Doco Feast takes up debates


The Brandon Teena Story
Directed by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdotter
Pride Divide
Directed by Paris Poirier
Distributed by Queer Screen, phone (02) 9332 4938

Review by Bronwen Beechey

These recently made documentaries from the US, screened at the QueerDoc film festival, part of the Adelaide Feast Festival, are timely. They take up current debates within the women's and lesbian and gay movements. They are also excellent examples of documentary film-making.

The Brandon Teena Story, voted best documentary at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival, recounts the events surrounding the murder of three people in Nebraska in 1993.

When Brandon Teena arrived in the small town of Falls City, his good looks and boyish charm won him friends and a girlfriend. Three weeks later, Brandon was beaten and raped by two of his former friends when they discovered that he was a woman.

The rape was reported to the police, who questioned the two men but let them go. A week later, the men murdered Brandon, a female friend who had taken him in and a young black man who was visiting them. One of the men later boasted to a friend: "We got rid of two dykes and a nigger".

Brandon's friends and family describe his struggle with his sexual identity, his popularity with women, his attempts to buy friendship and acceptance by giving presents obtained by forging cheques and their feelings of confusion, betrayal and hostility towards his gender ambiguity. Also interviewed are police involved in the investigation and Brandon's killers, now serving prison sentences.

The Brandon Teena Story is a chilling portrayal of a society which treats anyone who questions the established beliefs about gender and sexuality with distrust and contempt.

At a time when some feminists want to exclude transgendered women from women's events, this film serves as a reminder of the exclusion and violence that is inflicted on transgendered people and poses the question: is sexual identity determined by biology, or is it far more complex?

Pride Divide also touches on transgender issues, but as part of a broader examination of issues within the lesbian and gay movement.

The film looks at the way gay males and lesbians have related to each other since the first stirrings of the gay and lesbian liberation movement in the late 1940s, through the explosion of the movement in the 1960s and 1970s. It examines the AIDS crisis and the development of "queer" politics of the 1980s and 1990s.

While lesbians and gay men have struggled together against oppression, there has also often been tension. Pride Divide takes a light-hearted approach without shying away from the serious issues, such as sexism among gay men, the impact of lesbian separatist ideology, and the impact of class and race.

The founders of the Mattachine Society, the first US homosexual rights organisation, and the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organisation, are interviewed as well as controversial figures such as academic Camille Paglia, "gay gene" discoverer Simon Levay and film director Rose Troche.

Pride Divide is a provocative, sometimes outrageous, and often humorous documentary that gives a valuable insight into the diversity of the lesbian and gay community. It proves that, despite all the differences, it is still possible for lesbians and gay men to struggle together around common issues.

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