SuperWomen: Conversations with the Real Action Figures is a collection of interviews with seven astounding women who have an extensive history of working in film and video. Interviews will feature: Marjorie Beaucage, Christene Browne, Sylvia Hamilton, Maria Teresa Larrain, Michelle Mohabeer, Leila Sujir, and Zainub Verjee in conversation with Midi Onodera.
During the first wave of identity politics, multiculturalism, and at the tail end of the second feminist wave in the late 1980s/early 1990s, there were an increasing number of women artists and filmmakers who explored media production as a creative tool to tell their stories. The landscape of film and video production in Canada from artist-run centres to the mainstream film industry was dominated by white heteronormative concerns and discriminatory practices. Voices of women, BIPOC, Queer, Indigenous and racialized artists were often unheard or silenced.
As a young lesbian, eager to burst through the closet door, I was compelled to explore my place in world though the moving image. I drew strength and inspiration from the expanding feminist cannon of independent filmmaking. Filmmakers such as Joyce Weiland, Lesley Thorton, Barbara Hammer, Kay Armatage, Judith Doyle, Anna Gronau, Michaelle McLean and countless others. But as much as these incredible women and their films moved me, I never saw someone who looked like me reflected back from the screen. I was invisible and I understood that it was up to me to change this.
I shared this burning desire to reclaim the screen with other “marginalized” women. (It is important to note that this term was used as a descriptor which positioned BIPOC, Queer, Indigenous and racialized artists on the margins of the dominant white culture and not necessarily as one that we saw ourselves as). In some ways it felt like a euphoric time, community building, shared stories and experiences, demands for systemic change, new sources of multicultural funding. But it was not an easy time. There were heated arguments and disagreements on how to implement different programs and create accessibility. Creative clashes, competing voices, hierarchies of oppression.
Some of us got burnt out. Stopped making films and videos. Our personal lives and commitments took priority. It’s been three decades since this volatile, energizing, explosive time. We are all older, I for one, know my memory is faulty. But as many of us continue to make moving image work today, embracing new technologies, playing with different forms of dissemination and community outreach, it is important to take a moment and reflect on where we were, where we are now and where we might go in the future. This is our history, it rests in the memories of those who were there, the community publications like the monthly LIFT newsletters, the rare mentions in publications and our personal archives.
There are other women I would have liked to have had conversations with. Women who were a part of that time, did the work and contributed to our rich history. Here are just a few more of these incredible SuperWomen: Claire Prieto, Premika Ratnam, Fumiko Kiyooka, Glace Lawrence, Helen Lee, Brenda Joy Lem, Franci Duran, Daisy Lee, Loretta Todd, and of course our “grandmother”, Alanis Obomsawin. Besides the amazing racialized, and Indigenous women, there were also strong feminists who stood alongside us, worked with us, helped to pull open the doors so we could push from the other side. Thank you to Marusya Bociurkiw, Lynne Fernie, Rina Fraticelli, Ginny Stikeman and so many others. This is by no means an exhaustive list of video artists and filmmakers, (and because I live in Ontario – I know it’s focused from this perspective) but I suggest that you do some research, discover your own past, and uncover the forgotten stories, before it’s too late. We must continue to foster intergenerational conversations, ask questions and imagine our future. Looking at the ground that you stand on will only create a richer filmic tapestry for us all.