Out in the Night is emblematic of what the Seen & Heard Film Festival aims to bring to Australia’s cinematic landscape. Founded to challenge the “impoverishment to our culture” that a lack of women in the film industry creates, the festival has been known to showcase films that address exclusion and oppression. In blair dorosh-walther’s film, the idea of “dramatic underrepresentation” finds itself amid a broader context. The documentary focuses not only on the experience of women, but a broader story of inequality in the lives of four queer, black women from a low socioeconomic background. The overarching prejudice faced by the four is played out through a collage of talkback hosts discussing the case, framing it within an explicitly homophobic and myopic sphere: “Attack of the killer lesbians,” one presenter announces before footage of Bill O’Reilly asserting, “They were a pack of lesbians,” with a sense of disregard only to be trampled by following it up with, “He was attacked because he was a straight man.” From the commencement of Out in the Night, the prejudice of public opinion is both overt and stark in its clarity.
There’s an underlying message in one of the most poignant statements: “Our grandmothers and great grandmothers bought these houses 20-30 years ago… They’re still here, we’re still here.” Leaving the communities created by inequality within the United States is far more complex and rare than the ideal of the American Dream would suggest. “This house has been here forever,” comes off as far more sincere and relevant to the experience of the individuals in the film. The film successfully contextualises the lives it examines, both in the communities where the women live and the communities where they feel most comfortable. “I like to go to the Village because there’s nothing but gay people. It’s a safe haven for us,” commented over a shot of a Pride parade frames Greenwich Village as a place of belonging, elation, and more pertinently, safety. Yet the inverse is never far from mind – with statements such as, “There’s no point calling the police because they never come,” and “I was 11 years old and my brother got shot by a cop. The officer went about his business and is still getting paid,” quickly returning to the realities of being poor and black in America.
There’s been a trend in the documentary world of late of Kickstarter documentaries forming an increasingly influential portion of films receiving festival runs. Out in the Night continues the lineage of the Kickstarter documentary as something borne out of real passion and a desire to have a voice heard, with the element of profit removed from the equation. The atmosphere that results from the Kickstarter process is more than present throughout dorosh-walther’s film, with a humanistic, concerned and often intense look at the experience and ordeal of the four women. Self-harm, hallucinations and hysteria in jail become part of the prison experience and this access to the subjects of the documentary, and the desire to cover the story in such detail gives the film its intimacy, its pain and realness. There are parts of the documentary that have an amateur edge: long procedurals, recounts, confessionals framed by overly melodramatic music, and a lack of criticism towards the broader structures that give way to the events depicted in the film. However, it remains a broadly affecting and confronting examination of being queer and black in America.
The statistics worldwide surrounding violence against women, queer people, and those of colour are continually stark reminders of the prejudices and bigotry that permeates every society. For some these statistics can be ignored, however, Out in the Night positions itself for those who are unaware of the severity of the manifestations of misogyny, homophobia and racism in the USA (although the same issues could be easily translated elsewhere). It doesn’t position itself in an academic context, and often relates anecdotes over statistics, however, there is a place for a film like this. In showing a story tinged with pain and oppression, adorned with humanistic interviews, the documentary is accessible and doesn’t alienate. It doesn’t examine the broader structures of oppression, nor does it drive its focus on queerphobia, racism and sexism into deeper levels; but there is a place for a film like this. For those who are susceptible to talk show hosts like Bill O’ Reilly, who can characterise an incredibly complex issue as a “pack of lesbians,” and frame an issue as a simplistic, unprovoked burst of violence, Out in the Night acts as a rebuttal. For those who consider themselves more informed, or ‘tolerant’ – this is a film that shows what apathy and complacency towards inequality can lead to. Out in the Night examines the structures of oppression and their intersections within the United States of America, and while its case study may seem extraordinary, it is far more a recurring reality for non-white, queer, and women in the USA. Its place within a festival that aims to demonstrate the importance of female voices in cinema couldn’t be more necessary.