Film can provide a vital lens for documenting histories which have otherwise been overlooked or swept away in the wake of a dominant narrative.
During a panel at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, titled “The Whole Picture: Adjusting the Lens of History,” a quartet of filmmakers, artists and archivists gathered to discuss how we document and archive the kinds of communities and stories that are often sidelined.
Siobhan Fahey, the archive producer on documentary “Rebel Dykes,” said she realized the history of the titular group of queer activists, who upset the system and built a community of outsiders in 1980s London, had been largely lost.
“I was a Rebel Dyke myself, but I’d never seen it in the books, I’d never read about it. Although I knew when I was living it that it was an exciting and important moment, it just disappeared as soon as it was over,” Fahey said.
Fahey began collecting stories from friends and people she knew at the time, realizing the potential for a far bigger project than the oral history she initially set out to compile.
Throughout the creation “Rebel Dykes,” which had its Scottish premiere at Edinburgh, Fahey said she and the film’s directors Harri Shanahan and Siân A. Williams tried to remain accountable to the community they were portraying. The film’s contracting was kept deliberately for the end of the production process, to allow its subjects to watch a rough cut and to make sure “their words were truthful to themselves.”
Fahey hopes “Rebel Dykes” is “just a part” of a larger project to build a community for young LGBTQ+ people in the U.K.
“I thought the youngsters had it all, I thought it was all very straightforward because (being) LGBT is so much more accepted. But because everything is so online now, because there are no venues, they are incredibly lonely, incredibly isolated,” she said. “For them to see this strong, real-life community where people lived together, made art together, made music together, is incredibly inspiring.”
Another panelist was Scottish poet and playwright Hannah Lavery, who discussed “Lament for Sheku Bayoh,” her artistic response to the death of a 31-year-old Black man in police custody back in 2015.
Lavery said she wanted to “create a public space for grief and for solidarity,” employing traditional Scottish oral forms to challenge the commonly held narrative of what happened to Bayoh.
“Here was a man who had died at the hands of police, and much of the narrative around him was a familiar narrative that is used to talk about Black men and the Black body,” she said. “It’s about an insistence that Sheku Bayoh was one of our sons, that he belongs. I was speaking to Scotland. My audience, I suppose, was always Scotland.”
Lavery’s previous play, “The Drift,” was inspired by her own family history, and the panel also saw Alicia Cano Menoni share how her documentary “Bosco” (which had its U.K. premiere at Edinburgh) was similarly drawn from her past.
When she was young, Menoni’s grandfather would tell her “little fables” about Bosco, the small Italian village from which her family immigrated to Uruguay.
Menoni first visited the village in her 20s and became obsessed with recording its history and happenings.
“I did not know I was building my own archive,” she said. “After about 12 years, I started to see how the first time I came there were 30 inhabitants, and after 10 years there were 13. I realized the village was disappearing and I was getting the testimony of the slow termination of the village and of the story.”
At the same time, her grandfather had passed the age of 100, and Menoni decided to intertwine the twilight of his life with that of the village he recalled so magically.
Journalist and producer Carol Nahra capped off the panel with a thought on how to incorporate the newest forms of archival footage in a documentary format.
“The future we have in terms of archive is going to be determined by how well we curate it, how much we reach out to communities and say, ‘Give us the phones in your pocket, tell us your stories.’ People are telling these stories, they’re telling them in a micro-community way all the time in their social media feeds, but it’s up to the next level of filmmakers, artists and storytellers and cultural organizations to really do something interesting with those,” Nahra said.