Tag Archives: documentary

Event: At the Helm: Women Filmmakers with María Teresa Rodríguez

At the Helm: Women Filmmakers


When: April 3, 2013

  • 5-7 pm: Master Class. 1408 Terra Hall
  • 8 pm: Film Screening. Connelly Auditorium, 806 Terra Hall

Where: University of the Arts, Terra Hall


The University of the Arts School of Film presents “At the Helm: Women Filmmakers,” a visiting artist program with special support provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The new program continues with a master class, film screening and Q&A session by award-winning filmmaker María Teresa Rodríguez.

“María Teresa Rodríguez: The Many Faces of Documentary” master class will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. in 1408 Terra Hall. The class is free and open to the public and the University community, but there is limited space and pre-registration is required. Please e-mail egoidel@uarts.edu to reserve your spot.

Beginning with clips from her short student works, which were screened internationally in film festivals, to her present day long form non-fiction, María will discuss the changing face of the documentary over the last decade, as well as touch upon funding, the film festival circuit, and distribution.

A screening of “Niños de la Memoria” will be held at 8 p.m. in Connelly Auditorium, 806 Terra Hall, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker. The screening is free and open to the public and the University community.

About Niños de la Memoria
Niños de la Memoria tells the story of the search for hundreds of children who disappeared during the Salvadoran Civil War. Many were survivors of massacres carried out by the U.S.-trained Salvadoran army. Taken away from the massacre sites by soldiers, some grew up in orphanages or were adopted abroad, losing their history and identity. Niños de la Memoria weaves together three separate yet intertwined journeys in the search for family, identity and justice in El Salvador, and asks the larger question: How can a post-war society right the wrongs of the past?

About María Teresa Rodríguez
María Teresa Rodríguez is a filmmaker, producer and teaching artist. Her work has won awards in film festivals around the world and has been broadcast nationally on PBS. She recently finished the ITVS & Sundance funded documentary “Niños de la Memoria/Children of Memory” with co-producer Kathryn Smith Pyle. The film, which received a LASA Award of Merit, is currently on the festival circuit. Her previous work includes “Mirror Dance/La Danza del Espejo” (with Frances McElroy), which was broadcast on the PBS Series Independent Lens, received a LASA Award of Merit, a Cine Golden Eagle Award, a First Place for Television Documentary award from the Society of Professional Journalists (Philadelphia Chapter) and was an Imagen Award Documentary Finalist. María worked with Vital Pictures and California Newsreel on the series “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” which was broadcast nationally on PBS and received a 2009 duPont- Columbia Award in Television and Radio News, a 2009 Council on Foundations Henry Hampton Award and a 2009 Communication Award in TV/Radio/Film from the National Academies. Other work includes: “From Here to There/De Aquí a Allá” which received a First Place Award for Short Documentary at the XVII International Film Festival of Uruguay and “Morningtide,” which won 11 awards internationally. María is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships including a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, an Independence Foundation Fellowship, and a Leeway Transformation Award which recognizes the work of women artists engaged in social change. She is a 2012 Fulbright Scholar.

Terra Hall

211 South Broad Street

Philadelphia, PA 19102

United States

Unclean, Complicated, and Dirty: The Multiplicity of Femme

What is femme? It’s a seemingly obvious question, but it has to be asked. The common understanding of femme is the lesbian femme, a lesbian cis-gendered woman differentiated from non-queer cis-gendered women by her sexuality alone. The femme is a stereotype; this is the definition Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sherman find in the Oxford English Dictionary (Coyote and Sherman 25). However, under the slightest scrutiny, this easy definition does not hold up. What makes a lesbian femme’s femininity different from that of a heterosexual feminine woman? Is it possible for a man, gay or not, to be femme? How does femme align with transgender identities? These questions challenge easy categorization and reveal a difficult truth. Femme is difficult—if not impossible—to locate. Femme defies definition, threatening a migraine of multiplicity. In “A Fem(me)inist Manifesto,” Lisa Duggan and Shannon McHugh begin with an avowal of contradiction: “We cannot begin with a definition; we cannot offer assurances of any kind. For ‘fem(me)’ is not an identity, not a history, not a location on the map of desire. The fem(me) body is an anti(identity)body, a queer body in fem(me)inine drag. The voices we record do not cohere. So of course we contradict ourselves…” (165). These contradictions are at the forefront of Elizabeth Stark and Kami Chisholm’s 2006 documentary FtF: Female to Femme. Each interviewee shares her personal views on what it means to be femme, and the documentary never imposes a master narrative of femme. Femme is multiplicity, and that multiplicity is its power.

