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Get Your '!W.A.R.' On

AFS Documentary Tour: '!Women Art Revolution'

By Kate X Messer, April 8, 2011, Screens

"This film is the remains of an insistent history that refuses to wait any longer to be told." So begins the keen and agile narration of director Lynn Hershman Leeson in the intro of !Women Art Revolution. After a late-Sixties stint at the University of California at Berkeley, the artist/filmmaker began documenting her milieu – the very cacophonous pulse of the emergent feminist art revolution. This 83-minute film was born from 12,428 minutes, she says in the film, and shot across four decades. I talked with her about her choices in culling that footage.

Austin Chronicle: Your handling of internal struggles within the feminist art community as well as the fight against the established art world – especially the fission between feminism and minimalism – is direct but sensitive.

Lynn Hershman Leeson: I wanted to note the problems, but I didn't want to get into that negative underbelly. Only some of the people [were engaged in that] – not everybody. It's not meant to be an encyclopedic history. It's about freedom of expression and cultural history. The politics of the time and what was going on simultaneously were important from its genesis to its completion.

AC: The politics of filmmaking and distribution often encourage the sexy sound bite of polemics, but you avoid all that.

LHL: I didn't want to make a film where I sought out the divisiveness but rather [wanted to highlight] what these women accomplished, how inventive they were, how creative and courageous, hopeful in their own reinvention. It's easy to talk about negative things and show fights, but that's part of any movement. What isn't part of every movement is that it broke so much ground. [Women's art] had really not been erased from culture but was never in it. Their own reinvention resulted in changing culture.

I wanted the film to be inspirational. I looked at the women as heroic. Every time people mention feminism, people groan. They think it's going to be bitter, mean, angry. I wanted to break the stereotypes.

AC: Did you handpick Carrie Brownstein [Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag] to score the film?

LHL: My co-producer, Carla Sacks, represents Carrie. Originally I was going to use soundtracks of every era.

AC: She does a good job of creating a long arc of connection between those eras and feminists today. I just saw her new band, Wild Flag, at South by Southwest.

LHL: Yes! And that all happened because of this film. They needed a vocalist, so they called Mary [Timony of Helium and Autoclave], and that gave rise to this group.

AC: Wow! I did not realize that! That feels so torch-passy!

LHL: [laughs]

AC: In the film you address what is often dismissed as "the cutting-room floor." You have a project for the 12,345 minutes of extra footage, yes?

LHL: I created two things: the archive at Stanford where you can go and literally look at the complete archive of the interviews. It's over 400 hours, all transcribed and crosslinked.

There's also RAW/WAR, an installation where you can pull up a database of women, an ongoing, living archive that's part of the project [].

AFS Documentary Tour presents !Women Art Revolution on Wednesday, April 13, 7pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz (320 E. Sixth) with a Q&A with Lynn Hershman Leeson conducted via Skype. Tickets are $8, general admission; $5, AFS members and students with ID.

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