Witches, Faggots, Dykes and Poofters (1980)

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Image by Digby Duncan via miff.com.au

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I love MIFF for the chance to experience or revisit important pieces of filmmaking and Witches, Faggots, Dykes and Poofters is a great example of this.

Made in 1980 by the One in Seven Collective and helmed by director/producer Digby Duncan, it originally began as a documentation of the nascent Annual Homosexual Conference in Sydney. As a part of this, they filmed the infamous first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras in 1978 where a group of protesters were violently arrested and held without charge or access to their rights. A cluster of protests ensued and caused further arrests. In many ways, this was the first public push to assert the rights of gay and lesbian people in Australia.

The documentary shows footage that has now become iconic, interviews people involved in the march and arrests and broadens out to show the different faces of discrimination that were the reasons for the protests. Individuals are not identified to protect them from the likely repercussions in their private and professional lives. This is exemplified by the teacher whose photo of her arrest appeared in the newspaper. Called to the principal’s office, all she could do was try to avoid admitting to being a lesbian so she wouldn’t be sacked.

Most heartbreaking is the woman who, matter-of-factly, describes how she was leucotomised (a form of lobotomy), overtly for anxiety, which she didn’t have, but really to curb her ‘unnatural desires’. When asked what her life is like now, it is chilling to hear her say how she can no longer read nor work, nor create art nor poetry as she used to. In the Q&A afterwards, collective member Miriam spoke of the number of women she knew at the time who had been similarly treated or committed.

The NFSA has restored this film and given it the chance to be seen again. The title is a cumbersome one and, according to Duncan, one which Facebook likes to auto-correct. It encompasses the slurs often used and connects them to the treatment of witches in medieval times.

Although it is tempting to think a lot has changed, I think of the people I know who are not open about their sexuality and the number of films that show this is still a fight to be won.


Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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