Re-writing History: Writer-Director Francis Lee on unsung queer romance
23 February 2021
A few years have passed since Francis Lee came to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but he...
We’re about halfway through the Black Box experimental strand – we’ve seen some wonderful films and had thought-provoking discussions with filmmakers. If you haven’t yet caught any of the shorts programmes get yourself over to Filmhouse this weekend as they’ll all have a second screening. George Clark (A Distant Echo) and Steve Sangeudolce (Land of Not Knowing) are also still in town to present their feature films – both equally captivating.
But I’m currently gearing up for Saturday evening’s events with Lizzie Borden – a pivotal figure in the history of feminist filmmaking. I’ve been thinking a lot about a flippant question I was asked last year in the lead up to the screening of Borden’s Regrouping: ‘Is feminism still relevant today?’ The question left me reeling, and I won’t write here the response that immediately came to mind! To my mind, feminism will ALWAYS be relevant, inasmuch as it represents a wider struggle for equality. When we look at current world events it’s clear that this struggle is far from over. In fact, it’s just beginning.
Last year’s events, which included discussions with the legendary feminist scholar Laura Mulvey, as well as the filmmaker Sarah Turner, put EIFF’s engagement with these themes back on the agenda. And how timely it was! The day of the Regrouping Discussions happened to be the day of the Brexit result and I remember clearly how we hugged and consoled each other outside the Traverse theatre, talking about how to move forwards and how important it was to come together to celebrate and debate the centrality of art to politics and social struggle. On Lizzie’s last night in Edinburgh we chatted about Donald Trump and the chances of him winning the campaign. We thought they were slim. Five months later he was elected President of the United States. Is feminism still relevant? I’ll let you ponder that.
A year on and Lizzie is making her way back to Edinburgh as I write this. This time she’ll be presenting Born in Flames – THE quintessential feminist film and part of Niall Greig Fulton’s ‘The Future is History’ retrospective. The fact that it hasn’t yet been included in the ‘BFI Classics’ series of books is baffling, but that’s another topic … The film continues some of the themes of Regrouping, but sets the film in an imaginary future, where a socialist government has been established in the United States but women are still repressed, harassed, humiliated. A Women’s Army rises up, determined to use any means necessary to crush the status quo. It’s a science fiction of sorts, but only in the sense that it conjures up a fantasy scenario – where a gang of women with bikes and whistles emerges from nowhere to rescue a woman being harassed on the street. The film has recently been restored in 35mm by Anthology Film Archives and has been making its way around world in the past year. This is a special opportunity to experience the powerful and unforgettable classic here in Edinburgh. To quote one of the characters in the film:
‘It is not only the story of women’s oppression, it is the story of sexism, racism, biogotry, nationalism, false religion and the blasphemy of the state controlled church, the story of environmental poisoning and nuclear warfare. Of the powerful over the powerless, for the sake of sick and depraved manipulations that abuse and corner the human soul like a rat in a cage. It is all of our responsibilities as individual and together to examine and to re-examine everything, leaving no stones unturned […] The scope and capabilities of human love are as wide and encompassing as this vast universe that we swirl in. One for all, and all for oneness.’
Following the screening I’ll be hosting a discussion with Lizzie (Lizzie Borden – In Person) on the genesis of Born in Flames, its relationship to Regrouping, the theme of women’s groups, and its engagement with feminism. She’s recently unearthed diaries and reflections from 1979, a key year in the planning of the film. She’ll be talking about this, as well as her relationship with the New York art scene in the 1970s and ‘80s. It’ll be a fascinating discussion following a truly electric film.
It feels strange that the film was restored by Anthology Film Archives in 2016, which happens to be the call letters of Radio Ragazza: 2016 on the dial. 2016 inaugurated the year of rage in the USA and around the world. It’s bizarre because I never intended for Born In Flames to be seen as ‘dystopian’. It looks like it is because New York has been cleaned up and the New York of the film is so gutted, so destroyed, bomb-destroyed, as if time-in-reverse. Seeing it now reawakens my rage – so little has changed! Speaking to women after screenings connects me to a younger generation, some of whom are politicized for the first time after a couple of generations of women who rejected the label of feminism. I am stunned that Born In Flames has this relevance and it is my turn to listen.
- Lizzie Borden
A Distant Echo - Thu 29 July | 18:10 | Odeon 4
Land of not Knowing - Fri 30 July | 18:10 | Odeon 4
Born in Flames - Sat 01 July | 18:00 | Filmhouse
Lizzie Borden: In Person - Sat 01 July | 20:45 | Traverse Theatre
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