With She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column, director Kevin Hegge revisits the Toronto queer art-punk scene of the 1980s. His focus is on Fifth Column, an all-female band of feminist provocateurs and forerunners in the fledgling zine movement. Hegge speaks about his motivations for making a film that gets its world premiere at Hot Docs.
Why make a documentary about Fifth Column now?
In Canada, we have amazing women who are doing really challenging work. But they don’t seem to get the same amount of attention as someone like Neil Young would get. You have Fifth Column and band member G.B. Jones as a visual artist, and Jane Siberry, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Mary Margaret O’Hara, and all these women who are doing this really unclassifiable and exciting work. They’ve been doing it for decades. So I decided to do something about it, rather than complain about it not being there.
One of the most important points I took away from the film had to do with authenticity, and the notion that a persona could be more real than the real thing, because the identity was chosen purposefully. It made me think of Lana Del Rey, the singer who was branded a fake by the media.
I also thought of her, actually. I think in her case it was adult bullying. It was malicious, the belittling of her in the press. I don’t see the point of people arguing about her authenticity. The whole punk movement was based on people creating identities. That’s part of your artwork – that you choose a persona, and that persona is the way you present your ideas to the world.
Where do you think the maliciousness is coming from?
I think there was a bunch of misogyny, and a lot of bored indie-rock critics who wanted to attack and mutilate this young woman. These things have happened to a lot of young women in the press.
I would imagine that Fifth Column, as an all-female band in the 1980s, endured some attacks.
I think that’s why they were so controlling over the media and any interviews they did. They had their hands in everything, because no matter what they’d do or say, the press would manage to dilute it. The press would twist things to make them more palatable or consumable, but Fifth Column wasn’t interested in being palatable or consumable.
Whose idea was it for the band members to be filmed individually for the film?
When I started making the movie, a lot of people involved were estranged from each other, for whatever reason. And because I already knew everyone separately, I always imagined putting each of them in a sort of caricature or cartoony environment. As the film went along, a lot of people reopened communication after we shot everybody. Because of that it was suggested that I then shoot them all together. But to me it didn’t make sense, because I’d already shot everyone separately. I didn’t want to destroy that.
You don’t get into the band breaking up. At the end of the film, drummer G.B. Jones blithely mentions an album and a tour, and then asks you if there’s anything else you wanted to know. Was there?
Yeah, a lot. But I knew a lot already. We didn’t really talk about the music though. We talked about art making, and how they were outsiders and how they got to be that way.
In that way, it’s not a standard rockumentary.
I find those so boring. That’s what Wikipedia is for. In this day and age, you don’t need that kind of movie. You need to be entertained by an energy. There has to be spirit and energy before there’s information.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column screens at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival at the Cumberland on Tuesday at 9 p.m. and the Fox on Friday at 7 p.m.