thinks it's a shame that there is a reluctance to address race issues more honestly and Opoku-Gyimah calls for greater appreciation of intersectionality and a recognition that people have multifaceted identities. 

Dan Glass notes how easily well-meaning groups can step into the shoes of the oppressor and that it's essential that the LGBTQ+ community accept that all struggles are inter-related. Riyadh Khalaf echoes this need to life each other up rather than drag each other down and Maria Exall from the TUC LGBT Committee emphasises the need for solidarity. Gethin Roberts reminds us of the efforts made by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners during the 1984-85 strike. As we see archive footage of the interaction between the two communities, Roberts reveals that the National Union of Mineworkers sent representatives to Pride in 1985 and campaigned at the Labour Party Conference the following year to pass a resolution committing the socialist movement to LGBT equality. 

During the HIV/AIDS crisis, the NUM did important work in supporting the sick and their families at a time when the disease bore a terrifying stigma. Ted Brown recalls not telling his loved ones when he was diagnosed as HIV+ and former Eastenders actor Michael Cashman pays tribute to the friend he spotted on a hospital visit who had kept his status secret. He despises the way in which families reclaimed sons to sanitise them and rob them of their identity and history, while Jason Jones laments the death of gay romance, as HIV/AIDS made sex the predominating factor in any burgeoning relationship.

Labour MP Chris Smith regrets that there has been a fight about two diseases, with the stigma proving as dangerous as a the virus. Author Matthew Todd recalls the demonisation by the right-wing press and many contributors agree that the community largely helped itself through groups like OutRage! and ACT UP. The latter took its inspiration from the New York branch, while the former was co-founded by Simon Watney, who wanted the diseases itself and the impact it was having to be at the forefront of the campaign. Pride also played a crucial role in promoting safe sex and encouraging openness and in showing heteronormative society that the LGBT community was taking care of itself and was no longer willing to accept stigmatisation. 

Yet, as Cashman notes, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government sought to introduce Section 28 in May 1988 to prevent lessons about homosexuality at school at the very moment when education needed to play an active role in countering prejudice and fear. Dismissing same-sex couples as participating in `pretend' partnerships, the reactionary legislation still makes Watney fume to this day and Jennie Lazenby of Lesbian Strength and Sue Sanders from Schools Out reflect on how the attempt to silence gay men and lesbian women made many more militant in their defence of the right to have any kind of family unit they chose. We see a clip of Ian McKellen speaking for Stonewall against what Cashman rightly declares was an attempted act of censorship. 

Stonewall was formed to prevent such laws being passed in the future and Cashman explains that it tended to lobby while Tatchell's Outrage! took direct action and the pincer movement drove conservative and church representatives to the negotiating table. It was the newly devolved Scottish Parliament that repealed Section 28 in June 2000, although another three years were to pass before England and Wales followed suit. Khalaf curses the fact that a generation of LGBTQ+ kids had no appropriate sex education and the link is also made with the rise of homophobia, as the subject of equality was never discussed

On 12 June 2016, Omar Mateen went on the rampage in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and killed 49 people. We see a terrifying clip of phone footage from what was the largest single person shooting in US history and learn from a news report that the gunman called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS. Some 36 hours later, 20,000 attended a vigil in Soho. Son of a Tutu notes the show of force and unity at this event and calmly states that the LGBTQ+ community will never be forced back into the closet and needs to remember that they are all fighting for a common cause. But, while lots of the contributors enthuse about the response demonstrating how the disparate groupings need each other, Tatchell points out that Orlando received disproportionate media coverage to similar slayings in developing countries and suggests that this represents a form of racism at work within the LGBTQ+ ranks.

