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Wednesday 08 April 2009

A chance to see Chch Through Rainbow Coloured Glasses

Posted in: Movies
By Matt Akersten - 10th September 2008

Through Rainbow Coloured Glasses, screening at Auckland’s Academy Theatre and Wellington’s Paramount Cinema this Tuesday, tells entertaining stories from Christchurch's gay history. Here's's review from the film's Chch premiere back in May.




Arriving in Christchurch mid-week, I had missed the 'red carpet' premiere of Through Rainbow Coloured Glasses at the weekend, and it's lucky I arrived at the Regent early for the screening last night or I would have been turned away and missed it completely. I snapped up one of the last tickets. People arriving later were going: "Sold out? Wow, it must be good then." And it was.

We're told the documentary makers interviewed dozens of LGBT Christchurchers of various ages and stages - so over the hour-and-a-half movie we get a wide variety of voices, from the oldies who get a little glimmer in their eye when talking about the excitement of the old days, to the earnest youth of Q-Topia, and everyone in between.

"If it bleeds it leads" so the film begins with a violent homophobic bullying scene - a recreation of a real event in Hagley Park in 1954. Then it's on to the Parker-Hume (Heavenly Creatures) murder and the effect it had on lesbians coming out (or, more likely, choosing to stay in the closet) at the time. 'Lesbianism' equaled 'Insanity' in those days, the interviewees explained.

These two opening stories involved some lovely interviews, but also some uncomfortably bad acting, so it's a relief when the next section rolls around. The 'coming out' stories montage is a well-paced and nicely-edited split-screen affair which was very enjoyable. After the light relief, we get one of the most enlightening interviews in the film - a harrowing example of the 'aversion therapy' of the 1960s. A young man is made to vomit and given electric shocks in order to 'normalise' his sexuality. Looking back on what he went through, the interviewee smiles and proudly tells about how it all didn't work - as soon as his therapy finished, he was back finding guys again.

Finding guys is the theme of the next section, which bravely deals with 'the beats'. Beaches, parks, toilets… a number of locations around Christchurch were referenced by a few now-middle-aged interviewees as 'busy meeting points for action' on years gone by. But you could be charged with 'loitering with intent'! It all sounds very exciting, but it's made clear "that's all finished now"...

"Flatmate Wanted: Camp Preferred” read an ad placed in the Chch Press in the 1970's, leading into an interesting section about gaydar, dresscodes, butch/femme dykes and more. Some great stuff here, and by now, the segments of bad acting have fallen away, and stories are unfolding without much distracting editing. The lesbian Tupperware Party scene is hilarious at this point.

We then proceed through many interesting tales of groups and incidents which shaped gay liberation in the 1980's. The furtive Dorian Society, the protests at gays getting banned from the Cantabrian Hotel in 1980, the lesbian summer camps, the Lambda "radicals", the National Gay and Lesbian Coalition, GRID and then AIDS, the Gay Task Force, and Law Reform in 1986. There's some great original footage of protests in the Square in 1986, and another lovely montage of pictures from the time.

But the story is not over after Law Reform, of course. Those radical lesbians were still at it, and the story of a 1991 confrontation with right-winger Fred Nile is particularly cheeky and wonderful. Representing the 1990s going into today are COOL (the Collective of Older Lesbians), Agender (the Transgender support network), Q-Topia (young LGBT in Chch), Rainbow Families (shown in a playground, naturally) and political-leaning speakers about Civil Unions, the Human Rights Commission's Transgender Inquiry, ageing and its challenges, complacency around HIV, and the education and acceptance of queer youth.

So, Through Rainbow Coloured Glasses was an enjoyable exploration of political activism in Christchurch. I learned a lot and have discovered a couple of new heroes after watching it. 'Tighe' and her stories are a highlight of the documentary - but they save the best of her until the end! I think it's possible to edit the film down further, using less of the acting sequences, or having them just appear as visuals with interview voice-overs.

Since the film was made by a group of lesbians, I've been asked "is the film very lesbian-oriented?", and "is there much about Chch's gay bar and nightclub scene?" OK, there are lots of lesbian interviewees - which I enjoyed, as I haven't heard many of them before - but I couldn't honestly say that it's hugely balanced against gay men. There's lots of guys in it, and no sequences where you notice a particular absence of male voices. But of the bar/nightclub scene, we hardly see anything, which is a shame. Christchurch's annual Oscars event is shown, with all the drag queens, but we don't hear about the various drinking hotspots around town. Apparently the film makers did approach a local nightclub owner, who offered old video footage of events, but none of it was seen here. Perhaps that's another film? Through Rainbow Coloured Beer Goggles perhaps?

Now it has finished its premiere run, the movie jets off the LGBT Film Festivals around the world. Hopefully more New Zealanders get to see it soon.

A video teaser for the film is shown below. Don't let it worry you though - I can confirm that the movie is actually in colour…

Matt Akersten - 10th September 2008