Programmed by Ursula Wagner
In 1992, critic B. Ruby Rich coined the term "New Queer Cinema" to describe the wave of movies made by and about queer people in the 1980s --but that phenomenon was almost exclusively male.
In the mid-1990s a new trend emerged: lesbians making independent features that told their own stories. This emergence paralleled the rise of lesbian groups in the 1970s, in response to male dominance of the gay rights movement. In this series, I showcase this explosion of lesbian filmmaking that I call the "New Lesbian Cinema."
All the directors here identify as lesbian, bisexual, or trans women. Most wrote their films as well, highlighting their intensely personal nature. Writer-directors Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman) and Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn) also starred in their films, giving us a view into their respective experiences a black lesbian and an Indian-American lesbian.
The series starts with a precursor to this wave, Donna Deitch's, Desert Hearts (1985), the first feature film in which lesbians get a happy ending. Up until that point, the few queer women that did appear mainstream film ended up either dead or in the arms of a man.
Nine years after Desert Hearts, Rose Troche made Go Fish. She quipped at the time, "It's meant to be a nice film for lesbians, not a nice film about lesbians." After that, more and more queer women began making movies for each other. These films were important, but never self-important. They abound with comedy, romance, and--yes--adventure.
(Donna Deitch, 1985) · This adaptation of 1964's Desert of the Hearts (one of the only non-pulp lesbian novels of its time) was subversive in 1985 simply for treating lesbianism as neither tragic nor a phase. It's 1959, and Vivian is a professor staying at a guest ranch in Reno waiting for her divorce to go through, when she falls for free-spirited casino worker Cay. The first lesbian-themed feature film written and directed by women is an enchantingly optimistic love story.
runtime: 96m format: DCP
(Rose Troche, 1994) · In this comedy, Max (Guinevere Turner) is a student living in Wicker Park who hasn't had sex in ten months. Her friends try to set her up with Ely, whom Max dismisses as a hippie. Besides, Ely has been in a long-distance relationship for two years...Director Troche and star Turner, both lesbians, co-wrote Go Fish for lesbian audiences, but it was a Sundance hit and proved the marketability of all-female casts and lesbian love stories. A wave of others followed.
runtime: 94m format: 35mm
(Marleen Gorris, 1995) · This is the tale of Dutch widow Antonia, who returns to her hometown after the Second World War, along with the generations of women who follow, all expressing sexuality and building family in different ways. Gorris's screenplay includes whimsical and cruel elements of fairy tales, by which she would be the first female director to win a Best Foreign Language Oscar. See the gentle, pastoral fable that Jonathan Rosenbaum would review as a "humorless" work of "feminist rage." Print Courtesy of the Yale Film Study Center.
runtime: 104m format: 35mm
(Lana and Lily Wachowski, 1996) · Gangster's moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly) seduces her ex-con neighbor Corky (Gina Gershon), and they make a plan to steal $2 million and pin it on Violet's mafioso boyfriend (Joey Pantoliano). For their directorial debut, the Wachowskis wrote a screenplay full of sex and violence, but their lesbian twist on a classic noir plot made funding hard to find. Luckily this constraint led to a dark, claustrophobic sensibility that feels like a graphic novel on film.
runtime: 109m format: DCP
(Maria Maggenti, 1995) · Evie (Nicole Ari Parker) is a cultured, studious, black teen with a wealthy family and a steady boyfriend. Randy (The L Word's Laurel Holloman) is a white butch lesbian who goes to the same school but gets poor grades and lives in a trailer with other lesbians who took her in after her mother abandoned her. This film is part coming-of-age film, part farce--and while not completely true, the tomboyish Randy is based on writer-director Maggenti's first girlfriend.
runtime: 94m format: 35mm
(Cheryl Dunye, 1996) · Writer-director Dunye stars as a version of herself--a black lesbian filmmaker named Cheryl researching black women in '30s and '40s Hollywood. She becomes fascinated by an actress credited in one film only as 'The Watermelon Woman,' whom she also suspects dated its white female director. In a parallel, Cheryl begins dating a white woman (Go Fish's Guinevere Turner). Despite its serious themes, the film is comical and features multiple cameos of famous queer thinkers.
runtime: 90m format: DCP
(Susan Streitfeld, 1996) · When big-name talent agent Streitfeld pivoted to writing and directing, she took on the implausible: turning psychoanalyst Louise Kaplan's 600-page study Female Perversions into a fiction film. In it, Tilda Swinton masterfully plays a sexy, high-powered attorney juggling professional ambition, flings with men and women, a kleptomaniac sister, and encounters with a string of other female archetypes--all while being visited by troubling hallucinations. 35mm print courtesy of the Sundance Collection at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
runtime: 114m format: 35mm
(Lisa Cholodenko, 1998) · Before The Kids Are Alright, writer-director Cholodenko made her debut telling the story of Syd, a young woman at a photography magazine who discovers that her and her boyfriend's upstairs neighbor is acclaimed lesbian photographer Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy), whose career has given way to heroin use. As Syd and Lucy begin to exploit each other for career advancement, their professional relationship becomes personal, and all the lines start to blur.
runtime: 103m format: 35mm
(Nisha Ganatra, 1999) · First-time writer-director Ganatra stars as Reena, a young Indian-American in New York. Her mother disapproves of her lesbianism. Her sister, Sarita, is married to a man but is infertile. Reena offers to act as a surrogate mother for Sarita. Finally, both Reena's girlfriend and Sarita's husband are white. Comedic tensions abound among these players, making for a truly American story of tradition, assimilation, and the space for tolerance in between. 35mm collection print courtesy of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project.
runtime: 92m format: 35mm
(Jamie Babbit, 1999) · Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is a typical all-American girl: blond, a cheerleader, dating a football player. But when her parents accuse her of being a lesbian, she realizes with horror that they're right. She's sent to gay conversion camp, where she is drawn to out lesbian Graham (Clea DuVall). Babbit's first feature somehow succeeds as a romcom set in the world of conversion therapy. The ensemble includes a rare appearance by RuPaul out of drag, as an "ex-gay." 35mm preservation print courtesy of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project.
runtime: 92m format: 35mm