TMC @ the BFI’s 25th LLGFF: Five minutes with Anna Margarita Albelo and Lisa Gornick
Last week I was fortunate enough to find myself celebrating the 25th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival alongside my very own birthday shenanigans. Sleep would have to be a stranger for a couple of days if I wanted to squeeze in all that energy, entertainment and excitement, and keep the juicy bits. ( The sleep deprivation was totally worth it by the way, although I have to say I’ve only just about recovered.)
Kick-starting my Film Fest Experience was the Peccadillo Pictures Press Party on Saturday night, which I discovered was where all the attractive ladies had been hiding. Yes that’s right, all of them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a varied mix of beautiful sapphic lovers; all Goddamn! sexy in their own right. It was like a giant pick and mix; but without any of the seedy undertones that comparing a bunch of women to a bag of sweets might insinuate. It was far too sophisticated to be that kind of party; really daarling they served champagne. (Well not quite, but I did managed to bagsy myself a glass.) I have to say though, it really wasn’t the alcohol that was making my head spin.
With a Dictaphone in one hand and a notebook in the other I managed to wangle a quick interview with the hilarious Anna Margarita Albelo and Lisa Gornick: Owl Extraordinaires! Both ladies we there celebrating their latest feature The Owls and Hooters (Anna’s ‘more than just a making of’ documentary) So witty was their banter 5 minutes quickly turned into 15, which even quickerly (what? it’s a word!) turned into half an hour. By the end of the conversation I was ready to have Anna adopt me and take me home where I could continue to learn from her infinite older lesbian wisdom and have her nurture my young impressionable mind. *Platonic swoon*
If you’re as ignorant as me (seriously my LGBT film knowledge is d.i.r.e.) then you might not have heard of these lovely ladies until now. But believe me when I say they were making waves long before I’d even pooped my way out of Pampers. And it was pretty awesome to talk to them and hear their perspective on the Sapphic way of life, particularly as it’s a perspective I so rarely encounter. It’s one thing when your 20 year old student girlfriend grows dreads, burns all her bras and starts preaching about the need to bring down the patriarchal system, but these fabulous ladies were actually there. Well maybe not burning bras but they were at least alive during the 70s and 80s, and aware enough to witness the shifts in lesbian culture throughout the times. I mean how awesome is that?! Yep you guessed it, I was pretty much gushing for the entire interview.
The Owls plays on this kind of older vs younger lesbian dynamic. Do you believe such a friction exists between the generations in real life?
Anna: I wouldn’t classify it as old vs. young and I wouldn’t say it’s a friction. Both films [The Owls and Hooters] are just about people expressing their opinion, and they’re situated at a certain age with a certain experience. I think what Deak says as a younger lesbian is as valid and important and true as what Cheryl Dunye says, or even what Lisa Gornick says as an English person. Its not a friction, it’s a breakdown in communication in a community that was once a community. In the last ten, fifteen years there’s been a breakdown in the concept of passing down and sharing cultures.
Lisa: [interjects] Yeh, but is there a friction between the ages? Yes there is. I think that sadly lesbian and gay culture copies the ageism that is in society. I think there is there’s an ageism that all people have [Anna shakes head] you don’t agree?
Anna: I would say there’s still a problem with lesbophobia. Lesbian is still an ugly word, whereas dyke, queer, fag all these words have been revolutionised and reclaimed. But lesbian is still like a horrific word and we as culture makers are still fighting to make it cool or hip. Even dyke has become a fun cool empowering word whereas lesbian is still like eugh!
Lisa: [grabs tape recorder and stated very firmly] There’s a lot of ageism in society and I don’t like it.
Anna: [finally agreeing] Ageism is something that has recently been introduced in the last 10 years. When I was 18 it was like we were all aspiring to be like the older lesbians. You had to be knowledgeable enough for them to allow you to even talk to them. You had to know about lesbian culture. But by the end of the 90s you could see a breakdown in culture, even with film festivals, you could see lesbian film programming started to veer towards romantic comedies and lesbian films had to have two hot girls kissing or a sex scene otherwise they wouldn’t be considered lesbian. When we were coming out there wasn’t that conflict of older vs younger…
Lisa: There was a bit…
Anna: But we don’t look after the young generation like we did before.
Lisa: I would if they let me. What is age anyway? It’s just a shoe size.
[Anna starts to sing, doing a startlingly accurate imitation of Prince ‘Act your age hunny, not your shoe size!’ She then leans into the tape recorder and states in a serious voice. ‘Don’t forget to buy toilet paper, Charmin. Not the expensive one, the cheap one.’ I’m impressed she’s heard of Charmin.]
What inspired you to make Hooters?
