In which I talk to emerging film producer Taylor Litton-Strain about her film Into The Streets, a documentary about Sydney’s first Mardi Gras, screening as part of The St Kilda Film Festival.
The 2014 St Kilda Film Festival kicks off this week, and Sydney-based producer Taylor Litton-Strain has three (count ’em!) short films in the program. Nice work!
I asked Taylor a few quick questions about one of her shorts, Into The Streets, a documentary about Sydney’s first ever Mardi Gras.
The film has become a local favourite, having already screened at the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival (where it received an honourable mention in the Queer Perspective Awards), the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, the Brisbane Queer Film Festival and the Byron Bay Film Festival. Into The Streets is the second project Taylor has collaborated with director Logan Mucha on. Their other film, Beneath Heaven, has just won Best Australian Short Film at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.
So, what’s the story?
Into The Streets is about the first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras back in 1978. We recount the chaotic events of the night through Craig, who was just a naïve teenager at the time. What started off as a celebration and a bit of a party quickly deteriorated into a violent confrontation with the police. It’s not a broad historical documentary – it’s an emotive account based on the experiences and recollections of one person and the role it played in their life.
It’s a bit like…
…if Woodkid and William Yang made a music video together. That’s probably giving us too much credit, but we were strongly influenced by their work. We really wanted to create something more visual and expressive than your typical interview-based documentary.
What inspired this story?
The director Logan Mucha, had recently made a feature documentary (East Bloc Love) which explored LGBT rights in Eastern Europe. The film premiered at Frameline, the longest-running, largest and most widely recognized LGBT film exhibition event in the world. The premier was followed by successful distribution internationally and at home. It was from the comments from local screenings that Logan began considering making a film which explored LGBT rights back here, in Australia. Together, we spent time researching the roots of LGBT activism in this country and found a huge array of interesting stories, but amongst them what was evident was a huge divide in opinions surrounding the Sydney Mardi Gras, regarding what it has become and what it has come to represent. Logan and I became really interested in the passionate and divisive nature of people’s perspectives on the the event now, and we wanted to delve deeper into what the original night was and what it represented. Through this research we came across Craig, who was only a teenager at the time of the event and was unknowingly swept up in the movement. It was through his naive perspective that we were able to explore the origin of the Sydney Mardi Gras in depth but without forcing too much of a militant rights activists perspective on the events. We hope in doing this we’ve made the film more accessible and enjoyable to watch, whilst also reminding people of the Sydney Mardi Gras’ historical roots in activism, and starting a conversation around the event for our peers, the younger generations who may not have been aware of the the historical context of the first Sydney Mardi Gras.
What was the best bit about putting together this story?
There were a couple of standout things. Firstly, it was amazing to speak with people who were present at the first Mardi Gras and to hear their stories firsthand. It was a really humbling experience to speak to some of the pioneers of the Australian LGBT movement and to be able to bring this story to life. Secondly, watching all the different elements start piecing together in the edit was really magic. We had a bizarre mix of dramatised slow-motion footage, archive material, a formal interview, and a prominent musical score – and it was wonderful seeing it all come together as a cohesive whole. We had the most amazing crew from production to post who all shared a united vision, and that’s the reason why we were able to pull this off.
What was the hardest bit about putting together this story?
The hardest bit definitely was orchestrating the dramatised re-enactments that make up a substantial amount of the film. Aside from the technical challenges of shooting at night in slow motion, being on set was anything but glamorous. We were shooting into the early hours of the morning across Sydney in the freezing cold. There was also the fun of wrangling Sparks, our feline performer, who needed continuous tuna coaxing to act for the camera. Our hats go off to our wonderful cast for braving the cold and the long hours – especially our drag queen, Felicity Frockaccino, who wore a short sequined dress all night without a single complaint.
What do you hope people will take away from this story?
Firstly we wanted to show an aspect of Australian history which hasn’t in our opinion been explored throughly enough, in an exciting and accessible way for a younger generation. Secondly as young emerging filmmakers we wanted to show our skill and talent in tackling a big issue like this and doing so in a respectful but daring way, proving that we would be capable of tacking this and other similar issues in an exciting way on longer form projects such as television or in a feature film. But most of all we wanted to remind people of the pioneering activism and sacrifice of the ‘78ers – it was a horrible but sadly not isolated event in our history and despite the progress we have made in regards to LGBT rights there is still discrimination within our country, not helped by the ultra conservative views held by a majority of our government, within the police force, and by the non-LGBT tolerant community today. We want to show in our film that yes in some respects we have made some ground on these issues, but in reality there is still a lot of work to be done in order to achieve equality for LGBT individuals. There’s still a long way to go to finish the work the ‘78ers began.
Into The Streets is screening as part of The St Kilda Film Festival 2014.