As it happened, and as these things tend to do, the most moving and wonderful film experience for me this year happened entirely by accident. Or, at least, from a set of unforeseen circumstances. Far be it to explore these instead of talk about the film though, as out of the two paths that could be traversed here, the film is the much more interesting route.
Suffice it to say the Sydney Film Festival was the destination and therein a documentary Scarlet Road, of which I had not heard previous. The summary provided in promotional material as follows:
“Scarlet Road follows the extraordinary work of Australian sex worker, Rachel Wotton. Impassioned about freedom of sexual expression and the rights of sex workers, she specialises in a long over-looked clientele – people with disability.”
A topic not on most people’s list of interests, and one that some may actively avoid. And while I’m not averse to such themes it’s not something I’d generally queue for, so a chance viewing in this instance was certainly a lucky circumstance.
Another moment of happenstance revealed itself as the packed theatre finally settled in; most of the cast and crew were present. It was after all, the premiere.
After an introduction by the producer and director and a short film (which was excellent yet unpleasant (the story of a young man in an abattoir)), the feature began.
Immediately engaging, within ten minutes the personalities had leapt from screen to heart as they conveyed their message with warmth, passion, conviction, and justification, exuding confidence in the material presented. The viewer had no reason to question character as each were worn on sleeve and each grounded to common sensibilities; happiness, empathy, honesty and love.
The documentary follows a slice in time of Rachel’s working career as a sex worker, and specifically around two of her clients John and Mark.
With character on sleeve then, Rachel unabashedly a sex worker, just as John with Multiple Sclerosis, and Mark Cerebral Palsy. “Sex workers are people too” is mentioned and you can’t help but infer the same qualifier for the disabled on behalf of the audience, yet the magic in the overall work is that the statement feels unnecessary. Indeed, one should realise the statement only pertains to and wishes to highlight the challenges faced in both, as opposed to a pointed suggestion that the audience may think differently.
Both John and Mark are wheelchair bound, and both have limited function of body. John can talk, but Mark relies on a machine to vocally communicate. Both are men and have needs and desires as any, and over the course of the film you come to see how important the basic sense of touch is, and how much the general populous takes it for granted. Sure, the touch is sexual, however here it is far more sensual and emotional than you might expect; the shower scene with Mark and Rachel is perhaps the most beautiful and moving I have seen on film not just for the context or how it was shot, but because it was real. The emotion unquestionable.
Family plays an important role in the film too, and Mark’s is in danger of stealing the show. An older couple, Mark’s mother and father have an obvious absolute love for their son. The father set in his ways and a character of his time, he builds parts for Mark’s mobility in ‘the shed’, and expects dinner on the table at knockoff time. He’s the hilarious non-pc grandfather you had or wished you had, and the audience loved every second he was on screen. The mother showing unwavering care and love, when her eyes well with tears so too the audience. The empathy palpable.
Both were just a few rows up in the theatre. I could have only imagined their thoughts, and how proud they must have felt watching the film and experiencing the gushing emotion from everyone present.
The end brought uproarious applause.
This is a film every person should be forced to see. Let’s face it, it’s not the most approachable subject. It’s such a beautiful story and one which fills the viewer with a sense of greater humanity, a reminder that there are wonderful people out there doing such important work that touches so many lives. A feeling of, you know, humans are alright.