Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fringe! 2014: The unbearable lightness of being vulnerable

Art by Rachael House; photo: V. Phoenix


I can barely recall what I said as I stood at the at the Rose Lipman Building on Saturday night. Lip trembling, eyes watering, I reached out my arms and mumbled, “You are the audience.” And the people in front of me cheered. It was a live moment, energy crackling, shared with a group who wanted to be there, who were open, expecting, expectant, waiting for something. And that thing was In Search of Margo-Go, Jill Reiter's unfinished vision of the underground queercore-Riot Grrrl scene from the 1990s, and the centre-piece of our There's a Dyke in the Pit strand at Fringe! queer arts festival.

Not nearly as expectant as I was. I had waited 20 years for the thing to appear on the screen behind me. To appear on the screen behind me. Because what I had waited for was to see myself appear on the screen behind me. I was waiting for myself and my community to be seen. My community of the present was expectant to see my community of the past. And so was I. And it made me highly emotional. When the images appeared, I watched them in much the way I would any other film—I was appreciative, I laughed at the funny parts, frowned at the setbacks, empathised with the characters. But every time I reflected on what it meant, I welled up. Because it was so much more than a disposable form of entertainment, to be watched, lapped up, consumed, and disgorged, like a sweet wrapper.

As (I think) I told that evening’s audience, when we worked on the film, none of was a trained filmmaker, except for the director and the main cinematographers. Everyone else was, in my words, “enthusiastic amateurs”. My words were unscripted. I can now reflect on that choice of words. Amateur—one who does it for the love of it. Not too shabby. I guess I meant what I said. That was my community, a diasporic queer community of people who had waited a long, long time. And so had I. We were together. I only wish I had thought to change that personal address of “you” to “we”. We are the audience. And the producers.

In Search of Margo-Go
The film’s 20-year journey was one of obstacles, from lack of money, to personal conflicts, to obsolescence, changing technologies, all against a backdrop of time passing and social conditions changing, from queer street activism to equal marriage, from analogue film to digital video and non-linear editing packages, and its eventual emergence in Hackney in 2014. In a final three-day push, Jill edited it on her laptop on a table, leaning on a film canister that someone had bought as a piece of home furnishing. Spooky. I reflected that the film’s journey from New York to San Francisco to London paralleled my own journey. Perhaps it was meant to be.

Standing up and speaking to a room of strangers, some of whom were not born when we made the film (and I use this we to mean the wider queer community, as my own participation in it was fleeting), was potentially an alienating experience, especially for Jill, who was making her first ever visit to London. We spoke later about it and she told me she was glad it premiered in London, and not her own patch. Less baggage. Lucy Thane, on the other hand, marvelled that a film she worked on in San Francisco and New York had its premiere in her neighbourhood of Hackney. For the three of us who were there, all lesbians born in 1966-67, we had three very different journeys that put us in one place for a brief time in 1994 and again in this time of 2014. Wiser heads than mine could analyse that and make something of it.

What was extremely gratifying was that I felt not in the least ashamed or embarrassed by my reaction. I am a shy person. I am not a publicly emotive person. I prefer to share my feelings in private. This was a public occasion and I felt emotion publicly and shared it. Afterwards, I thought: Well, that was unexpected but it was honest and it needed to come out. The dykes finally took over the pit.

As my Fringe! experience was so totally focused on our strand, I have little to report from the rest of the weekend. But, I did catch three art exhibits in the basement of the Lipman, including Victoria Sin and Leslie Borg's Domestic Kitchen, their ode to both Nigella Lawson and Martha Rosler, and quite wickedly amusing.

The Lorenz-Boudry team brought us No Future/No Past, their take on first wave punk with a range of queer art types "performing" versions of Poly Styrene and Darby Crash in a kind of self-referential staged conversation.

Our punk den in the cafe of the Lipman was adorned with work by Gwenael Rattke and Rachael House, which again brought first wave punk and second wave feminist activism into conversation, thrilling for me. I had assembled an installation of my archive photos, plus shots of some of my vinyl collection, soundtracked by old cassette mix tapes I'd made, therefore reworking analogue forms into digital out of necessity. I'd like to revisit this project when I have more time and a better editing system, as there is much more to be done with the material. I am now the proud owner of a Rachael House Smash Patriarchy wrist band.

Shorts panel; photo V. Phoenix 
In the afternoon we had a shorts programme and   panel of bright minds discussing Riot Grrrl's cultural legacy. I had a thought that did not get discussed: how underground movements briefly surface, are burned by mainstream exposure, and quickly submerge, existing through word of mouth for those who can find them. This is the history of subcultures.

And, lastly, I did get to one screening on Friday, a retrospective of Barrelstout (Bev Zalcock and Sara Chambers) shorts from the last 20 years.

Bev Zalcock; photo V. Phoenix
While I don't feel my films have been directly influenced by them, we do share a DIY aesthetic and love of punk, and Tara from Wotever DIY Film Festival said she saw a link. Fine with me. Many of those who appear in the films were on hand, making for an amusing experience as they spotted their friends on the screen. Can't wait for them to  finish their football film, for which I was interviewed two years ago. Carol Morley, friend and associate of the Barrelstout stable, conducted a Q&A after the screening, and they elaborated on their manifesto. If I may excerpt:
We value themes that include optimism, cooperation, friendship, solidarity, fun  and laughter. We could not live without cinema. 
 DIY forever!