EIFF 2021: Rebel Dykes

Mixing interviews, archive footage and animated sequences, Rebel Dykes is a poignant account of lesbian activism and a kickarse celebration of lesbian sex and culture

Film Review by Hannah Eglinton | 02 Sep 2021
  • Rebel Dykes
Film title: Rebel Dykes
Director: Harri Shanahan, Siân A. Williams

The confident stomp of Dr. Martens down the streets of London. Leather jackets rolled up at the sleeves. Protest signs brandished without fear. From the second they appear in this rousing documentary, the titular Rebel Dykes are impossible to look away from. Harri Shanahan and Siân A Williams’ film focuses on a group of lesbian activists living in London during the Thatcher era, exploring their lives and their unwavering commitment to dismantling the system.

Rebel Dykes utilises an eclectic mix of interviews, archive footage and animated sequences to create a narrative of close community. The film showcases multiple activism movements – from the Greenham Common Peace Camp to lesbian protestors infiltrating parliament. Interviews with participants as well as recreations of the actual events add a very personal lens to the movement while also paying tribute to the bombastic and legendary efforts of the protests themselves.

However, activism is not all that the filmmakers decide to document. What stands out is the sheer volume of lesbian culture that emerged in this scene. Lesbian punk bands (with fantastic names like Sluts From Outer Space), lesbian magazines, and lesbian S&M clubs. Rebel Dykes goes further than saying being a lesbian is OK. It says: being a lesbian is pretty damn cool. These women tear through the streets in motorbike gangs, they are unapologetically sexual and refuse to be subtle about it. Quite the opposite, the lesbians being interviewed explicitly link their political identity to their sex lives, stating a desire to fight the stereotype that lesbian sex involves “holding hands in twenty passionate positions”.

Rebel Dykes is a poignant account of the lesbian activists of the past, but also looks to the future. As the women reminisce on their glory days, they leave us with something to remember whenever we enjoy the greater freedoms queer people have today: “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Rebel Dykes had its Scottish premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Hannah Eglinton is a Film and Television/English Literature student at the University of Glasgow, and says "she loves films more than anything, (especially horror!)". She was part of Edinburgh International Film Festival's Young Critics Programme 2021. For more on EIFF's Young Critics Programme, click here

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