Get Ahead of the Curve with aGLIFF
Groundbreaking queer magazine Curve changes with the times
By Beth Sullivan,
8:00PM, Wed. Aug. 12, 2020
Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of bad news, especially when it means your life’s work may very well be in peril. But for documentary filmmakers, surprising conflict is golden.
Case in point: Last year director Jen Rainin and co-director/producer Rivkah Beth Medow were in the process of filming Ahead of the Curve, a docu-portrait of Curve magazine founder Frances “Franco” Stevens, and the closing night film for this year’s streaming version of the All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival (aGLIFF). That’s when Stevens (who is also married to Rainin) received an unexpected email from Silke Bader, current publisher of the seminal lesbian magazine. The message: Like many print publications of today, Curve’s future stood on the delicate precipice of folding.
Before the email, Medow recalled, “We thought we were going to do a biography, really, like this incredible story of Franco’s life.” But with the disclosure that Curve could soon vanish, Stevens took it upon herself to reimagine the way forward for the magazine which she sold in 2010. Thus Ahead of the Curve pivoted from a micro- to a macrochronicle of Stevens’ legacy. Medow said, “She was starting this journey around, ‘What does [Curve] mean today? What is a magazine today? What do women need?’ And she caught fire with it, so we just followed her.”
Stevens founded Curve in 1990 in San Francisco. Divorced and briefly homeless after being outed to her family by her ex-husband, Stevens sought to create a physical embodiment of the community connection she sought out and lived, and yet never found on the magazine stands before her. “She had no idea how to be a lesbian in the Nineties, and so she made that guide. … She gave herself what she needed,” said Medow. In Ahead of the Curve, Stevens’ legacy is recast in a long continuum of community-makers as she travels around the U.S. interviewing younger queer voices about the changes they’ve seen – and what the changes that still need to come – in an effort to better understand what it means to be queer today, and how Curve might better encompass those richly hued experiences.
Situating Curve’s origins within a historical context was not only essential as a framework, but critical in the film’s mission. Originally, Rainin imagined the film as a drama, but soon changed her tune after undertaking the research process. “I was really struggling to find stories about the women who really got our movement to this place where we are now,” she explained, while adding she still hopes to make the narrative version one day. “I feel a responsibility to tell the story. We just don’t know where we came from, where our legacy is, what our lineage is.”
In the same way that Curve encapsulates queer women culture across a 30-year span, Ahead of the Curve also functions as a historical document. There are contemporary interviews with “celesbians” both of today and yore, of course, but the doc strikes gold in its incorporation of Stevens’ personal archives of queer life in the Nineties. Curve was born in a not-so-distant past when the AIDS crisis was its height, and mainstream media portrayed queer life as a mockery or degenerate. Homophobia was virulent, too, as seen in Curve’s legal battles with French actress Catherine Deneuve, who sued the magazine over its founding name, Deneuve, over fear she be labeled a lesbian by her surname’s association with the mag.
To a certain extent, the life cycle of Curve signifies the price of admission that comes with greater societal acceptance: As the queer experience is folded into mainstream media, queer outlets are forced to reckon with obsoletion. Both Rainin and Medow agree that while there is greater LGBTQIA representation in TV and film, there’s still much progress to be made in the diversity of queer voices we find on both the big and small screens. But the filmmaking process for Ahead of the Curve was nothing short of revelatory for the pair, who are now in the process of forming their own production company. “It was a big a-ha moment for me,” said Rainin, “and I think it had a similar impact on Rivka to the point which now the two of us – having finished this film – have decided to continue to tell stories about strong queer women.”
Ahead of the Curve will be available Aug. 15-16 on aGLIFF’s Virtual Festival platform. There’s a live Q&A with director Jen Rainin, co-director/producer Rivkah Beth Medow, and Curve founder Frances “Franco” Stevens, Aug. 16, 4pm.
All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival presents aGLIFF 33: Prism streaming festival, runs through Aug. 16. Weekend passes $35. Tickets and info at www.agliff.org/agliff-33.