FRED Watch Quickie Film Review: Riot (2018)


I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s film is Riot

Werner Film Productions / Australian Broadcasting Corporation

In 1978, with the momentum to decriminalise homosexuality diminishing, a group of queer activists decide to take a different approach to their protesting and petitioning. Led by former union boss Lance Gowland (Damon Herriman), the activists choose to celebrate who they are in a public display of fancy dress and music down Sydney’s Oxford Street.

But ongoing tensions with the police promise to erupt into a mêlée…

Following the final curtain call, FRED the ALIEN Productions sent out surveys to those who had attended the 2018 Midsumma Festival season of our play Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning. As always, the responses are as diverse as our audience—generally positive, nonetheless—but a bit of feedback made me scratch my head. This person felt that it “was a bit weird” that the character Graeme (Jeffrey Bryant Jones) would disown his son Michael (Bayne Bradshaw) in a violent rage because of Michael’s sexuality. Unfortunately, there is a long history of LGBTQIA+ individuals who would not find that weird at all. But if such a scenario is perceived to be relegated to the past, and coming out is no longer a potentially devastating scenario, then the telling of queer social, cultural, and civil rights histories has never been more important. With marriage equality still new to Australia, our collective memories surely cannot be that short?

Regardless, there is no questioning the appropriate and continued relevance that a film such as Riot has.

This is because the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of Australia’s biggest tourist events and most colourful of street parties. It remains a contention among conservatives, but the slow swirl of social and civil progress has meant that the celebration of all things queer has persisted to increase in popularity and participation since its 1978 inception. Back then, it was a protest where a brave group of resilient individuals put everything on the line for appreciation, dignity, and respect. Forty years later, the Australian queer community was awarded marriage equality and its associated legal benefits, but more needs to be done. It is in this spirit that Riot finds itself as a timely and necessary history lesson. Anti-discriminatory laws, social acceptance, and increasing civil rights make it easy for millennials to not truly appreciate the protections they have inherited from previous generations of activists.

Furthermore, it is great to see the collective known as the 78ers given individual names, personalities, and complexities. So it is also no surprise, then, that the people here are the most interesting component. As they manoeuvre through the political and social tensions of the 1970s, our story sweeps through a number of significant moments in history, covering obstacles and mini-milestones through the eyes and experiences of our ensemble, particularly Lance Gowland and Marg McMann, played with exceptional sincerity by Damon Herriman and Kate Box.

Riot, however, sometimes prioritises the politics over the people, making it difficult to have a strong level of attachment to everyone here. The film would have perhaps worked better as a miniseries, benefitting from an exploration of the political and social dynamics in greater detail, thereby allowing itself to delve into the characters impacted by them. For example, the gender politics and in-fighting between some of the gays and lesbians in the Campaign Against Moral Persecution is fascinating, but there simply isn’t enough running time to discuss the impact conflicting standpoints have on such an important social movement.

Although painted in broad stokes, Riot all comes together exceptionally well in the final act, where the first Mardi Gras takes place—talk about humble beginnings!—and its immediate ramifications reinforces the need to keep telling queer stories to a mainstream audience.  3½ / 5


Starring: Damon Herriman, Kate Box, Xavier Samuel, Jessica De Gouw, Josh Quong Tart, Kate Cheel, Eden Falk, Luke Fewster, Benedict Hardie, Patrick Jhanur, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Shaun Martindale, George Mulis, Luke Mullins, Fern Sutherland.

Director: Jeffrey Walker | Producers: Louise Smith, Joanna Werner | Writer: Greg Waters (Story: Carrie Anderson) | Music: David Hirschfelder | Cinematographer: Martin McGrath | Editor: Geoffrey Lamb

Available: ABC iView (until 27 March 2018) and DVD

Let us know what you thought of this film in the comments!


I’ve been a Wayne Stellini and you’ve just experienced FRED Watch.

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