It’s two for the price of one, as this release features a duo of documentaries from filmmaker Fiona Cunningham-Reid, which take a look into the lives of some very different lesbians.
First off there’s Crocadyke Dundee, which is a portrait of Dawn O’Donnell, who was a bit of a legend in the Sydney gay scene, opening numerous bars, clubs and other venues (including sex shops). The film also acts as a view into how gay life has changed in Australia’s most populous city, as Dawn’s involvement started back when being gay was illegal. At that point there were few gay venues and those that existed were at risk of being raided (indeed it’s suggested that having half their clientele occasionally locked up was built into the business plan of some of these bars).
Interestingly, despite the oppression and societal disdain, it’s suggested that those involved generally had a great time.
Dawn’s move into in being a key figure in the Sydney gay scene started after she was fired, due to the fact someone recognised her voice in a documentary about lesbians. She went on to build a mini empire, with many of her venues featuring over the top drag shows, which went on to directly influence Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (indeed, Dawn ended up owning the hotel seen at the beginning of the movie and milking it for all its worth).
She’s a fascinating figure – a no nonsense, tough woman, with a knack for turning a profit and taking no prisoners, to the point where rumours circulated she was connected to organised crime and may even have had someone murdered. It’s a genuinely interesting movie, using the wonderful woman at its centre to look at the broader gay community and how the creation of gay areas and bars – which were normally owned by members of that community – helped shape and build gay culture. It also suggests that as LGBT life goes more mainstream we’re in danger of losing something special.
The other movie is Wine, Woman & Friends, which takes us to the French countryside and the vineyard of Carole Leblanc and Jo Béfort, who six years before decided to start their own wine business. The documentary was filmed over the course of a year, taking us from the fields where the grapes are harvested through the winemaking process to the point where the drink is ready to be bottled.
Mixed into that are a few insights into the fact these are two women making headway in a wine-making world that’s still rather macho, and that they are lesbians living in the sort of place you wouldn’t think would be accepting of alternative lifestyles. However, while there are some who don’t approve of these two women and what they’re doing, they have built a network of friends and knowledge that has allowed their label to thrive.
To be honest, for about the first half of Wine, Women & Friends it’s slightly difficult to work out why they bothered to make it. It’s all very nice, but it’s also slightly wet, with lots of middle-class people living what looks like a perfect existence, where they complain about the back-breaking physicality of wine-making, but it largely seems like they spend their time having a very convivial time with their friends, quaffing, eating and creating their own rural idyll. It’s pleasant, but you do kind of wonder why we’re watching it, unless you’re sort of interested in the winemaking process (but even then, it’s not a particularly in depth look).
It’s only towards the end that it finds a little more bite, suggesting there’s more to what’s going on than just everyone having a nice time, such as the difficulties they’ve faced as both women and lesbians, and the fact that it’s not as lucrative as they’d like (although it’s not like they’re living in poverty). Ultimately though it’s a film that’s nice to watch, but doesn’t add up to a huge amount.
Overall Verdict: While Wine, Women & Friends wouldn’t have been all that great on its own, alongside the fascinating Crocadyke Dundee it makes for a good release that takes a look into some very different lesbian lives.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac