A collective portrait of feminist conversation 40 years ago and today.
Interview with Director/Producer Irene Lusztig
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
First and foremost, I wanted to try to create a radical experiment in feminist conversation. The film is based on an archive of letters sent to the editor of Ms. Magazine in the 70s, and I felt very drawn to the messy, diverse energy of the archive, and to the idea that there was this kind of wide-scale national conversation about feminism forty years ago that so many different kinds of people were participating in. The idea of bringing the letters out of the archive and inviting contemporary readers to perform and engage with the letters in communities all over the US was a kind of attempt to capture the energy and complexity of 70s feminism and to see how that energy might resonate in the present.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Unfortunately, most of the issues talked about in the letters from the 1970s are still the same issues that affect women and gender-nonconforming people right now: harassment, workplace discrimination, violence against women, body policing, racism, classism, homophobia, lack of inclusivity, lack of access to reproductive healthcare, every day sexism, and more. There is so much unfinished business for feminism, and I hope my film makes a space to think about how these important issues continue to reverberate across decades.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Many of the letters sent to Ms. were very intimate pieces of writing, where people talked about their personal lives and struggles. “The personal is political” is, of course, a well-known slogan that emerged from 70s feminism. It was first popularized by the publication of a 1969 memo by New York Radical Women founding member Carol Hanisch. Hansich used this phrase to defend the political value of the sharing work done in consciousness raising groups where women exchanged intimate stories about every day oppression and discrimination; she argued that collective, small-scale personal storytelling is, in itself, a radical political project with the potential to powerfully expose entrenched patriarchal structures (an idea that we have seen a recent return to with the #metoo movement). This idea is very much at the heart of my project. Through the process of voicing, listening, and having conversations about personal stories from forty years ago and today, my film argues for a politics of feminist conversation that is universal, timely, and urgent.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
I don’t ever work with a script at all! In order to stay interested in a project (over the multiple years that it takes me to make a feature length work), I need to stay open to questions that feel complicated, live, and constantly changing. My work always comes out of an engement with and openness to things that I encounter – out in the world, in my interactions with people, and places, in archives, and in the editing room, I never really know what a film will be until I’m almost finished making it. The film definitely got much bigger than I expected it to be when I started. Initially I thought I might make the whole project in one big city, like New York, but as I read letters in the archive from all over the US, I understood that it would be important to travel to different regions and communities to really represent how people in the US think and talk about feminism.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
For the most part, the film has been really warmly embraced – in many different countries and communities – and I’ve been very happy about that. I think people are surprised, when they watch the film, that it doesn’t feel boring or like an academic exercise (because on paper it sounds like a deeply researched project – which it is – people tend to assume that the film will be a dry, overly formal, or uninteresting viewing experience). People tell me they find the experience of watching the film really moving. I aspire to make work that makes people think and feel at the same time, so I’m always glad to hear this.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I wouldn’t say my own point of view has changed as I’ve started screening the film with audiences. What has been incredibly suprising is that the film has been shown in really big film festivals, like Berlin, Hot Docs, and London Film Festival. My experience with previous feminist work is that it is often very difficult to interest programmers in work about women. Cinema with feminist themes is often treated like “niche” work that doesn’t deserve a wider audience. So it’s been very exciting and heartening to see this film get a really big audience at major festivals. A lot of the most enthusiastic reviews of the film have been written by men. The audience for the film has been much bigger and more mixed than I imagined. I know some of this is lucky timing – while my project started in 2014, years before #metoo, I’ve released it at a moment where more people are open to this kind of work.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I’m happy to share the project with a community that supports work by women, POC, and queer filmmakers.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I have a wonderful distributor, Women Make Movies, and the film has already been showing in festivals. I’d love to do more small community screenings with the film, actually – to bring the film back to the communities where I filmed all over the US – and I hope to have more broadcast opportunities as well.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I hope it encourages viewers to have conversations of their own about feminism and women’s issues!
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
I think the film brings up a lot of questions about inclusion, and how we might make more robust, generous, and inclusive spaces to talk to people who may be different from us.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now
I filmed with 306 project participants, and only 27 of those readings are in the film. I’m now working on creating a companion web archive where I can share many more of the readings.
Interview: November 2018
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Yours in Sisterhood
A collective portrait of feminist conversation 40 years ago and today.
Length: 101 min
Director: Irene Lusztig
Producer: Irene Lusztig
About the writer, director and producer:
IRENE LUSZTIG is a filmmaker, visual artist, and archival researcher. Her film and video work mines old images and technologies for new meanings in order to reframe, recuperate, and reanimate forgotten and neglected histories.
Facebook: Yours in Sisterhood
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? At IDFA in Amsterdam