Q&A:
Siobhan Fahey

The Ladyfest activist talks about her first film – Rebel Dykes, a documentary about lesbian punk squatters in London in the 1980s

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With over 30 years of distance from the events why did you decide to make this film now?
I didn’t set out to make a film. I wanted to make bit of a presentation for LGBT History month a few years back about our stories, because I knew we lived through some pretty unique times, and were a pretty interesting bunch of women.

How did you manage to find so many of your old friends and acquaintances?

I did a big call-out on Facebook, and pulled together women who hadn’t seen each other in decades. I went down to London – I was living in Manchester at the time – and spent a day recording people’s stories. They were amazing – better than I even remembered! And I asked people to bring any photos they had from that period. Women came with big plastic bags full of photos! I realised I was onto something. I got in touch with a couple of archives, which were as excited as me and have agreed to take all the images once the film is finished.

Tell me a bit about the filmmaking process.

When I got back from London I showed the presentation to a couple of film-maker friends, with the intention of making a little YouTube film of the presentation. But they were even more excited than me! Sian (Williams) and Harri (Shanahan) are younger than me, early 30s, and highly influenced by the Riot Grrrl movement, but they hadn’t ever heard these stories. They could see how much material I had and immediately said they were in, but they wanted to make a full-length documentary, never mind a YouTube film. They wanted it to go large! We quickly settled into our film making roles, with Sian and Harri as co-directors and editors. Sian is a film archivist and Harri is an animator, and they are both musicians. Whitney (Bluzma) came on as our sound person, Ellyott (Ben-Ezzer) was really excited to join us as a composer, and finally Hannah (McLennan Jones) became our graphic artist and titles person. I became the producer, researcher, everything else-er.

It sounds like a very organic process.
Since then, it’s really grown and grown. It’s incredibly exciting actually. For all of us it’s the first full-length film we have ever made. There is a huge excitement about it. We showed clips of the film at BFI Flare, the biggest LGBT film fest in Europe last year, and it sold out in hours in the biggest screen on Southbank. Since then we have been invited to over 30 film festivals around the world. And the film is not even finished yet!

What’s so special about Rebel Dykes. What will audiences have not seen before?

We have dug out a huge amount of never before seen archive images and video of them, and they had such a cool look. Big punk hair, black leather jackets, piercing and tatts, way before it was acceptable. A lot of the women were musicians, in bands that are now lost, never recorded, but still absolutely brilliant. People have given us old cassettes that were recorded in bedrooms and stuff, and Ellyott, our composer, has digitised them. It’s going to have a great, punky soundtrack. And the filmmakers are awesome. The look of the film is really special: dark, black and white, skuzzy, like the early 80s really were. The women we interviewed tell amazing stories about political activism, about the sex industry, about homelessness. I guess what is special about it is that these women tell a set of stories that queer women and music fans really won’t have heard before.

Is there any talk of getting the soundtrack out there for everyone to hear this lost music?
It is something we are currently in discussion about. Keep your ears open and you might get a big surprise. It would be so bewildering and delighting for any or all of these dyke punks to get some unexpected and deserved recognition.

Any chance of a sneak peek at Rebel Dykes before it is completed?
Yes, we wanted to make sure Manchester didn’t feel left out after having premiered Rebel Dykes at BFI Flare last year. Although the film is based around London, the filmmaking team are in Manchester, so we’ve organised the screening of a rough cut. You can see 25 minutes on 12 March at Home. We are nervous and excited to show it in Manchester, especially as it is the same day that we are launching our crowd funder.

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