Carlos Maurizio of Latinx repeats a speech he made at a separate vigil about a refusal to allow the racial identity of the victims of Orlando to be whitewashed by an Islamophobic focus on the terrorist nature of the atrocity.  Jason Jones picks this up and reveals that 73 million LGBTQ+ people live under regimes that criminalise them. He also reminds us that Britain exported such homophobic attitudes across three-quarters of the planet in the days of empire and over half of the 72 states that still outlaw homosexuality are former British colonies. Paul Dillane of the Kaleidoscope Trust echoes the view that this country has a duty to right past wrongs. although Tatchell warns against neo-colonial finger-wagging and says the emphasis should be on support not antagonism. 

Yet Dan Glass highlights the fact that a lot of the people fleeing persecution in such countries are turned away by the UK after risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean. Antonia Bright from Movement for Justice speaks along these lines at Peckham Pride, which was set up to draw attention to the connection between the LGBTQ+ struggle and the migrant crisis. Donna Riddington from ACT UP Women takes pride in the grassroots response, while Joseph Kasirye and Stephen Agyemang, who are respectively from Uganda and Ghana, speak about the courage it takes to approach the Home Office and file for residency on the grounds of sexual persecution, as there is a culture of doubt to be overcome among civil servants whose job is to keep immigration down rather than protect endangered individuals. 

Jamaican and Russian refugees PJ Samuels and Dmitry Spodobaev describe the restrictive conditions within detention centres and question how committed the UK government is to LGBTQ+ rights when they make token representation to foreign regimes while locking up oppressed individuals seeking asylum. As Spodobaev claims that British people have little concept of what freedom means, as captions expose that 75% of LGBTQ+ asylum  claimants are rejected and ordered to return to their country of origin. 

Mare Tralla from ACT UP Women questions whether Pride is doing enough in these cases and wonders whether having a party is the right way to bring serious issues of discrimination, hatred and violence to a wider audience. Indeed, in 2017, Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary and other campaigning groups delayed the start of the Pride in London and they continue to demand that Pride is re-politicised and starts campaigning against the UK's treatment of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers. A closing montage is accompanied by an inspiring speech by Samuels about hearing voices from both past and present calling for unity and equality to change the world once and for all. 

While this provides a solid introduction to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in this country, it probably says as much about generational difference as it does about cisgender ones. Many of the veterans of the Gay Liberation Front and the founding of Pride talk about the need to negotiate and persuade. But, such is the impatience and stridency of the social media mindset that debate appears to play less of a part than diatribe in challenging oppositional viewpoints. This makes modern LGBTQ+ activism fit for purpose, but it doesn't necessarily make for easy relations between the different sections of a continuously evolving and diversifying community and Joiner should be lauded for placing these contradictions and conflicts at the forefront of a documentary that consistently compels the viewer to reassess what might once have seemed on-message opinions and standpoints. 

All of the contributors speak with passion and cogency and it's to be hoped that this laudably inclusive and equitable film finds a small-screen audience so that it can reach those who might not be able to see it in a cinema. Curiously, however, Joiner follows a number of factualities on this theme by saying next to nothing about bisexuality and how it fits into the LGBTQ+ scheme of things (if that term still does justice to the multitude of groupings huddling under its umbrella). Given the emergence of Internet intolerance, it's important that the entire community adopts a united front and it's to be hoped that Joiner sparks some much-needed conversations because the rise of hate crimes in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum means that battles once thought won may have to be fought all over again.

Given that he has made his reputation as a Middle East specialist while writing for some of the most prestigious newspapers in Britain and America, Bartle Bull III may seem a peculiar choice for the director of a documentary about amateur boxing. However, the foreign editor of Prospect magazine (and the son of a Madgalen College, Oxford alumnus) appears very much at home in the world of grassroots pugilism in making Cradle of Champions, which, class chasm apart, has much in common with Stevan Riley's Blue Blood (2006), which profiled five unlikely contenders hoping to represent Oxford in the annual Varsity boxing match against Cambridge. 

