Follow My Voice is no regular rockumentary. While its core story centres on the making of a fundraising record -“ Wig In A Box, featuring the songs of Hedwig And The Angry Inch -“ the true stars of the film are not the diverse, fascinating group of musicians who agree to give their time and talents to contribute to the project.
The true stars are four teenagers: two lesbian, one gay and one transgender. They’re all students at Harvey Milk High School in New York City, a school where kids attend who can’t go to other high schools because of violence or bullying.
Their stories, of being beaten up at school, forced into boy’s clothes, or kicked out of their family’s congregation, are told alongside footage of the recording sessions.
As director Katherine Linton tells Sydney Star Observer, the documentary -“ like the film that inspired its music -“ is about living as an outsider.
From the very beginning, the thought always was to flip America’s celebrity obsession, she says. We wanted the kids to be A level, and the musicians were the B level.
I chose those four kids because they were so different and dynamic, but I didn’t know their stories when I picked them.
But it turned out their stories matched the songs amazingly well. So we picked themes for the kids and matched the songs to their stories.
The musicians (including Yoko Ono, Sleater-Kinney, Rufus Wainwright and Frank Black) often reveal only as much as the audience can gauge from their in-recording actions. Others talk of their love for the project.
I wasn’t sure how they were going to be, but everybody was great, Linton says. They were huge fans of the music, huge fans of the tracks, but also wanted to do something good for a gay high school whether they were gay or not. They were like, -˜Look, we’re all outsiders. We get it.’
The documentary is filmed at an intriguing point in the history of the Harvey Milk School. During the course of the documentary, the school is unexpectedly given accreditation from the city of New York, giving it regular high school status and funding.
It becomes the target of anti-gay newspaper reports and protests and the students are seen being escorted to school by security guards.
It was unexpected, Linton says.
I didn’t even know they were applying for accreditation. And they didn’t think they had a chance of getting it.
So our timing was amazing. In fact, nobody has been able to get into the school to film since, now that they’re under the Department of Education.
The four kids are still in Linton’s life. One, Angel, has even lived with her in emergencies. And before each screening, they all meet at Linton’s house -“ Linton makes them dinner -“ and attend together.
It’s a terrible statistic, but 40 percent of the kids who are homeless in New York are queer kids. That’s amazingly disproportionate.
Predominantly they’re kids of colour, their families reject them, their schools reject them, the kids at their schools reject them, and they have two options. Either they don’t go to school -“ they don’t get an education and they start tricking to make money -“ or they go to Harvey Milk.
Which is so important about the Harvey Milk High School. When people say, -˜Why do you need a gay high school?’ I say these are the kids that don’t -˜pass’. They cannot walk through the hallway without getting attacked.
Follow My Voice is the opening night film of Queerdoc 06, the world’s only queer documentary film festival, on Thursday 7 September at the Chauvel Cinema, Paddington. Tickets to the opening night are $20 ($15 concession). Tickets include entry to an after-show party in the Chauvel’s foyer.