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THE COMING BACK OUT BALL MOVIE gets 6/10 No need to straighten up


Directed by Sue Thompson

Starring Robyn Archer, Tristan Meecham, Ardy Tibby

6/10

In a day and age when the Australian community is increasingly being confronted by the challenges of an aging population and having legalised same-sex marriage just over a year ago The Coming Back Out Ball Movie is ‘coming out’ at exactly the right time. Directed by Sue Thompson it is an observational documentary giving us a glimpse into the lives of a colourful group of older LGBTI+ Melbournians who have been invited to attend a Ball in 2017 in the midst of the marriage equality plebiscite celebrating their lives and oft-unsung contribution to their community.

The documentary features Tristan Meecham as the mastermind behind the ball and associated dance club. We get a cursory glimpse into the organisation of the events and discussions he has with the elders about this. Unfortunately we get little real incite into their thoughts on this and issues of contention which are noted briefly.

Really this film is a project with the objective of educating and advocating around issues of aging, gender and sexual identity. It does this by introducing the audience to nine fascinating characters representing a range of gender and sexual identities and different life experiences. All of them faced discrimination growing up at a time in Australia when coming out was not an option for most and homophobia was normal. It was great to see archival footage of protests in the 1970s and the acknowledgement that these elders were part of the struggle to gain the freedom to live openly that the young often take for granted.

We meet strong, feisty, determined characters that have rich, successful lives and are a joy to get to know. Some of the elders we meet are indigenous artist Peter Waples Crowe; Ardy Tibby, a bearded outspoken lesbian; and transgender woman Michelle McNamara who notably was still married to her wife of many decades. David Morrison, a man in his 80s, is revelling in his new found freedom donning leather wear and going to fetish events with men half his age or more.

These stories reveal a part of our diverse society that is important to expose but it is impossible to do them justice in a one and a half hour feature format. The content would be better served by a docuseries format where the nine stories could be explored in more detail. Music also dominated many of the interviews and at times it felt a bit too much like a community educational video rather than a feature documentary.

It was great to see final ball rehearsals and performances of legendary LGBTI+ icons Robyn Archer, Carlotta and Deborah Cheetham. There is poignancy to the ball happening during lead up to the marriage equality plebiscite and finishing with the exuberant scenes around the country when the majority of the nation voted in favour of change.

The strength of this film is the insight we get into the lives of these extraordinary Australians. The filmmakers explore issues of isolation and invisibility of aging complicated by sex/gender and changing dynamics of long established relationships. It raises the hidden issue of elderly people going back into the closet when entering aged care facilities. Importantly elders in the LGBTI+ community are given an all to rare opportunity to express themselves honestly and to have a visibility they don’t often have in a society that values youth and beauty over age and experience. The cast can teach us all how to live life to the full and face adversity with determination and humour.

ANNE PAVY

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