FFFC, a new on-line journal that is a side-project of SIGNS, has just published my article, “A Lesbian Collective Aesthetic: Making and Teaching The Owls.” By including the written and documentary voices of several of the cast the crew in the article, I attempt to reproduce the “lesbian collective cinema aesthetic” that I discuss as central to the film within my “written” cinema criticism:

The essay is about making, teaching, and learning from lesbian cinema. I focus on making (and then teaching) our “generational anthem for Older Wiser Lesbians [OWLs], aging revolutionaries in a world they cannot control.” How our conversational, open-ended, film-based making is our “lesbian collective aesthetic.” Which is to say that, while most understandings of cinema aesthetics look primarily to film form and content (style and story), in the essay I suggest that the extra-textual feminist processes of collectively making (by first discussing and leaving room for multiple interpretations) lesbian cinema and identity and then critically and communally teaching (and then conversing again) about the practices of making cinema (and identity) are of greatest importance for me as an activist scholar, educator, and filmmaker, as well as for the collective of sixty-plus queers who participated in making the film.

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I just returned from an Owls screening at Outfest. As I’ve written here, the film cost about $25K, raised by small donations from its producers and the generous support of our distributors, The Collaborative. We hoped others would use our model to make the films they need to see, and here’s another local effort, also produced by Owls Parliament member, Ernesto Foronda.

The Owls, the collective, experimental docu/fiction lesbian thriller that I produced is showing, now, all over the world.

Look for June US screenings in SF and LA. The docu-comedy, Hooters, about making “The Owls” is also playing, mirroring, and hooting along-side.

Berlinale: Films Beget Films

February 24, 2010

Just returned from 2010 Berlinale where The Owls premiered, rocked German lesbian’s L-Word soaked version of dyke-America, and sold a bunch of territories, too (thanks to The Collaborative! Note to indie- film-world: if you make a feature for $20K you can re-coup costs pretty darn easily). I thought Hammer to Nail did a super job trying to explain the delightful, confounding, amazing experience which is this HUGE, cosmopolitan, diverse, intellectual, and extremely well-programed amalgam of films from star-studded to avant-garde, so I’ll do something else. Thanks to her as well for a fine wrap-up of our film and others!

So, I’ll take a different approach. I saw a lot of films when I was there, and noted a continuing pre-occupation, for some handled with verve and complexity, for others less so. I’d include The OWLS as a contributor to this category, Films Beget Films (thanks to Jay Leyda, 1964) by which I refer to films or videos (either fiction, documentary, or mixed) about past films or the act of filming or both. The most stunning addition to this veritable tradition was A Film Unfinished (Shtikat Haarchion), Yael Hersonski’s subtle, careful re-visit to a Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw ghetto, used throughout cinema’s Holocaust History to represent THE ghetto, failing to note the manipulated nature of this record of “daily life.” Hersonski literally shows the Nazi camera mans’ dirty hands, fleeting through images, as they direct and stage multiple takes of dressed-up “rich” residents of the ghetto (starving themselves) standing indifferently beside the poor and dying to prove, via documentary’s authenticating gaze, that the Jew’s were to blame for their own sorry condition. I would have liked to see the filmmaker expose her hand as well, even a little wave, acknowledging what all documentarians know to be our own propaganda project, but perhaps this is too much to ask of a film so dangerous to make and behold.

In any case, another Israeli filmmaker, Tomer Heymann made this his most visible subject while continuing the tense consideration (viewed in Berlin no less) of the relations past and present between Germans and Jews in I Shot My Love, a hand-held video diary of the filmmaker’s daily, mundane and rich interactions with both his Mother and German lover. Where Film Unfinished questioned the role of filmming in the making of historical knowledge about catastrophe and HISTORY, I Shot my Love accomplished, also with great care (nothing BIG happens, no mother dying, no traumatic break-up) the opposite, also subtly indicating that the two film projects about film, trauma, cross-cultural interaction, violence, love, and the every day are after much the same thing.

Of course, THE OWLS is more about the violence of lesbians in cinema (The Killing Sister George, The Fox) than it is in our daily life (none of us actually murder each other in my community), and how these messages of our own dark pathology can be re-used by us and for us to fuel our creativity, express our anger, and reflect upon cinema’s traps regarding truth. Other beautiful films in this vein included Daniel Schmid (about the Swiss filmmaker) and the Bengali, Just Another Love Story (Aarekti Premer Golpo), about actors and real people (and film directors) playing actors in a film about cross-dressing male actors in Indian theater with two narrative strands and a documentary one, too.