FtF: Female to Femme presents femme as a transgender category. The documentary appropriates trans language. This is apparent from the title alone, which plays on familiar abbreviations for familiar trans categories, the MtF and FtM. The support group and few of the interviews employ the language of “transitioning” from female to femme. In one interview, Elizabeth Stark characterizes FtFs as an integral part of the transgender revolution. In the support group scene, Leslie Mah tearfully discusses “the shame that I had for my body” as a child and the feeling that she had been “born into the wrong body.” If these expressions sound familiar, that is because they are common lines from the trans master narrative. Talking about femme through a transgender lens certainly seems counterintuitive at first glance. Traditionally, we think of trans as an oppositional identity. The root word means across, beyond, or through; traditionally, trans means across, beyond, or through the gender binary, from one side to the other. At first glance, femme does not cross that line. Female femininity is the expectation, not an obvious subversion; this is, of course, the root of the trouble with femme, invisibility and erasure. Framing femme as a transgender category is a risky move, one that opens up the possibility for widespread criticism. While discussing FtFs as a transgender category seems to catch a shared internal emotional struggle, it fails to represent the external struggle. While Meliza Bañales may have been the scorn of the Santa Cruz lesbian community for daring to wear lipstick, there is a dramatic difference in the sort of violence she experienced as a femme to the violence trans individuals experience. The very invisibility of femme works to protect femmes from that violence. Certainly not all femmes would consider their femme identity a trans identity, but the dissonance of these contradictions–of the multiplicity of categorizations—is half the point.

Femme is also performance and masquerade. The FtF opens with a montage of quotes and scenes that reference drag. There are women zipping up dresses and putting on makeup—the “behind the scenes” steps in the construction of femininity. This inherently performative act references more traditional filmic representations of drag, such as Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning, which is later explicitly referenced. Unsurprisingly, the documentary relies heavily on Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Masha Raskolnikov discusses this, the way her mother inhabited the role of high femme, and how being femme is a process of performing an imperfect version of the feminine ideal. Following from Butler, Raskolnikov notes that everyone fails to mimic the gender ideal perfectly and comments that “that not quite achieving [of the feminine ideal] is what femme is about.” Later, Raskolnikov quotes Joan Riviere: “Genuine womanliness and the masquerade are the same thing.” So what is masquerade? In a summary of the female masquerade, Susan Hayward writes, “Masquerade functions as an avowal of difference” (132). In this application, masquerade functions as an avowal of difference in gender expression. That difference, however, is not located across the gender binary; rather, the difference exists in the proliferation of imperfect expressions of femininity. Reading femme as masquerade has broader implications. Duggan and McHugh write that the femme is “the performer who demands performance in return” (165). She presents a challenge to the gender binary itself. If femme is masquerade, then femininity is masquerade; and if femininity is masquerade, then all gender is masquerade.

What lies behind the conscious masquerade is a critique of traditional femininity, informed by the politics of feminism; for many femmes, being femme is an act of feminist resistance. One FtF interviewee cites femmes’ “awareness of what it means to construct femininity.” Guinevere Turner says there is a “level of irony” in femme femininity; femmes know they are “playing a role,” and they do it ironically. It is this irony that supposedly differentiates the lesbian femme from feminine heterosexual women, though this line is hardly stable. Regardless, femmes define themselves. They have agency; they are subjects, not objects. Bitch notes, “Being a strong femme… goes against what society expects of me.” In this sense, femmes inhabit a position of power traditionally afforded to masculine bodies. With femmes’ awareness of constructed femininity comes a critique of the easy femme stereotype. Jewelle Gomez discusses Cheryl Clarke’s 1982 poem “Of Althea and Flaxie,” a butch/femme couple that defies strict stereotypes. Flaxie is a femme who “loved to shoot, fish [and] play poker” (Clarke qtd. in Coyote and Sherman 68). Flaxie defies the notion that there is one stereotypical, easily identifiable femininity. Similarly, the femmes interviewed in FtF do not represent the mainstream hegemonic idea of femininity. They are not exclusively young, blonde, white, skinny, clean-cut Barbie doll wannabes. Yes, femme is makeup, dresses, purses, and an obsession with shoes, but femme is also tattoos, dreadlocks, lip rings, and punk rock. Femme femininity is multiplicitous. Furthermore, the multiplicity of femininities femmes inhabit mirrors the challenge of multiplicity in defining femme.

Meliza Bañales refers to her femininity as unclean, complicated, and dirty—and says she likes that. Defining femme is unclean, complicated, and dirty, but maybe that is the power of femme. It resists easy definition and embraces a multiplicity of viewpoints that privilege the experience of those who identify as femme. To them, femme is masquerade, trans category, gender identity, resistance, and irony all at once. Femme is unclean, complicated, and dirty. Femme means different things to different people, but those meanings share an awareness of their contradictions, an investment in progressive gender politics, and subversive potential.

Works Cited

Duggan, Lisa, and Kathleen McHugh. “A Fem(me)inist Manifesto.” Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity. Eds. Chloë Burshwood Rose and Anna Camilleri. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002. 165-70.

FtF: Female to Femme. Dir. Kami Chisholm and Elizabeth Stark. 2006.