Anna: What inspired me was that there were all these amazing women; Sarah Schulman , Lisa Gornick, Guinevere Turner: you know she did Go Fish, she acted in it and wrote it then five years later she wrote the screenplay for American Psycho and she wrote the first season of The L Word. And Sarah Schulman, she wrote for Village Voice about AIDs in the ‘80s, and she’s one of the founding members of Act Up you know. People might watch Owls and say oh she’s bitter about the young but she’s not, she created the Dyke March. Sarah, Guinevere, Lisa and Deak [Evgenikos], all these talented women, film makers coming together and saying I’m gonna hold the mic, I’m gonna hold the boom, lets all get together and create something. When do you hear about a lesbian film that’s trying to be an important lesbian film? Today it’s all about filling up the seats, hot girls, who’s a la mode right now, who can we cast?
[Interruption from Campbell X, the creator of Stud Life who also played a part in the collaboration and has been sitting on the steps quietly listening] The commercialisation of lesbian culture has led to a taking on of hetero-normative behaviour; we’ve forgotten our feminist dyke roots. [Pensive words. Everyone pauses for a moment. And then someone gets out some cigarettes.]
Lisa: We’re gonna set off the smoke alarms.
Anna: It’s too cold to go outside
We should probably move [I say it hesitantly looking up at the small white smoke alarm situated directly above our heads. We shuffle along the landing a little bit, before resuming; Lisa takes this opportunity to pop off back to the party. She does not return.]
What sort of appeal do you think art that deals with LGBT issues might have to a hetero/wider audience?
Anna: It’s a question of mentality, period. Why does Vietnamese culture interest people, or Italian culture? Why do people watch porn films, or why do they care about Pakistani British stories or chutney popcorn or Latino stories from New York? It makes up everything. It’s about the size, the scope of what you’re doing. I make lesbian films because as lesbians I feel we haven’t motivated our base. There’s the Alliance Français to preserve French culture all over the world. There’s the Goethe Institute to preserve German culture. Lesbian is not a subculture; it’s a culture. It’s a perspective; there are brilliant lesbian artists, writers, filmmakers. The definition is not two girls kissing or two women having sex, it’s about people who have lived lives with certain perspectives. It’s like the immigrant story. If we care about the different make up of cultures in America, England, France, anywhere, and we wanna hear these stories, it should be the same with gay and lesbian culture. The problem is that we have been diabolicised because up until ‘75 it was a mental illness so we have a very short history of not being a mental illness. But we’re as much an important culture as German or French.
So how do you imagine a lesbian base might be built up?
Anna: Thanks to The L Word a lot of awareness has been raised just by it bringing out lots of women who are lesbians. Before Hooters I did a film A Lez in Wonderland about the Palm Springs Dinah Shore Weekend. I talked to ninety-two women on camera and many more and there was like maybe 5 or 8% that you might consider the movers and shakers that did lesbian things in London, Paris, NY, you know. The majority, the other 90 plus% were just trying to fucking get on with their lives, find a women they can fall in love with, try to live a good life without getting their asses kicked and try to make a better life for themselves. The thing is the L Word raised a lot of awareness but there’s so little lesbian stuff that reaches a wider audiences, even something like this [LLGFF] could be gone next year, and that shows how precarious our culture is. But it’s still only attracting the same 5 to 7% that go to clubs or went to clubs 5 years ago when they were 25. We have to acknowledge that the only thing we have in common is that we love other women. But at the same time its like being a certain nationality, the only thing you have in common is that you were born on the same piece of land.
So what do you think the problem is? Why isn’t lesbian culture viewed in the same way?
Anna: There needs to be more contact with the masses. I wish Hooters could be on HBO, ABC, Channel 4, MTV [she tells me of a recent letter she received politely declining her request for it to be scheduled] They’re not showing it and yet where are all the lesbian documentaries? There are very few filmmakers making anthropological documentaries about lesbian culture. When I came out I knew who Andrea Dworkin was, I knew about Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames and I was a Cuban girl from Miami that went to the beach every day. When I started college I read Judith Butler. Do lesbians today or in the last 10 years do that? I don’t know? Do we make contact? Are we exclusively only meeting each other in bars and clubs, where there’s a separation of contact?
When I came out in 1988 it was all about tea and house parties and nature, not nightclubs and alcohol. I mean that’s a big generalisation and I’m not being sarcastic; that was my real experience. When the ‘90s came, it stopped being about tea and started to become about alcohol, instead of house parties and nature it became about nightclubbing and sex, which I love, but that doesn’t change the fact there’s still this breakdown in meeting places. If I was twenty-two today and I really got into women’s studies and feminist studies where can I go? In the last 10 -12 yrs women’s bookstores, lesbian bookstores have being closing in New York, London, Paris. Where do you meet because before it was bookstores and coffee shops and they’d organise events and readings. If it’s only bars and clubs then what you end up with is a very superficial, kind of money making thing. Where can we meet to talk about Virginia Woolf? How can I talk to a younger woman without her thinking I’m hitting on her cos we’re in a bar or a club? And the money element makes it expensive. How can I financially go out to meet people? There’s a breakdown in meeting places a breakdown in knowing and that is part of the issue that Owls and Hooters attempt to draw attention to.
The OWLs and HOOTERS will be released on 6th June by Pecadillo Press. For all you eager beavers you can preorder from Amazon right here.
Next Time: TMC Reviews The Owls and Hooters – will it live up to Anna’s hype?