Filmmaker Focus: Lynn Hershman Leeson

The AAFF is committed to championing bold, pioneering, and artistically-inspired filmmakers. And we're dedicated to bringing creative, quality content to our audience. This month we hear about a new project in development from Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose Strange Culture screens at the 46th AAFF on Saturday, March 29th at 10:00pm.

AAFF: What's your newest project about and what motivated you to make it?
LHL: The newest project is about the history of the feminist art movement and the impact it had on culture.  I began to shoot this footage nearly 40 years ago when I felt something important was going on.  Consequently I have all of the women who were part of this when they were 20, 30, 50, 70 and we see their aging as the movement progresses.  

It is more than just a film about art, it is about freedom of expression, it is about civil rights, it is about integration. It is a crucial element of culture that this innovative and insistent work found its way, after a long battle into our language of art. The struggles were enormous and inspiring. Tactical and funny.

AAFF: What's your approach and process for making this film?
LHL: The film shows the themes of the 60's and how the woman's movement, including the first demonstrations at the Miss America pageant, affected women, art and culture.  How the revolution in art happened, what it meant, what innovative forms occurred and how the women broke the glass ceilings that had denied access to the art world.  I have stories, incidents, performances, that no one knows happened.  I think this will tell this important story in a way no one else has been able to do.

AAFF: Is there anything unusual or different to how you've approached previous work?
LHL: I believe it is more accessible, probably more conventional in some sense.  But I wanted a broad audience and I have an editor working now who did the film Citizen King, an 8 hour epoch and I felt he understood the subtleties of prejudice that show up ini this film.  Actually not so subtle.  What is innovative is the distribution model.

I intend to put this all on line, all 300 hours, so people can access the entire interviews, not just a segment in the 90 minute version.  I also intend to have what i call a "womanpedia" a wiki that is robust enough to allow images and footage to be added, making the history and process ongoing, corrective and interactive.

AAFF: What are the objectives of your project, both internally (for yourself) and externally (for the world)?
LHL: My hope is that this will bring about a deeper understanding of the passion and courage of the first generation women who opened the gallery and museum doors to women.  It will clarify a history that is not only skewed but in many cases does not even exist.  Women on my crew were shocked to learn that even in 1960-70 most galleries would not show women.  

It is also a deeply affecting inspirational story of freedom, on many levels. In some cases this is the only footage that exists of important women, such as Marcia Tucker, the first woman curator, who founded the New Museum.

AAFF: What are the most challenging aspects of your project content, structure and/or story-wise?
LHL: I think the challenge is making it accessible, funny and moving, like most films.

AAFF: Have you discovered anything unexpected or surprising so far on this project?
LHL: Absolutely, I have found that young women have a deep thirst for this missing information.  They are moved and deeply appreciative any time they see some of this remarkable footage.   That is very gratifying.  

To find out more about Lynn Hershman Leeson, visit:

Posted on December 03rd, 2008