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Iris Prize 2021
Review

A BIG LIFE
DIR. ANNA BROWNFIELD
Iris Prize / 5 - 10 October, 2021
irisprize.org

Where do I begin. I don't think there is a beginning to Bobbie Nugent's story one feels that he was just hatched, this remarkable, unimaginable being of pure wonder and mystery. Filmmaker Anna Brownfield's latest short documentary crams a lot of history into 15 minutes that makes you greedily want more.

The LGBTQ+ community has never been as good as it could (or should be) at listening to our elders, those trailblazers who endured so much and fought so hard for the freedom we now take for granted. Bobbie Nugent is a voice we lost in 2013 but through Brownfield's documentary A BIG LIFE audiences get to understand and appreciate a remarkable, unique and powerful human.

As with a lot of films that deal with LGBTQ+ history Brownfield mixes subtle humour in with the tales of police raids, gangsters and street thugs. The playful animation that has been created underscores the films narrative helping one to see a warmth to the recollections. Bobbie and his friends world in 50s / 60s Australia was new to me and after the first few minutes I was in awe at the beauty, honesty and humour that was being shared.

Split in two parts the first part being based in the UK with child-star on the rise Bobbie getting parts in West End shows and building a name only for it to be stamped out by an overzealous mother ending a promising acting career and a rather dodgy farther ended the families time in London. With the second part focused on Bobbie's life once the family move to Australia which led to new opportunities allowing Bobbie to explore and become the person he knew he wanted to be.

 

This early part of Bobbie's life offer an insight into how he would become the person he became. There is a fearlessness about him that is enticing and it does not seem to just be all bravado but a genuine belief in that he was building up to something special. Though there seems to be some pain from his childhood and a lack of love, caring and fondness from his parents none of this seemed to hinder Bobbie's ability to explore and create his own identity.  

The recollections of one of Bobbie close friends Lane Shannon touched particularly hard. On one hand as they talk about having no money but the owner of the cafe that was requested by the community would always bring them extra food was a lovely memory. But women wearing men's clothes was illegal the chances of arrest where particularly high and when they did get arrested the police would forced to stand on a table, strip and dance. This is heartbreaking and it's hard to imagine what was going through these young minds being so redicualled in such a way.

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And yet in all the pain and horror that was experienced by the group one of the truly saving grace seems to be this community that they created. This isn't just a Gay or Lesbian Community that would save their lives when Lane talks about this time and the people we see the community as something more. And no mater how much you're beaten or attacked they can never take away your sense of belonging, and that's what they created here.  These are the types of stories from our LGBTQ+ elders that are vital and essential for us to hear, listen to and to share. We have to keep their lived experiences alive and we have to honour their memories and the strides that they took.  

Bobbie Nugent lived a type of life that no film, book, or play could ever give justice to. It's the type of life that seems unreal which makes Bobbie all the more intriguing and yet in just 15 minutes Brownfield's captures the essence of Bobbie in a special way. Struggle and identity go hand-in-hand within the LGBTQ+ community but one thing we sometimes don't give ourselves is time, time to discover who we are and I think Bobbie says it best when he said:  

"I think it's an important step in your life when you give yourself permission...when you are happy with yourself."