Tuesday, March 23, 2010

LLGFF: The Lost Women of Cinenova

Still from RosebudHaving attended last night's Cinenova programme at the LLGFF, I was surprised to be handed a sheet of paper, with many, many names on it. Names of filmmakers represented by Cinenova but who have now dropped off the radar. Names including Julie Dash, Joy Chamberlain and Jan Oxenberg. How can this be? How could these filmmakers become lost?

Well, partly this is down to the fact that Cinenova, which, as a distributor of work by women since 1991, has had no funding since 2001 and, hence, relies on volunteers.

But, I was also puzzled thinking about the work on show last night: except for Barbara Hammer, I could not recall any recent work by any of the filmmakers on show, including Cheryl Farthing and Annette Kennerley. Why was so much work produced by an array of UK lesbian filmmakers in the late '80s and early '90s, who then seemed to disappear from view? I put this to curator Naz Jamal, who suggested that many of the filmmakers chose to go on to do other things: they didn't necessarily want to pursue film as a career. But, I wondered if it was down to a lack of funding and other social changes since then. Fewer commissions from Channel 4? Lack of opportunities to go on to do features? Perhaps it parallels what I've noticed in punk: in their 30s women seemed to leave the music scene, only to emerge 20 years later. Perhaps these women will come back.

Speaker Helen de Witt commented on how surprised she was to see the style on show in the films, a far cry from the "boring, political" films remembered from that time. I remember it differently, as an exciting time full of style AND politics, of ACT UP, Queer Nation, Lesbian Avengers, and lots of exciting short experimental work coming across the pond from the UK to my then-domain of San Francisco, itself a hotbed of queer filmmaking. There was a lot to be angry about. Indeed, there still is, but filmmakers don't seem so interested in exploring that. We live in an era of rom-coms, with marriage and families taking centre-stage as topics for films.

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