Barbara Hammer has been described as “the Fairy Godmother of lesbian, experimental cinema.”1 Hammer’s filmmaking began in the 1960s and continues today. Her work is richly diverse, ranging from short pieces that broke ground in the explicit presentation of lesbian sex to a documentary on Korean women who dive for shellfish to a hybrid dramatic film on the artist Claude Cahun.2 Her films have been shown in the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennials; at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and MoMA PS1 as part of the influential exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution; and at retrospectives internationally, including in Argentina, Germany, Italy, Korea, and South Africa. In the spring of 2010 the Feminist Press published her memoir, Hammer! Making Movies out of Sex and Life. As I write this, preparations are being made for a retrospective screening of Hammer’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, an honor few living women filmmakers can claim.
This supplemental issue of Films for the Feminist Classroom is centered on an interview that Hammer gave with the FFC editorial collective on May 17, 2010.3 Hammer spoke with us about teaching film, about touring to promote her recent memoir, about mentoring new filmmakers, and about whom she turns to for inspiration and advice. This issue also features essays by creative professionals whose work making, teaching, and archiving film has been touched by Hammer’s magic wand, that has a connection to her life and work.
While this summer supplement showcasing Hammer’s interview departs from Films for the Feminist Classroom’s usual format of reviews and special feature pieces, the issue is true to a particular FFC objective. We venture to support feminist filmmaking at FFC by bringing the work of artists such as Hammer to a broader audience. One of the ways we see our purpose at FFC is perhaps best articulated by scholar and filmmaker Alexandra Juhasz: “When professors write about films, a market for those films is established; when professors teach films to students, an audience for those films is born; when professors teach filmmakers their craft, formal traditions and ideologies are passed on.”4
In this issue filmmakers, artists, instructors, and archivists write about their own work as it connects with that of Hammer. For those who conventionally write about and teach film, it brings the intentions and practices of filmmakers into the conversation. And if, as Ara Osterweil asserts, “to be an experimental filmmaker, as Hammer is, is almost by definition to acknowledge one’s own subjective desires—corporeal, sexual, aesthetic, ethical, and political—in one’s cinema,” then it’s fitting that the essays here, by creative professionals personally influenced by Hammer, also make known a few of the authors’ subjective desires.5
In her piece, Barbara Klutinis, who worked with Hammer in the 1980s, relates her experience teaching film appreciation at community college. Erin Harper reflects on a film she made that, according to the synopsis, “chronicles a double odyssey: the voyage of the artist Zbigniew Seifert… and the voyage of the artist Zach Brock.”6 But in an effort to discover why she makes films at all, Harper realizes that the film expounds on another journey entirely. Nazita Matres Rezai describes the aesthetic character of Hammer’s personal archive as much as its literal contents, while filmmaker Gina Carducci’s essay recounts her recent collaboration with Hammer on Generations (2010), a film that promises to show as much as it tells about mentorship and feminist alliance. And Shawn(ta) D. Smith, an archive coordinator at the Lesbian Herstory Archive, writes about the evolving historical record in the archive and gestures at how we each might contribute to an official history of lesbian (feminist) film, and to feminist history more generally.
As a group, the essays in this issue illuminate what I suspect Juhasz meant when she called Hammer “the Fairy Godmother of lesbian, experimental cinema.” We see Hammer as friend, mentor, teacher, inspiration, and collaborator. But the disappointing corollary is that we might still need fairy godmothers, that women’s achievements and opportunities are so often cultivated and discovered later in life rather than self-evident early on. As Hammer herself, writing about the 1970s in her memoir, points out, “there are no examples of lesbian filmmakers who identify themselves publicly as lesbians in the past.”7 Carducci mirrors her sentiment in this issue of Films for the Feminist Classroom: Carducci “had to dig,” too, not just for role models, but “for information about Barbara Hammer and her generation of feminist experimental filmmakers,” since it is in such short supply. Carducci makes the connection that neither she nor Hammer, two women whose educations took place decades apart, had lesbian or women filmmakers as ready role models. In her response to a question in the Q&A that concludes this issue of Films for the Feminist Classroom. Carducci writes, “I learned recently that Hammer and I had the same experience at the end of film school: Where are all the women filmmakers?”
A few are here, and many more are to be found in the regular issues of Films for the Feminist Classroom. I hope that those issues, and this one on a singular pioneer, will at the very least point the way for the next generation of women who make and love film.
1Alexandra Juhasz, Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Film and Video (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 77. See also Juhasz’s “A Lesbian Collective Aesthetic: Making and Teaching The Owls,” Films for the Feminist Classroom, vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 2010), http://www.signs.rutgers.edu/juhasz_feature_2-1.html, in which filmmaker Cheryl Dunye (in a video clip) stresses the importance of Hammer to lesbian filmmakers.
2Hammer’s 2006 film Lover Other: The Story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore is reviewed by Susan Richmond in Films for the Feminist Classroom issue 2.1.
3I thank the entire Films for the Feminist Classroom editorial collective for their assistance, support, and encouragement throughout the planning and production of this supplemental issue. The collective consists of myself, Karen Alexander, Agatha Beins, Jillian Hernandez, Julie Ann Salthouse, and Katherine O’Connor.
4Juhasz, Women of Vision, 79.
5Ara Osterweil, “A Body Is Not a Metaphor: Barbara Hammer’s X-Ray Vision,” Journal of Lesbian Studies 14, no. 2 (2010): 187.
6Erin Harper, Passion (forthcoming), http://passion-themovie.com/documentary.php.
7Barbara Hammer, “Lesbian Filmmaking: Self-Birthing,” Blatant Image (1981; reprinted in Hammer! Making Movies out of Sex and Life; New York: Feminist Press 2010), 99. Citation is to the Feminist Press edition.