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Hammer's herstory.

Honored for three decades of extraordinary experimental film, filmmaker Barbara Hammer shows no signs of slowing

Barbara Hammer is the most prolific lesbian filmmaker in history: She's made 80 films and videos in her 30-year career. So why haven't more people heard of her? Maybe it's because her films have never played at your local multiplex--she hasn't yet made a mainstream narrative feature. But ask any of her colleagues, and it's easy to see that she's one of the most respected queer filmmakers around.

"Barbara has a very distinctive vision," says Sundance Film Festival programmer Shari Frilot. "She really is a quintessential experimental filmmaker--always moving forward, always making something fresh and challenging."

"It's been great to have her as a trailblazer and a role model," adds Academy Award-winning filmmaker Debra Chasnoff (It's Elementary).

Hammer is being honored this month at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, where she will be presented with the prestigious Frameline Award for outstanding achievement in lesbian and gay media arts. She'll also premiere her latest documentary, History Lessons, which she describes as "an experimental documentary that recontextualizes historical lesbian image--from the turn of the century to Stonewall."

"I started late," says the 61-year-old Hammer, taking a break in her New York studio from postproduction on the upcoming film. "I didn't start making 16-millimeter [films] until I came out. I was 30 years old and married and teaching at the community college in Santa Rosa. This woman came out in my [consciousness-raising] group, and I came out the next day--as soon as I heard the word `lesbian,' I was in bed!"

Hammer is responsible for some of the first lesbian-made films in history, including such landmark experimental shorts as Dyketactics (1974) and Women I Love (1976). "But early lesbian audiences didn't understand my work," she says, "because it was experimental, and nobody is schooled in experimental film. People wanted the traditional, and that wasn't what I was cut out to make in those days."

Hammer has been making films in abundance over the years and continues to display a passion for working in new forms of media. She started with 16-millimeter films in the '70s, created experimental video art in the '80s, and moved on to Web-based installations in the '90s. And she's kicking off 2000 with her first digital video feature documentary, Devotion--a historical investigation of a Japanese documentary filmmaking collective.

While Hammer's feature documentary efforts of the past decade, such as the gorgeous history triptych that began with Nitrate Kisses (1992) and continued with her autobiographical Tender Fictions (1995), have gotten somewhat wider distribution, she has always remained true to her avant-garde roots. And though History Lessons, the trilogy's final installment, probably won't end up in wide release either, Hammer's star is clearly rising. She's just returned from Taiwan for a retrospective of her work and is obviously very gratified by being honored in San Francisco. Reminiscing about her early years and the birth of the queer film movement, she remarks, "At the time I thought, `This is a role for me to fill.' And in 30 years, look how far we've come."

Find more on Popcornq and the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival at

Olson is a queer-film archivist-historian and is the producer of PlanetOut's PopcornQ: The Ultimate Queer Movie Web Site. She has been writing about gay and lesbian film since 1986.
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Title Annotation:lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer
Author:Olson, Jenni
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 20, 2000
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