Each winter, amateur boxers from around the world compete in the New York Daily News Golden Gloves tournament, which has produced more professional world champions (40+) than the Olympic Games. It's a tough proving ground, with Floyd Patterson, Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) and Sugar Ray Leonard all failing in their bid to secure the precious golden gloves necklace presented to the winners in each weight category. All five boroughs are involved in the 10-week competition, which sees 25 venues stage the 30 fight nights. 

Having already won the lightweight title at the 2013 event, Titus Williams from Long Island is looking to regain the crown he had failed to defend. Standing in his way, however, is Staten Islander James Wilkins, who is a cocky kid who knows that the gym keeps him out of trouble and that boxing is his most promising route to a better future. A previous winner at bantamweight, he has moved up a division and will now come into direct competition with Williams. Five-time middleweight champion Nisa Rodriguez also hopes her ringcraft can improve her prospects, as she has a five year-old son, Emerson, to raise in the Bronx and giving him the best start is more important to her than making the US Olympic team. 

As the 2015 tournement begins, we see all three contenders breeze through their opening bouts. The camera trains on the crowd supporting family members and friends with more enthusiasm than expertise, as they all know dreams can come true at the Golden Gloves. However, trainer Joe Higgins knows what he's doing, as he pep talks Williams between rounds, as he is the owner of the famed Freeport gym that was set up to keep kids out of trouble and off drugs and has since produced a number of champions. An ex-Marine who recovered the body of his fellow firefighting brother on 9/11, Higgins uses boxing to teach fighters to respect themselves and each other. As far as he is concerned, he is preparing youths for life and not just bouts.

Williams has benefited from such support and he is prepared to put in the lonely miles at the crack of dawn to realise his ambition. Thus, as Week Four brings us to Holy Cross High School, he has to swallow the disappointment of seeing Wilkins get a bye into the semi-final and focus on his opponent. Having lost to a debutant in 2014, he is desperate to regain top spot and follow in the footsteps of hero Floyd Mayweather, as meeting him made him more determined than ever to provide a nest egg and leave a legacy. With Higgins encouraging from his corner, Williams wins easily enough and Wilkins is well aware he's the man to beat. 

He is based at the Park Hill Boxing Club and is driven by the desire to make his grandmother proud after she raised 24 grandchildren in her cramped apartment to stop them from ping-ponging around the boroughs because of family problems. However, he still has much to learn and, in his frustration during a sparring session, judo throws a partner who insists on holding him. His coaches try to calm him down, but it takes owner Pat Russo to connect with him. An ex-cop who realised that the kids in the notorious Sunset Park area needed an outlet for their anger and stepped in when the gyms once run by the Police Athletic League were closed down. Fellow trainer Julio Salinas Albino wanders round the office that has replaced his gym and becomes emotional because he had done so much to lure kids away from the infamous Blood gang by showing them what they could achieve through a little dedication.

While Rodriguez teaches basketball and swimming at a girls' high school, we see little of her, as she tries to juggle being a mom with her training. Instead, Bull shows us Williams and Wilkins with their families. We also see Higgins at home, as he cooks spaghetti and meatballs and explains how he had to retire after 9/11 because of throat problems and he is grateful to have the gym to keep his mind off his health issues. He considers his boxers to be humble warriors and is proud of the love they show each other before and after fights. 

Held at the swanky New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, the semi-finals are a suit-and-tie affair and Wilkins resents having to get toffed up to compete. He jokes to one of his coaches that his brother can't support him tonight because he's on the run from their father and Bull emphasises the different world feel by showing the oysters being prepared for the guests who are about to watch our lightweight duo do battle.  Williams glides through his contest with cool assurance, but Wilkins gets tangled in the ropes during the second round and his trainer has to defuse him during the break. It's mother Christine Ciccone's birthday and her screams can be heard from the back of the room, as she lives every second of the third round, which her son takes on points and he has the wherewithal to show good sportsmanship to his vanquished opponent after his arm is raised by the referee.

