Food and Drink Editor Lucy Warmington reviews the first ever Red Umbrella Film Festival which took place between the 19th and 22nd of October in Dublin
The first ever Red Umbrella Film Festival, an event organised by current and former sex-workers in Ireland, took place in Dublin from the 19th to the 22nd of October. The weekend’s events aimed to amplify the voices of sex workers in Ireland and internationally, highlighting the issues they face, decreasing the stigma and shame surrounding sex work, and fighting for a safer and decriminalised future. I attended the panel discussion ‘Sex Worker’s Rights and Equal Access with Bernadette Devlin and Wendy Lyon’, and the following screening of the documentary film ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’, on the closing night of the festival.
I will admit that it was the name drop of Bernadette Devlin that drew me to the panel discussion initially, but I am unbelievably thankful that I went. The discussion gave me insight into the huge progress that the Irish state needs to make to tackle the challenges faced by sex workers. The recently introduced Nordic model approach to sex work is ineffective and harmful, and the movement for decriminalisation of sex work deserves more support. With Devlin living up to her reputation, she pointed out the hypocrisy of feminists not supporting sex workers’ rights, stating “It’s my body, my choice until suddenly it’s not. What don’t they get?,” dubbing this “the feminist Mother Teresa syndrome”. A current Irish sex worker on the panel similarly called out the hypocrisy of many Irish NGOs and services, stating their motto of “nothing about us without us” goes out the window when it comes to sex workers. This was an inspiring discussion, but many of the topics discussed sat heavily on the room. Put simply, the Irish state is failing Irish sex workers. NGOs, women’s shelters, and workers' unions are failing Irish sex workers. Feminists, those of us most expected to stand up and show up in solidarity, are failing Irish sex workers. This panel discussion demonstrated why more events like the Red Umbrella Film Festival should become commonplace in Ireland.
The panel discussion was followed by the 2022 documentary film ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ directed by Laura Poitras. I am by no means a film buff, but I knew this documentary was incredible. It is primarily a biography of photographer Nan Goldin’s life, cutting between her life as a young photographer in New York’s LGBT subculture of the 1970s and 80s, and her current life leading the activist group PAIN’s battle against the opioid crisis, and the Sackler family responsible for it. The film sees intersections of multiple themes: grief, trauma, power, domestic violence, sex work, LGBTQ subculture, the AIDs epidemic, political activism, and art. The story is somewhat slow-paced, but it is delicately told, and Goldin’s gripping photography guides us through. I was not hugely familiar with Goldin’s work, but I would now say she is my (current) favourite artist; her photography is daring, politically motivated, and visually compelling. The entire documentary is stirring, it is a fervent reminder that the opioid epidemic was enabled by the rich and powerful, but it also shows the power and potential that activism can hold, all while being an ode to an incredible photographer. An emotional mix of education, artwork, and storytelling, I will be recommending this documentary to as many people as I can.