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November 7-9, 2014

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

Leanne Pooley
84 minutes

Winner of the Cadillac People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival 2009 ‘The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls’ tells the story of the world’s only comedic, singing, yodeling lesbian twin sisters, Lynda and Jools Topp, whose political activism and unique brand of entertainment has helped change New Zealand’s social landscape. In the process they have become well-loved cultural icons.

This is the first time that the irrepressible Kiwi entertainment double act, Jools and Lynda Topp's extraordinary personal story has been told. As well as rarely seen archive footage and home movies, the film features a series of special interviews with some of the Topp's infamous comedy alter-egos including candid chats with the two Kens, Camp Mother and Camp Leader, the Bowling Ladies and the Posh Socialite sisters, Prue and Dilly.

The Topp Twins have attained a unique status within New Zealand culture, and their fans range from hard core political activists, to sheep farmers and 'Ladies who Lunch'. Their ability to relate to all kinds of people, and their natural gift for humour, has helped them cross from the fringes to the mainstream.

It has often been said that if the story of the Twins was fictional nobody would believe it. From rural backwaters to busking on the streets of Auckland, to performances at the Rugby World Cup and London’s West End stage, their appeal is infectious. From support act to Split Enz, Billy Bragg, and Midnight Oil to headlining their own hugely successful tours in Australia, Canada, the USA and Britain. The twins have morphed from radical activists into Kiwi 'national treasures', 'cultural ambassadors', and finally, according to the Glasgow Herald, into New Zealand's 'finest artistic export since lamb cutlets!'

'The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls' follows the girls from their happy childhood on a Waikato dairy farm - where they grew up singing to the cows - to the Territorial Army where they quickly became the Vera Lynns of their battalion. They came of age performing on the streets of Auckland during the heady days of the political protest marches in the early 80s, and quickly joined the forefront of progressive social change campaigning for a Nuclear-Free NZ, Maori Land Rights, a halt to the1981 Springbok Tour, and Homosexual Law Reform.

By 1998 only a decade later, Lynda Topp, as Camp Mother, came close to winning the mayoral elections in Auckland, and the Topp Twins were firmly entrenched in the bosom of Kiwi culture with their own prime time TV Series 'Do Not Adjust Your Twinset'.

'The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls' is a big story. It’s not just the story of two sisters but also of 50 years of New Zealand history. Half a century of cultural changes and the foundation of a national identity. Part concert film, part biopic, part historical record, part comedy, the Twins share their journey from “coming out‟ to Jools' recent brush with Breast Cancer with much laughter, honesty and wisdom. It is a film about two truly unique New Zealanders which ends up saying as much about us as it does about them.

'The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls' is directed by award-winning ex BBC documentary filmmaker, Leanne Pooley. Director of Photography was shared by Leon Narbey ('Whale Rider'); one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed cinematographers, and Wayne Vinten, (Best Cinematography NZ Screen Awards 2008).

The film was produced by Arani Cuthbert of Diva Productions, who has also managed the twins for much of their career and produced their popular TV series.

Leanne Pooley is one of New Zealand’s most accomplished documentary filmmakers. Born and raised in Canada, she immigrated to New Zealand in the mid-1980’s and began working in the New Zealand television industry. In 1992 she moved to England where she made documentaries for Britain’s major broadcasters including BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 as well as PBS in America. Her films featured on internationally acclaimed series such as; Everyman, Modern Times, and 40 Minutes. Pooley’s documentaries have screened in more than 100 countries, and include topics ranging from rugby to the Pope.

Leanne’s latest work is ‘The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls’ a theatrical feature about the lives of lesbian, singing, twin sister comedy duo, the Topp Twins. Previous documentaries include the Qantas Award ‘Best Documentary’ winning film Relative Guilt, The Man Who Has Everything for the American Discovery Network, Kiwi Buddha as seen on National Geographic and Haunting Douglas about choreographer Douglas Wright. Haunting Douglas has screened at festivals around the world and earned Leanne the award for ‘Best Director’ at the 2005 New Zealand Screen Awards. The film also won ‘Best Documentary’ at the International Reel Dance Awards. Her documentary feature The Promise, about euthanasia campaigner Lesley Martin won the 2006 New Zealand Screen Award for ‘Best Documentary’. In 2006 Leanne produced and directed Try Revolution, exploring how rugby was used to help bring down South Africa’s apartheid regime, and in 2007 Being Billy Apple, another feature length documentary, about the man who became a living work of art.

Leanne serves as a judge for the International Emmy Awards, has extensive teaching experience, and has published several articles on documentary filmmaking. She lives in Auckland with her husband and two children.

As a documentary filmmaker most of the projects that come my way involve the darker side of life, and death and despair are too often part of the pallet I'm working with. So it was wonderful to make a documentary that was, for once, funny!

Lynda and Jools Topp are truly unique. It’s not every day you get to work with yodeling, lesbian, comedian, twin sisters. To top this off their story is incredible in its richness, variety and depth. I wasn’t long involved with the project before I realised I was making a film that was not just a profile of talented individuals but a story that traversed the history and tenacity of an entire nation.

How did two highly politicised gay women push their way into the hearts of mainstream New Zealanders, becoming not just entertainers but icons? The journey to answer this question was a riotous one, both inspiring and hilarious. The Topp Twins have managed to use humour to explore serious subject matter in a way that even the most cynical observer couldn’t ignore. As singer-songwriter Billy Bragg says in the film “they’re a kind of anarchist variety act”, one that forces people from all walks of life to examine their position on any number of issues.

To illustrate this there was a wealth of archive material. The Topp Twins have been doing their thing for 30 years and despite their seemingly alternative appeal they have been followed every step of the way by the mainstream media. Provoking change simply by being themselves, their youthful performances were caught on camera in the early '80s. As young buskers they amused shoppers with songs that questioned the status quo while at the same time demonstrated a 'joie de vivre' that has never left them and is still at the core of their appeal. As is often the case with documentary filmmaking I am indebted to the directors who went before me. Their footage was a gift and each clip we discovered made us reflect on how far the Twins and New Zealand had come.

Working outside the perceived confines of the documentary genre this film was a directorial smorgasbord. Part concert movie, part documentary, part comedy, part historical document and part traditional documentary, 'Untouchable Girls' provided me with endless opportunities to play! The Twins were generous in their willingness to play along, making it possible to have a great deal of fun with the story telling. As comedian John Clarke states in the film "they are relatively shameless, and that’s a good thing to be!”.

The Twins allowed me to 'interview' their characters as if they were taking part in a documentary 'about' Lynda and Jools. When we filmed behind the scenes at their shows they were open and available every step of the way. They even agreed to write a special concert in which they would tell stories and sing songs about the important moments in their lives. This concert provided me with a wonderful narration for the film; one that I believe sets “Untouchable Girls” apart from the ordinary biopic.

Lynda and Jools are New Zealand treasures and I feel honored to have been involved with sharing their story, our story, with the World.

Friday, November 5, 2010
Opening Night 2: 7:45pm-9:30pm
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Block 4b: 4:00pm - 5:30pm