WHAT IS WOMEN & FILM?
In early 1972, a new magazine appeared on the shelves of certain newstands and radical bookstores in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley: Women & Film, the first ever feminist film magazine. The magazine's arrival heralded a watershed moment for feminism and film: that same year saw the First International Festival of Women's Films held over two weeks in June, in New York City, where hundreds of films by women were screened - some of them for the first time - to sell-out audiences. 1972 was also the year that Ariel Dougherty and Sheila Paige founded Women Make Movies; the year that Yvonne Rainer premiered her seminal film The Lives of Performers; and the year that many film magazines and journals, such as The Velvet Light Trap, published special issues on women and the movies. These are just some of the events documented by Women & Film that have since come to be recognised as part of the Women’s Film Movement, the explosion in feminist filmmaking and writing that took place throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
WHO ARE WE?
Clarissa is a 2nd year PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her thesis tells the history of Women & Film. As part of her research, she tracked down the magazine's founding co-editors, Siew-Hwa Beh and Saundra Salyer, whose short-lived but influential magazine brought together young filmmakers, critics and theorists who've since gone on to shape and define their various fields, from film studies and feminist film theory to artist's film and video. While a trip to the US for archival research and interviews had always been part of her plan, the idea of making a documentary about this network of women who championed women's independent filmmaking in the 1970s, soon began to seem like the ultimate way of exploring its history.
Together with the help of friend and collaborator, Kate Wieteska, the idea of The Women & Film Project documentary began to take shape. Clarissa met Kate during their undergraduate degree at Edinburgh while they were both studying history of art. Despite the fact that Clarissa moved to London and Kate stayed in Scotland, they sustained their friendship thanks to their shared passion for Patti Smith, crisps and adventure.
Kate has worked for various arts organisations, including Holyrood Palace, Grizedale Arts (Yorkshire) and Deveron Arts (Huntly, Aberdeenshire). As a member of What Should We Call Ourselves, she has taken part in interactive events such as The Information Booth and currently runs Wagonalice, an online archive of real and imaginary stories about cafes and coffee. She recently staged Wagon Alice storytelling nights in London and Inverness, as well as taking part in a Spark London event herself. She still lives in Scotland, on an organic farm in the Highlands.
Clarissa has presented her research at conferences for BAFTSS; the London Conference in Critical Thought, and the CATH Centre at De Montfort University. She recently co-authored a text with Amy Tobin that will appear in Jo Spence: The Final Project, edited by Louisa Lee, published by Ridinghouse. She is a participant in the AHRC-funded project Hidden Collections: From Archive to Asset, where she is collaborating with the BFI on creating educational resources for their upcoming season, Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film. She also teaches art and art history part-time at the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle in London. She still lives in London, in the leafy borough of Lewisham.
WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP
After over two years of research, Kate and I will be travelling to the United States to film interviews with the magazine’s founding co-editors, contributors and other key figures from the period. These interviews will form part of a short documentary about the magazine and its era, as well as potentially being housed in collections and archives like those of Women in Film, for the benefit of future generations of filmmakers, researchers, historians and students.
Our Kickstarter campaign will help fund the retrieval of these oral histories on film; stories that will document an unparalleled moment in feminist and cinematic cultural history. We’ve already received grants from the University of London and Royal Holloway, and we’ll be using our own funds for living expenses, but we need your help getting around! We’ll be travelling to San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Eugene, New York and New Jersey, meeting and talking to key participants from the period. Those who have already agreed to interviews include:
- Siew-Hwa Beh and Saundra Salyer: filmmakers, feminist activists and the founding co-editors of Women & Film.
- Bill Nichols: Influential film scholar and editor of the first anthology of film theory, Movies and Methods, and former editorial board member and contributor to the magazine.
- Chuck Kleinhans and Julia Lesage: film theorists and scholars, founders of radical film journal Jump Cut and contributors to Women & Film.
- Janet Bergstrom, Sandy Flitterman-Lewis and Constance Penley: former Women & Film editorial board members and contributors, and two of the co-founders of Camera Obscura. Bergstrom edited Endless Night: Cinema, Psychonalysis, Parallel Histories (1999); Penley is the editor of Feminism and Film Theory (1988) and author of The Future of an Illusion: Feminism, Film and Psychoanalysis (1989); Flitterman’s publications include To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema (1990; 2nd ed 1996).
- Abigail Child and Alexis Krasilovsky: both acclaimed filmmakers and artists, and former contributors to Women & Film.
- Molly Haskell and Marjorie Rosen: key figures of early feminist film criticism and authors of the seminal bestsellers From Reverence to Rape (1973) and Popcorn Venus (1973), respectively.
- Jeanne Betancourt: former contributor to Women & Film, educator and activist, now award-winning children’s author.
- Marsha Kinder: Women & Film contributor and influential film and media theorist, now based at the University of Southern California.
- Jeanne Cordova: feminist and gay rights activist, author, and founding editor of radical 70s underground newspaper Lesbian Tide.
- Debra Zimmerman: Executive Director of the pioneering organisation, Women Make Movies, since 1983.
Risks and challenges
We've got a tight schedule while we're away, and while much forward planning has already taken place in order to fit all the interviewees in, cancellations and timetable changes may occur, meaning we might miss some people. However, thanks to the magical wonders of the internet, and Skype in particular, later interviews are always possible online.
We'll be taking every precaution to keep our footage safe as we collect it, with regular, multiple data backups. That means if something gets lost, we can retrieve it elsewhere.
We're not professional filmmakers. This might seem like our biggest challenge. That and the fact that we are without any kind of crew. But luckily, many of our subjects are experienced film and video makers and we've also made contact with a few helpful people, including the documentary producer Alexandra Juhasz, who'll be giving us some tips and advice.
- (30 days)