Documentary, Deaf and Disabled, Indie, LGBTQIA+
‘If I told you there was a place where you could be totally adored, just for who you are, wouldn’t you want to go there?
If you had to cross oceans to get there, wouldn’t you want to try?
If you could make your most secret fantasies real, how could you resist?’
These opening lines of My One Legged Dream Lover are a call to action to explore new ground: Sex, Sexual freedom, hedonism even, for Deaf and disabled people. This ground-breaking 1999 Australian documentary proudly centres the disabled body, written and presented by Kath Duncan, our Flaunt Guest Curator.
Find out what Kath thinks of her film in the bonus content below.
I wrote that intro voice-over in 1998 as a way to bring in, seduce even, people into the world of disability fetish. Then and now, this fancy for our impairments and differences is contested ground. Some people believe anything about Us plus Sex is Wrong; others that there’s something Wrong about being attracted to Us.
But seriously how could I resist exploring this? Cmon.
Picture 1997 and I’m at the Women’s Unit in ABC Radio National, working with producers Nicole Steinke and Kirsty Melville on my feature, Looking for My One Legged Dream Lover, which had me reporting on amputee fetish via phone lines and text, with fetishists around the world. I’d been working as a journalist since the early 1980s for both community radio and ABC. I pitched this story as an eye opening flaunt into fetish and attitudes around sexuality and disability in general. We all knew, disabled and non disabled people alike, that if you weren’t super straight, super married and super conventional, that as a disabled person you were not very welcome as a sexual being on the prowl out in public: most pubs, clubs, dance venues, eateries were not accessible and not just physically; I was turned away by so many cool Sydney venues just for looking different in the 1980s that I could only get in if I stuck in a group of friends and attempted to ‘pass’ unnoticed.
The phone rings and it’s my film buddy and fellow Film student (UTS + AFTRS) Penny Fowler Smith, saying her pitch for a project at SBS Independent had fallen over. The SBS team asked Penny if she had any other projects on the boil. ‘What have you got?’ Penny asks me. I throw her into the heart of this disability fetish I’m pursuing, because I’ve just found out that in 1998, the biggest global meet between amputees and amputee fetishists would be happening within blocks of each other, in Chicago. What if we could get there, interact, film everything, and change the world so that Sexy Freaks like me could be Untamed and Unjudged?
Penny was keen and introduced me to the redoubtable Producer Chris Olsen (Rabbit Proof Fence et al) and by the end of 1997 we pitched all of this and more to the Film Finance Corporation under the Accord, where six Australian documentaries were guaranteed funding every year. In February 1998, Chris Olsen left a short message on my answering machine: Start packing!
SBS Independent funded us at just over $200,000. Would they fund it now? The timing was right. We were the Dream Team, add our camera crew and our editor, Cushla Dillon. Teamwork is VITAL. I now regularly assess arts funding applications. Good team players are gold. You can have stunning ideas but if you can’t keep a production crew happy, you’ve got Buckley’s.
Our pitch was a road trip through Amputee Fetish – boldly and unashamedly – with me as writer/researcher/presenter. Chris described it as ‘black comedy’ and I took exception to this and described it as ‘personal and political liberation.’ We had to negotiate and find ways of approaching filming as a team – a bumpy ride. Like others in the Crip Escapes from Dodge genre, in MOLDL I seek a lusty belonging place, where I can be the intrepid bisexual slut of my dreams. We set off for the US in May 1998, with high hopes. What we found was 30 hours or so of footage, lots of cute men to flirt with and of course, disappointment, tears, stress, conflict and the same old rules on how disabled women are supposed to behave, and look.
MOLDL became an early example of reality documentary before Reality TV was a thing, and joined other Australian documentaries focussing on one person’s journey, like Toxic Queen (1997), Hephzibah (1998), _The Jim Conway Blues _(1998), Mama Tina (1998) and The Moth Loves Doodle (1999), amid the 1996 birth of ABC TVs Australian Story.
My One Legged Dream Lover had impact and resonated with audiences across the world, not always kindly. People are offended by the fetishists and the fetish, seeing the whole scene as exploitative, and to this day I’m up against that wrap-the-crips-up-in-cotton-wool-and-keep-em-safe-forever ethos, especially in the arena of love and sex. A documentary can only achieve so much and MOLDL did free me from caring about censure and shock from anyone – it’s a blessing to truly not care what even people I admire and love think about me. I’m comfortable taking off my leg and appearing without clothes on in public space since making MOLDL – and I hope this kind of pride in flaunting who I am spread beyond me. In the industry the documentary did well. We became a finalist in Best TV doc at the 1998 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam and enjoyed the extra screenings and media attention. Two Australian documentaries were finalists, MOLDL and our Co-Producer Chris Olsen’s partner Curtis Levy’s Hephzibah which won – such an honour on that world stage. We were also nominated for the Dendy Award for Best Documentary, Sydney Film Festival 1999. This very Flaunt-y and sexy doco has screened at festivals in Melbourne, Adelaide, Berlin, Bombay, London, South Africa, San Francisco, Toronto and Estonia. Feedback is mixed, with people admiring my bounce and sass, while finding the fetishists creepy – I can’t help but feel the cold dead hand of ableism in this – that the fetishists are suspect because we’re not supposed to be attractive, or these parts of us that make us different are not supposed to be attractive, and of course some fetishists are just plain creepy, fetish or not.
Twenty plus years later, I’m still looking for that lusty belonging place – the search is fun! – but importantly, still looking for that industry wide commitment to funding our education, ideas and productions. My pleas to ABC to fund Deaf and disabled cadetships have failed, and we are still heinously under-represented among media producers and presenters, despite the obvious audience appeal of our works. I urge our funders and media leaders to catch up with us, and invite us to find our creative belonging place within the broader Australian film industry.
Kath Duncan's introduction to My One Legged Dream Lover
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