Stories of Love, War, and Addiction: Lesbian Cinema at the Fort Lauderdale Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

Psychotic or dead—that has often been the story for a LBT woman or girl on film.  Her stories were a cautionary example—meant to serve a purpose.  They were never meant to give her a voice.


Tomboy, The Night Watch and Hit So Hard are three films where she actually shares her story.

Directed by Céline Sciamma, Tomboy is a French drama about Laure (Zoé Héran), a ten-year-old girl with short hair who wears T-shirts and cargo shorts.

She has a loving, stable family—a father (Mathieu Demy) who shows her how to drive a car and provides her first sip of beer (remember, they’re French), a mother (Sophie Cattani) on maternity leave getting ready to give birth to a son, and six-year-old sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana), who has long curly hair and wears pink tutus—the feminine counterpart to Laure’s boyishness.

Reminiscent of Drew Barrymore as a child, Jeanne is six going on thirty-five, acting as Laure’s confidant and protector.

In the middle of summer, the family moves to an apartment where the neighborhood kids play in the woods nearby.  When Laure goes to meet them, she encounters Lisa (Jeanne Disson)—a tall girl with long brown hair, the girl that everyone wants to impress—including Laure who introduces herself as a boy named Mikael.

As Mikael, Laure becomes more of who she is—the confident soccer star with the neighborhood boys.  There’s one embarrassing accident during a pee break, but Mikael gets inventive at hiding gender.  Before they go swimming, a one-piece bathing suit is turned into a pair of trunks and Play-Doh is put to creative use.

Exhausted by the subterfuge, Mikael retreats into an earlier childhood at home, sucking his thumb, finding comfort with his father and sister.

He does win Lisa’s affection—the first relationship outside of his family where he finds trust and acceptance.

But as the “truth” of his assigned gender comes out, Mikael’s family and friends decide whether to stand by him.  Although Tomboy comes to a resolution, Mikael’s story is left unfinished as he moves towards adolescence.

This unfinished quality does not take away from the artistic cohesiveness of Tomboy.  Instead, it adds another perspective—one that asks us to consider—where does a story end or begin?

The Night Watch asks the same question—but with a more experimental story structure.  Richard Laxton directs this British film, set during and after World War II in 1940s London.  Based on a Sarah Waters novel, the story starts in 1947, then literally rewinds to three years in the past, then to three years before that, and fast forwards back to 1947.

At first, it’s uncertain what has happened and how the central characters relate to each other.

We are introduced to Kay (Anna Maxwell Martin), a comfortably out lesbian; Vivian (Jodie Whittaker), a woman having a long-term affair with a married man; Vivian’s brother, Duncan (Harry Treadaway), a gay man recently out of prison; and Helen (Claire Foy), a closeted lesbian, one of Vivian’s co-workers at a meet-up agency for singles.

At the start of The Night Watch, the main character, Kay, aimlessly walks through London, smoking cigarettes.  Dressed in a coat, tie and pants, her hair shorn, she is taken for a man.  We learn of her work as a paramedic during the war—a position previously reserved for men.  There’s clearly empowerment, but one of Kay’s friends cynically observes:  “Looking like a man doesn’t give you the same rights.”

After the war, Kay is left with a loss of purpose, and the loss of a lover taken not by the bombings, but by an ex-girlfriend.  As a paramedic who witnesses the war’s devastation, Kay is acutely aware of how her situation compares—yet, she knows no balm for her distress.

The disjointed narrative in The Night Watch may lose some viewers, but it mirrors the chaotic nature of war.  When the story finally comes together—there is order and connection.

Another kind of chaos and order are seen in the documentary Hit So Hard:  The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel, directed by P. David Ebersole.  The former drummer of Hole, an addict in recovery, a lesbian, and funny as hell, Schemel’s wry twisted humor turns up when she talks about addiction:  “I took a trip to… crack heroin island and stayed out there for a long time.”

In the documentary, former Hole bandmate, guitarist Eric Erlandson, shares his theory that drummers are comedians.  Schemel’s video camera footage from the 90s gives further evidence of her funny streak—she plays to the camera, makes faces, dances.

Hit So Hard also includes recent interviews with Schemel’s other bandmates:  Courtney Love Cobain and Melissa Auf der Maur.

Also featured—videotape from the Live Through This tour in the 90s. One clip shows Courtney stage-diving into an audience that strips her of a slip-as-dress and stockings.  Carried back on-stage, wearing a black bra with a torn strap and black panties, she holds her ground:  “You do that to all the guys?”

Schemel doesn’t directly address feminism, but there is an undercurrent of female empowerment with other musicians interviewed for the documentary — Gina Schock from the Go-Go’s, Kate Schellenbach from Luscious Jackson, folk singer Phranc who says “…the grunge movement took all their fashion from…1970s lesbians… the jeans, the flannel shirts… it’s lesbian feminist fashion.”

During production of Hole’s second album Celebrity Skin, Schemel’s producer and bandmates replaced her with a session drummer—“Johnny One-Take” as Schemel calls him.  In the years that followed, she left the band and her sobriety by the wayside, ended up homeless.

Hit So Hard interviews Schemel at different stages of her latest sobriety which covers five years.  In some ways, the story of recovery is an unfinished story, an ongoing effort.

Three films, three voices of substance and emotional complexity.  For those interested in the real voices of women—start here.


The Manor - IVY Room
October 15, 2:30 p.m.

Hit So Hard
The Manor - IVY Room
October 15, 4:30 p.m.

Closing Film: The Night Watch
The Manor - IVY Room
October 16, 5:30 p.m.

Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
October 13 - 16, 2011
Visit for more information and tickets

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