Given the ubiquity and success of this filmic project across the festival, it was as interesting to note the many films engaged in the same project that were not as moving for me. These were Making the Boys (In the Band), Blank City (about 70s New York No Wave Cinema), and Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling. In all three films about the making of films in NY in the seventies, the film holding the films was not nearly as formally complex or evocative as the images it considered. One might suggest that a transparent form is the best way to consider past work, but I’m not so sure. In every case these docs looked at people driven to make films that were as formally dangerous as were their personal and political struggles. The safe drabness of conventional documentary form does disservice to their radical visions.

At the pre-Berlin cast and crew screening of THE OWLS Friday night, I was talking with my friend, fellow filmmaker and Pitzer professor, Silas Howard, who has recently transitioned, and reports that he often now successfully passes. I asked him for some secrets he has learned as a newly-male among men, and his most interesting find was that they are all really gay together when women are not around. Glad to have this confirmed, but it was something I already knew: a founding principle of both my early queer and feminist educations. Eve Sedgwick was my professor of women and gender studies in a college that proved the very cradle of male-homosociality (Amherst—just gone co-ed—boo-yah!) teaching us co-eds about the ways that men used women to legitimize their more abiding desire to see and love each other.

Hey, I’ve always loved men, too—straight, gay, no matter—and I’m as open to stories of men-loving-men as the next gal…I’ve written elsewhere about Fight Club and South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut as feminist films (in their radical willingness to unmoor sex from gender), but I reasoned that the misogyny (and homophobia) underwriting their dystopic worlds-of-men under-cut any feminist gains allowed. I’d say that in our current cinema, for instance, I Love You Man, feminist-influenced gender play continues (for men, who can work on their “feminine” sides: Chocolat anyone?) and the hatred even seems softer (for women who are so dull, listless, boring, and benign how could you feel anything at all for them, least of all an emotion with political chops) but is ultimately of no less concern. I actually like many of the current spate of juvenile male homosocial bonding orgies as much as any person who likes men might: their boy-men-leads prove to be hot, funny, and complexly gendered humans on sophisticated quests for sex, comraderie, family, love, and identity; too bad this is best satisfied in a movie world where men greedily colonize for themselves all that is best in women, leaving females as unnecessary, unfunny, uninteresting half-humans any sane person would choose to disregard, at least in relation to loving a man.

Berlin Bound!

January 11, 2010

I am really happy to announce that our film, THE OWLS, will be premiering in Berlin‘s Panorama section: its home for foreign and cutting edge art films. I could imagine no better festival for our premier. We were there with The Watermelon Woman in 1996 and won the Teddy for best gay and lesbian film.

From scene to screen, THE OWLS, photo by Love

No time for queer theory writing now. None of the fun and glamour of queer  collective production…

It’s all producer’s business for the moment: promotion, marketing, prints, budgets, re-shoots?!

See you in Berlin in February.

The Stake and the Wedge

September 15, 2009

The female is immanent, the female is bone-deep, the female is instinct. With Lili’s

eager complicity, The Professor drives a massive wedge between the masculine and

the feminine within her. –Sandy Stone, Posttransexaul Manifesto

The “Professor’s” use of the wedge cuts like a knife to distinguish, separate, rule, master. This is neither the stake nor the wedge I call for. While a wedge holds within it much that might be queer—some of the cheesiness of camp, the tip of a stable heel, or the sexual toying (of a wedgie)—I want to use the term in relation to issues…wedge issues.

The Parliament works it out. From The Owls, photo by Love

The Parliament works it out. From The Owls, photo by Love

In common parlance we use wedge as does The Professor: to mark, signal, and create divides. But I’d like to think about how we dealt with the “wedge issue” of butch/trans while making The Owls as the queer sort of wedge I aspire to.

Jack Halberstam on the set of The Owls, photo by Love

Jack Halberstam on the set of The Owls, photo by Love

By inviting Jack Halberstam to the set to begin a conversation about this issue, the OWLS Parliament signaled its interest in naming (not hiding) this controversy amongst the cast and crew, and within the script itself. While individual actors went on to make choices about the gender/sexuality identification of their characters along lines that were rather traditionally butch/femme (and which closely matched their own lived enactments), the conversations surrounding this (many of them filmed) began to create ripples across the Parliament. The fiction part of the film ended up recording Cheryl’s (and the cast’s) vision of this issue, but the documentary part of the film recorded something else: the discord and debate, and then, related transformations. Once cut into the film, these documentary moments will inevitably change and grow the “story,” allowing for the dissonance of the dialectical. Wedge as conversation, not as division. The stake opens it up, and the wedge becomes the stage for dialogue and for dreaming.

Cheryl and Skyler (Carol and Skye), dreaming/scheming on The Owls, photo by Love

Cheryl and Skyler (Carol and Skye), dreaming/scheming on The Owls, photo by Love