Sapphic Celluloid

Lesbian indie films give new implications to the juxtaposition of 'butch' and 'Sundance.'

There is a certain age at which every lesbian must declare she's had enough dyke drama to last a lifetime, so thank god drama is not what the Lesbian Looks Film and Video Series focuses on. There is the fact that all of your ex-girlfriends and your present girlfriend's ex-girlfriends could be sitting in the same room with you during the screenings, but that's not drama, that's a milestone event.

A more celebratory public milestone, however, will be established this year as Lesbian Looks marks its 10th anniversary. The series, founded in 1993 by Janet Jakobsen and Beverly Seckinger, was originally conceived as an outreach effort for the then-fledgling University of Arizona Committee on Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Studies. The committee was the first group on campus whose goal was to promote queer scholarship, as distinguished from issues of queer rights or support services. And it is academic, indeed! Jakobsen is now the director of the Barnard College Center of Research on Women, Seckinger is an associate professor in the UA media arts department ... and Lesbian Looks is, if not canonical, an accepted part of Tucson's arts landscape.

Launched on a budget of ... well, imagine a few lattes ... the first year was an overwhelming success. "We handed out some flyers," says Seckinger, "and didn't really know what to expect." What they imagined might be a handful of people turned out to be a packed auditorium. Apparently, there was a need. So they did it again a year later, except thinking it would be more inclusive, they called the series Queer Looks. "The films played to a room with about 10 people in it," says Seckinger, which says something about focus groups in marketing.

Since then, it's been Lesbian Looks and Lesbian Looks only. And what exactly does that mean?

It means that the series features film and video that is primarily by and for lesbians. It also means these are films we couldn't otherwise see in Tucson. Queer films are often independently produced, on exceedingly tiny budgets, and for those reasons, aren't going blockbuster with a slick press packet and theme-oriented promo items (where did that light-up magic crystal necklace from Atlantis get to, anyway?).

These are films that push boundaries--of content, of aesthetics and of what an audience can learn to stop thinking about. Because, ultimately, the audience is experiencing an art form. Can the film be what the film is? Can the fact that a writer, director, actor or protagonist is lesbian not become the issue?

Granted, the world has changed in 10 years. You might wonder, after gays in the military debates, after Ellen (the show, of course, since in reality there wasn't an extant lesbian couple--can you believe Ellen didn't see that coming?) and the current requirement for a gratuitously gay character on each and every TV sitcom, whether a series of this nature is necessary. Seckinger points out that, despite these advances in awareness of queer issues, mainstream film industry moguls still perceive audiences as non-gay. And though Ellen may feature an out character, there's more lacking than dates and kissing. What doesn't emege once the show is run through the commercial TV mill is a diversity of queer points of view.

I suggest you be your own judge. And opening night of Lesbian Looks is a good place to start. With an attention-span-friendly evening comprising seven international shorts from the U.S., U.K. and Australia, you might not even mind if the evening does a Groundhog's Day loop.

Notable among the shorts are Jennifer Thuy Lan Phang's dysfunctional family dinner turned coming-out party, Love Ltd., and a couple of archetypal/not tales of the one-night-stand-that-got-complicated. In the latter category you'll find Samantha Bakhurst and Lea Moremont's 4 P.M., which nabbed a showing at Sundance's famous indie film showcase. Another Sundance short, Nicole Kassell's The Green Hour, is also on the menu, which kicks off Saturday, February 2 at 7:30 in the UA's Modern Languages auditorium.

The following Thursday, February 7, join the 10th-anniversary reception at Wingspan from 6 to 8 p.m. There will be hors d'oeuvres, music by Tucson's fab four, Betty Diamond (see Seckinger in her bass-playing mode), and a retrospective of clips from Lesbian Looks' 10 years. It's quite possible you'll also have a chance to meet Joan Nestle, political and sexual Bad Girl and the subject of the next film in the series. Nestle will be in town for the February 9 screening of Hand on the Pulse, Joyce Warshow's new biodoc on Nestle's career as author, teacher, activist and cofounder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

On February 23 the series continues with A Boy Named Sue and Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Haunted Body, co-sponsored by TGNet Arizona. And the series closes on Friday, April 19 with a special co-sponsored showing of My Left Breast.

Seckinger points out that the longevity of the series has allowed for a more a comprehensive application and solicitation process, as well as for collaboration with other groups. The result is finer-quality films and an expanded audience. Beyond the natural affinity of the series with indie and short films, the organizers have been able to forge relationships with organizations such as the Lesbian Cancer and Health Project, which is this year's co-sponsor for the final event. My Left Breast is Gerry Rogers' award-winning diary of illness and recovery, which will intimately acquaint viewers with the rooms and treatments and defiance required to combat cancer.

Patti Smith once said (I paraphrase) she would like to conjure an obsession so powerful that its object disappears. In other words, to create a work of art. This year's Lesbian Looks series seems like a good place to wrestle your preconceived notions of what are issues and what non-issues, and see what artful surprises emerge.

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