As if to prove that women's sport isn't on a level playing field, Rodriguez's semi-final is held in much less salubrious surroundings. But she wins by stopping her opponent in the first round and she is congratulated by a proud Emerson, who meets her at the venue at the end of the night. She is now in her sixth final and poses for pictures with her rival, Stacia Suttles. Meanwhile, at the Daily News offices, three-time champion and tournament director Brian Adams and his team bag up the golden and silver gloves that will be presented on finals night. He is looking forward to the Wilkins/Williams fight and notes that the former has gone into a training camp to prepare for the bout at the Barclays Centre. 

While Wilkins struggles to concentrate in an unfamiliar gym, Williams goes to church with his mother and Bishop Derrick Farmer jokes from the pulpit that he probably learned how to duck and weave avoiding her whoopings as a boy. Ciccone also covers the walls of her son's bedroom with passages from the Scriptures to inspire him and she is confident his dream will come true. Rodriguez also puts in the training hours at John's Boxing Gym. But, even though she has interesting things to say about women having to fight water retention in order to make their category weight, she's shortchanged again in a section that shows us Wilkins pounding the snow-covered pavements and Williams getting the backing of his buddies in the locker room, as Higgins plans the schedule that will enable him to prevail. 

The trio arrive at the imposing arena and spend some time soaking up the atmosphere before the crowd arrives. They go through weigh-ins and medical checks before psyching themselves up in the wings. Rodriguez is first to fight and she stops Suttles with a third standing count in the final round to become only the fourth person in Golden Gloves history to win half a dozen titles. Interviewed afterwards, she claims to have done it for her community because she couldn't let them down. But she only has eyes for Emerson and hugs him with pride when he is allowed to run towards her. 

Eventually, Williams and Wilkins get their shot. The latter refuses to make eye contact during the referee's instructions and his trainer chides him for letting nerves get the better of him in the first round. With Ciccone bellowing from the stalls, he does better in the second and the action is cut in such a way to keep the audience guessing who has prevailed. After three fiercely contested rounds, the camaraderie between the fighters and the cornermen is wonderful to see. But, as Williams regains his title, a distraught Wilkins proves anything but magnanimous in defeat and storms out of the ring after confronting Adams. 

Closing credits inform us that slugger Wilkins turned professional and has a 3-0 record after knocking out his opponents. Following suit, the classier Williams has lost one of his eight bouts, but also has two knockouts to his credit. By contrast, Rodriguez remained an amateur and reached the semi-finals of the Olympic trials before going on to win a seventh Golden Gloves. Curiously, while we hear that Russo continued to run his gym, no mention is made of Higgins, even though (from a quick check online) he appears to be alive and well. 

Considering the New York Golden Gloves were proposed by writer Paul Gallico when he was working for the Daily Post in 1926, Bull might have spent longer on the history and lore of this enduringly significant championshiips. He might also have mentioned that the Golden Gloves originated in Chicago and now has franchises in major cities across the United States. Moreover, he might have used captions to identify key figures like Wilkins's trainer, whose name is lost in the final crawl. But the biggest flaw in this otherwise enjoyable actuality is the narrative imbalance, which consistently leaves Rodriguez on the margins, in spite of the fact that the 28 year-old now has eight Golden Gloves to her name and hopes to make the Puerto Rican Olympic team in 2020. 

At times touching upon issues covered in Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym (2010), Bull largely avoids delving into the social side of the backstories and, as a result, viewers are left to piece together snippets of information without coming close to a full picture. Once again, a few name tags might not have gone amiss here and it's surprising that producers as experienced as Maiken Baird and Donald Rosenfeld let things drift. Nevertheless, the camerawork of Tom Hurwitz and his team is kinetic and involving, while Michael Levine's editing is particularly pugnacious during the sporting sequences. Peter J. Miller's sound and Marty Beller's score are also spot on. So, what next? A dissertation on Islamic Fundamentalism from Steve Bunce?