Hayward, Susan. “Female Masquerade.” Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 132-134.

Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. Eds. Ivan E. Coyote and Zena SharmanVancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011. 23-26, 67-78, 310-12.


David Jackson

cover_rykoFebruary 23, 2013

In her piece titled Performing Race and Gender in Brazil, Lorraine Leu posits that the objectification of certain racialized and sexualized bodies is a component in the way that the dominating society forms its own national imagery by outlining a process of racial formation that highlights an overarching homogenizing nationalist project.  The creation of the freak, the cripple, and the rock star are designed to do the same work that a racialized sexuality does, sometimes in the same way, sometimes in a different way.

Who determines what is categorized as ‘freak’?  This subjective term requires a template of what is normal against which to define itself.  In a society of brown bodies, a white body would be looked upon as a freak.  In a Muslim world, the Christian is a freak.  The elemental criteria for freakdom is that it be an anomaly.  The same definition can be attributed to what describes an object of value.  Its very rarity is what gives it value.  This rarity has been “coveted, revered, and dreaded”, at times, all at once. (2, Thomson).  For a society that seeks to elevate itself as superior, it must form a sense of nationhood that depends upon a sense of unity and belonging that relies upon an essential sameness.  This is done by pointing out what is not the same.  This diversion from sameness allows for a politicizing of the freak body as society maps its concerns upon the freak body as a meditation on nationhood, and identity (2, Thomson).

The creation of the cripple does much of the same work in creating a homogenous imagery.  The cripple is the same as the freak in that its definition depends upon the template of what is not cripple.  However, the work that modern day handicapped politization does, does so with an illusion of inclusion that also allows for the formation of nationhood. What I mean by this is that while earlier categorizations of handicap worked much like freakdom is separating and highlighting its difference, modern day discourse works to pat itself on the back for allowing the inclusion of the cripple via accessible parking, pavement cutouts, accommodated seating in public venues, etc.  However this inclusion is mostly perfunctory, because it allows for the inclusion of a few and continues to exclude the larger body of the very community it claims to include.  The true work being done by modern day cripple accommodation is not the inclusion of a previously excluded group, but rather the continued perpetuation of a nationalist agenda that now seeks to “locate people with disabilities in a much larger, nationalistic narrative” of a “wonderfully American identity”  of diversity and able-bodiedness.   This new agenda isn’t so much for the disabled person as it is for the larger body politic (1, 2, McRuer, Wilkerson).

The rock star is a post industrial construct that allows society to continue to form nationhood by categorizing and defining what is different.  It also allows the continuation of societies desire to place the anomalous body on display.  The rock star allows for the adoration and propagation of the white heteronormative paradigm while simultaneously placing it into the role of the freak.  Therock star is both the same and yet not the same as the culture that it represents.  The rock star becomes the alpha representation of its society and is adored for what it represents and at the same time repulses for its excesses.  The subverted historical preoccupation with coveting the freak is now able to come full circle.  The colonizing society that has been fascinated by what is different is not able to create the illusion of itself as different and to worship itself for that difference and therefore no longer needs the freak.



Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie.  Freakery:  Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New

York: New York UP, 1996. Print.

Leu, Lorraine.  “Performing Race and Gender in Brazil”. Race/Ethnicity Vol. 4/No. 1.  Autumn


McRuer, Robert and Wilkerson, Abby L.  “Cripping the (Queer) Nation”.  Gay and Lesbian

Quarterly 9:1-2  Copyright 2003 Duke University Press.

Rockumentaries, Music Biopics, & Filmic Citations

Below are the clips I showed in class today: a collection of rockumentaries and music biopics (with a large amount of 70s gender-bending queerness), as well as the scene from Orson Welles’s 1941 Citizen Kane that is cited in Brothers of the Head. Also at the end are  some other music biopics/rockumentaries: two that are more “classic” versions centering white, male musicians (Gimme Shelter, No Direction Home), and some that seek to challenge the focus on white men in most music biopics/rockumentaries (Girls Rock!, Marley, Rise Above, What’s Love Got to Do with It, Ray). And last but not least is the rockumentary This is Spinal Tap.

The Runaways. Director Floria Sigismondi (2010):

Monterey Pop. Director D.A. Pennebaker (1968):

Velvet Goldmine. Director Todd Haynes (1998):

I’m Not There. Director Todd Haynes (2007):

Citizen Kane. Director Orson Welles (1941):

What’s Love Got To Do With It. DIrector Brian Gibson (1993):

Marley. Director Kevin Macdonald (2012):

Girls Rock! Directors Shane King & Arne Johnson (2008):

Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary. Director Tracey Flannigan (2004):

Ray. Director Taylor Hackford (2004):

No Direction Home. Director Martin Scorsese (2005):

Gimmie Shelter. Directors Albert Maysles, David Maysles, & Charlotte Zwerin (1970):

This is Spinal Tap. Director Rob Reiner (1984):