'Fifty years on from Stonewall, what lies at the soul of our movement? Or, put more simply: fifty years on from Stonewall, who the fuck are we, and what are we fighting for?'
Soul of A Nation: Four Days In June, the documentary film created by Gareth Pugh and Carson McColl, set out to ask exactly that. Released on the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march, marking the birth of the Queer Liberation movement at The Stonewall Riots in 1969, Pugh and McColl's film celebrates the intersection between LGBTQIA+ arts and activism in the U.K. Across four days in June 2019, they listened to the voices of activists, artists and allies from across the community. 'We are the generation of the Good Friday agreement. We were promised peace' is the message which rings out from Northern Ireland as the film sits down with the likes of Electra La C*nt (Queertopia) and Leo Lardie of The Rainbow Project in in Belfast. The film also takes us to Pugh's hometown of Sunderland and addresses the needs of the migrant community here, then up to Glasgow, where an interview with MSP Nicola Sturgeon addresses the delays to reform in the Gender Recognition Act. In London, we meet Kartel Brown, founder of The Royal House of Abloh and performer Ms. Carrie Stacks who talk about cultural spaces as sites of resistance.
The film documents the diverse, and equally valid, demands of the community. 'We wanted it to feel raw and radical and not only focused on headline issues such as trans rights and inclusive education, but also subjects that aren't being so widely covered such as queer homelessness, queer nationalism and xenophobia, and the erasure of queer and trans people of colour at the hands of white Gay culture' explains McColl. It is part of the duo's ongoing 'Soul of a Movement' project, having released a film in April highlighting charities such as The Outside Project, which supports LGBTQI+ homeless people.
Soul of A Nation: Four Days In June is not only a document of Queer resistance in the U.K and Ireland today, but also a call to action. The film opens with a powerful performance by dancer and choreographer MJ Harper, as Allen Ginsberg's 1984 poem 'Howl' is read out. A revolutionary manifesto of the Beats generation, the poem's original references to poets have been changed to nod to figures of Queer resistance, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Just as 1969 was a turning point, fifty years later, this film urges 2020 Pride to be one too. Kartel Brown says in the film, that the civil disobedience at the core of Pride has been diluted, it no longer reflects what's happening in the community. The film ends on the words, 'Stonewall was a fucking riot' - in turn posing the question, what does Queer liberation look like now?
Soul of A Nation: Four Days In June also marks the launch of Pugh and McColl's new digital platform, Soul of a Movement: Queer Nation. Asking 'What does Pride mean to you?', LGBTQIA+ people are invited to document and share their own experiences via video submission. These will then be geo-tagged to locations on a map, presented in a virtual space which was co-designed by Jon Emmony, previous Digital Art Director at SHOWstudio. Voices across the U.K and Ireland, including Munroe Bergdorf, Ib Kamara, Peter Tatchell and representatives from organisations including Voices4LDN, will be amplified and shared.
Soul of a Movement: Queer Nation is a space for discussion, for togetherness, for celebration, to unpick the nuanced queer issues within society today. 'Pride 2020 provided us with a unique challenge: how can we help to instil a sense of community and togetherness at a time where being together isn't possible? With that in mind, we decided to try and leverage our networks to create what will hopefully become a living record of Queer Culture in the UK and Ireland in 2020. At its heart it's about reaffirming that while we may all be on our own right now, as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, you are never alone' explains Pugh.
The platform opens today and will stay open for submissions indefinitely. 'It's a space where we can exist and talk about what Pride means entirely free from corporate influence, and where we can share our dreams for the future. Right now we're in a period where everything is in flux and change feels possible, so while dreaming of the future might be considered by some an indulgence, in a moment like this, we'd argue that it's a necessity'. Carson McColl