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8th October 2019

Documentaries at Iris

Documentaries have a strong presence at this year’s Iris Prize Festival, and Thursday's programme has two doc-heavy batches of short films and two documentary features. Tibby Jukes looks at how some this year's filmmakers have embraced the humanising power of documentary storytelling.

There are picture descriptions for those with a visual impairment at the end of this post.

Two of the short film programmes in this year’s festival are focused on the lives, histories and experiences of real life LGBT+ people. First we have Iris Prize Programme 6, Reel Lives, which includes Gillian Callan’s deeply personal and emotive EQUAL, Israeli Director Shauly Melamed’s Mini DV, and Pip Kelly’s excellent short Thomas Banks’ Quest for Love, Love which follows the life of Thomas Banks, a playwright looking for love and navigating live with cerebral palsy. The films in Reel Lives invite the audiences to share their subjects’ lives, struggles and hopes.

#TRADWIVES

Best British Programme 1, True to Life, includes three documentaries and one reenactment of true events, exploring themes such as activism and the dark side of conservative and political prejudices. Nicky Larkin’s Becoming Cherrie details Belfast drag performer Cherrie Ontop’s experiences of living with HIV and navigating an often turbulent society in Northern Ireland. Joe Morris’ period short We Are Dancers transports viewers to Berlin under the shadow of fascism, and the underground cabaret scene of the 1930’s.

Pioneering female documentary makers are also making waves at Iris this year. Co-founder of Glow Films, an independent UK based platform showcasing women’s documentary film, Anna Snowball’s #TRADWIVES is a shocking depiction of a real-life nationalist movement in the US which encourages traditional, restricted gender roles for women. The documentary follows real-life “Tradwives” and their internal/external relationships with the world and their families, including one Trad’s Lesbian daughter. Alice Smith’s Invisible Women is the evocative documentary tribute to the lost voices of Manchester’s Gay Liberation Front and the ground-breaking work of the women who founded this movement, that for 50 years has fought and continues to fight for the rights of women and lesbians.

Smith’s inspiration for Invisible Women was an increase in documentary films exploring the decriminalization of homosexuality. Many of these documented the experiences of white, middle-class gay men from affluent cities such as London. Smith wanted to provide an inclusive documentary narrative for the many voices and backgrounds of working-class gay women in the Industrial North.

Earlier in the afternoon, at the Atrium Theatre, there’s a chance to hear filmmakers discuss documentary as a medium,  its powers in promoting advocacy and its usefulness as a tool for uncovering and preserving history. This is an event not to be missed!

Invisible Women

There are two feature documentaries screening this evening: The Archivetteswhich tells the story of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the world’s largest collection of material by and about lesbians, and Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life, a character study of the Israeli adult movie star.

And don’t worry if you missed Wednesday’s European premiere of Changing the Game, the groundbreaking documentary about trans student athletes in the US. There’s another chance to see it at 6:30pm this Saturday.

If visibility is a way to achieve equality, then I believe documentary has a unique power. Its honesty of depiction and the rawness of true stories are crucial to a broader understanding of LGBT+ lives.

Tibby Jukes is a freelance writer and content creator based in Cardiff.

Picture Descriptions

  1. A group of women march along a street carrying a banner for the Lesbian Herstory Archives, with the message “In memory of the voices we have lost”.
  2. Drag Queen Cherrie Ontop stands in front of Belfast’s Albert Memorial Clock Tower, wearing a fabulous orange wig and a pink flower in her hair.
  3. Taken from Tradwives, two women in twinset and pearls sit at a dining table in a chintzy American dining room, admiring the book ‘Fascinating Womanhood’.
  4. Angela and Luchia, the subjects of ‘Invisible Women’, stand before a brick wall, both laughing joyously.

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