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Film Review: Rebel Dykes
by Marinell Haegelin

Harri Shanahan, Siân A. Williams, UK 2021

The opening’s gritty, tangled hotchpotch of images, talking heads, and throbbing music sets the pace for this fast-moving, historically rich dyke-fest documentary. In quick succession, the many women—Debbie, Fisch, Atlanta, Mej, Raz, Aphra, Jo, Siobhan (the producer), Pom, Trill, Dell, Lulu, Billy, Lisa, etcetera—give unvarnished accounts that layout what brought them together, united their focus, and then matured into an encompassing longer-lived movement.

Their backdrop’s a Peace Camp started in 1981; four friends marched from Cardiff, Wales, in protest against US nuclear weapons at the RAF Greenham Common Air Base, in Berkshire, England. After arriving, they decided only a permanent sit-in would get the powers that be’s attention; they settled in and countless women, some from far corners of the world, joined in; well yet loosely structured, incredibly it lasted until 2000. Our friends got involved in mid-1980s; young, working class, punks, activists, they felt isolated in London—harder, dirtier, meaner then—finding solidarity, and new friends at the site. Together they took on tougher issues: rallies against Thatcher's government’s Section 28 prohibiting “promotion of homosexuality” that affected the entire Queer community; they derived support by collaborating. Their attitude was to revolutionize established mindsets, and some issues were genderless. Whether focused on AIDS action, e.g., ACT-UP, or anti-censorship, Poll Tax (another of Thatcher’s idea), riots, nightlife and/or lifestyle choices, these women were fearless protestors, initiators, and creatively focused.

Co-directors Harri Shanahan and Siân A. Williams, with Siobhan Fahey (rebel dyke) producing, set the bar high: REBEL DYKES is an “Archive, Art and Film History Project” of significant proportions. Besides its many interviews, there’s live-action animation, recreation sequences, and personal/public archival footage. There is so much information—enough for two documentaries—it’s overwhelming for those not devoted to the movement. Nevertheless, the documentary is engaging, amazingly timely, and they are still quite busy.