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What is lesbian film?

 Sunday, 4th March, 2018
Lisa Gornick

Words by Lisa Gornick

What is lesbian film? Does it need a label. Why is lesbian film labelled but straight film not. This happens in a diverse world where there is a dominant viewpoint. Watching a film in a cinema is a universal experience. It can teach us about ourselves. It can open ourselves up to experiences.  

I have to declare that I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me as a niche film can sometimes help an audience find the film in the pool of output. The niche helps programmers, distributors and audiences navigate through the numbers. However, there are certain lesbian films that remain small and unfunded and others that get funding immediately and receive awards.

Often an audience outside the niche won’t watch it as they feel it is not for them. But we learn from the experience of others. People in a niche are experiencing that all the time but this could be true for everyone. We need to understand each other more and film can be a way to do that.

Often a film will try and be what other films are in order to gain acceptance. If it tries something new, unless it has the stamp of a well known director (usually male) it can sway from the standard way of filmmaking. Otherwise there is a mainstream formula to follow in order to find acceptance. But often an audience is excited when something challenges them.

The niche can be so captivating. A successful straight male director will say, I can make a lesbian film thinking here is an opportunity to explore something out of himself. To luxuriate in a sexuality that is not his. His voice will also be clean of too much subjectivity or so it is thought.

A too prevalent viewpoint is that when lesbians make lesbian film it’s all about them, however when a straight man makes it, he can rise about the personal and make a truly objective beautiful film. Then this becomes the celebrated lesbian film. They become the male directors lesbian film that gets funding and wins awards, perhaps because in his hands they are deemed more safe. More controlled.

There has often been this sarcasm thrown at the lesbian film made by a lesbian. She’s talking about herself. But isn’t that a good thing and isn’t  that what all filmmakers do - even if they are making a genre film that on the surface doesn’t seem personal.

I would say this is about listening to voices and experiences. We need to let the personal come from the actual experience. Not get uncomfortable because it is too truthful. To move on from a place where anyone who is the not the dominant voice is kept on the sidelines. That their experiment is misunderstood or even silenced. We have to dismantle the lazy and incredibly destructive power games that have existed in filmmaking and beyond. A way is to let authentic voices and new ways of expressing them get a more light. It will enlighten us all.