The Heretics: Film Invigorates Feminism, Art, Politics

The Heretics: Film Invigorates Feminism, Art, Politics

by Ariel Dougherty

Exuberance and bravado! Gumption and sweat! Vision and breadth! These are among the many elements that composed the literal collective experience of 28 women who came together in 1977 to produce one of the truly dynamic womens publications to emerge from the Womens Liberation Movement.

That publication was Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics. The energy and commitment lasted 15 years and produced 27 issues, which are viewable online. Today the rosy cheeks, bright eyes and continued high energy and creativity of these women is deeply invigorating.

In the new film, The Heretics, Joan Braderman, filmmaker, professor and one of the collective members, takes her camera crew on the road — from New Mexico to Venice — to revisit her collective sisters. Now ages 54 to 84, in ones and threes, the women gather in homes, studios and worksites. With the same excitement and freshness that they brought to the publication, the women recant the tale of how and why they came together, made content decisions and physically cut and pasted the publication into being, issue after issue.

While a history, Braderman breaks way out of any formal mold. Starting with personal narrative, yet instilling a dynamic group process, a new kind of collective gemoir unfolds.

Building from the rich and imaginative graphics of the publication itself and old photos, Braderman animates (via talents of Sarah Clark and Molly McLeod) the women when younger, enlivening some of their critical political points. An amusing yet informative history bursts through in this experimental spark. Tight-framed head shots filmed by camerawoman Lily Henderson — adoringly contain the women like loving arms. Angled here and there, these smart women maintain a constant conversation as though all were still in one room.

This dynamic is skillfully crafted by editors, Kathy Schermerhorn and Scott Hancock, as the women discuss how we have to do it ourselves (Marybeth Edelson) and the engagement and passionthat is what I still hunger for (Harmony Hammond). Viewers are drawn back into their powerful collective and consciousness raising processes–processes that made Heresies provocative, highly productive and stimulating for collective and readers alike.

Pat Steir, noted painter, stands on a tall ladder dwarfed before a gigantic red field painting, as Braderman asks: Who was the first person who told you (that) you painted like a man Steir, brush in hand, laughs, pauses ever so briefly and turns to the camera: A man! she states emphatically.

Bradermans series of questions to the women are sharp and pointed, shaping a series of ah-has that so many women experienced via consciousness raising groups. The sequences inform the viewer that feminism is a process on a continuum. The personal is political learning moments form bridges to new plateaus as women de-robe the myths they were brought up with or that persist within patriarchal culture, and collectively delve into new truths.

Consistent with a Braderman trademark in earlier films, she analyzes mainstream media. For The Heretics, she composes TV news anchor vignettes in the corner of the frame in which the anchor expounds something horrific about women or feminists. A lightening bolt strikes them off the screen.

The enthusiasm is infectious, such as when performance artist Marty Pottenger exclaims about the naming of the publication, There were 300 written namesI have the list.and Heresies was one of them! And it bubbles over in heartfelt joy when Miriam Schapiro reads an Adrienne Rich writing, and at the end comes back to the phrase: the power to name. Viewers are reminded about Schapiros own vital contribution here: Femmage = Female + Collage.

The Heretics captures a fertile and effervescent past that is a model for young activist-artists of today. Couldnt we all, old and young alike, benefit from some dazzling, politically savvy, visually dynamic new collectively made television show One that combines news and culture, opinion and analysis And looks into ourselves

Without documenting our own cultural and political process, we do not have a movement. Thanks to Braderman and her savvy crew, in The Heretics, we have a compelling powerhouse example of feminisms creative force both in the history on the screen and the makers of the history.

The Heretics, directed by Joan Braderman, produced by Crescent Diamond; 95 minutes.
Watch the trailer.

October 23, 2009

Ariel Dougherty, a media maker and advocate, is the initiator of the Media Equity Collaborative. She lives in New Mexico.

Also see Women in the Arts: How They Can Change Your Life by Barbara Kahn in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See Third Wave Video Art: Sarcastic and Serious by Heather MacGibbon in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.