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Documentary Film  
 
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Barbara Hammer's experimental documentaries, Women I Love (1979), Multiple Orgasm (1976), and Double Strength (1976) are highly autobiographical, employing abstract images to investigate the filmmaker's sexuality and relationships with other women.

In the hour-long Tender Fictions (1995), Hammer sketches a complex personal and cultural autobiography from the events surrounding her life, including footage from Shirley Temple movies, the AFL/CIO faculty strike at San Francisco State College, the San Diego Women's Music Festival, and the "Take Back the Night March" in San Francisco.

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Su Friedrich's film Rules of the Road (1993) is both oblique and engaging. Featuring images of Friedrich's car traveling roads, with minimal narration, the film traces the growth and deterioration of a long-term relationship.

The Documentarian as Auteur

Several queer filmmakers working in the documentary form have produced distinctive and unified bodies of work that sets them apart from other documentarians. Three such filmmakers include Marlon Riggs, Stuart Marshall, and Arthur Dong.

The six films directed by Marlon Riggs--Ethnic Notions (1987),Tongues Untied (1989), Affirmation (1990), Anthem (1990), Color Adjustments (1992), No Regrets (1992), and Black is...Black Ain't (1994)--center around issues of representation. They explore the ways in which mass media institutions control images of African Americans and investigate the complexities of black gay identity.

Stuart Marshall's four films--Bright Eyes (1986), Desire: Sexuality in Germany 1910-1945 (1989), Comrades in Arms (1990), and Over Our Dead Bodies (1991)--are unique in their broad conceptualization of issues. They are also remarkable for their ability to connect different perspectives within a single film. Marshall's Bright Eyes was the first feature length documentary on AIDS.

Critics praise Arthur Dong for his extensive and shrewd historical and cultural analysis, and for the intensity that he brings to such subjects as men murdering gays (Licensed to Kill, 1997), gays and lesbians in the army during World War II (Coming Out Under Fire, 1994) queer rights (The Question of Equality: Out Rage '69, 1995), and gender-bending entertainment in a Chinese nightclub of the 1930s and 1940s (Forbidden City, 1989).

Boundless Paths of Inquiry

Queer documentarians have also rigorously pursued difficult, hidden, and taboo topics that would have been inconceivable a decade ago. For example, Alexandra Shiva, Sean MacDonald, and Michelle Gucovsky's Bombay Eunuch (2001) looks at the hijras of India, transvestites and people who are both revered and feared for their power. Kate Davis's Southern Comfort tells the story of Robert Eads, a male-to-female hillbilly in conservative rural America who, after a diagnosis of uterine cancer, is shunned by medical communities.

Over a period of five years, filmmaker Sandi DuBowski earned the trust of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews in order to tell their story in Before G-D (2001). The film presents an intricate narrative of fear and self-hatred in the quest to reconcile religion and sexual identity.

Greta Schiller's The Man Who Drove With Mandela (1999) traces the life of Cecil Williams, a gay theater director and activist against the racist government of South Africa, who through a startling series of events was in the car with Nelson Mandala as Mandela returned to South Africa.

By pursuing such unusual yet fascinating narratives documentarians are revising history and changing public perceptions of the queer community.

Recent Trends in Queer Documentary

All of the documentary forms noted above have been used recently by filmmakers grappling with contemporary topics and debates. The very diversity of the topics and debates addressed by queer documentarians is evidence of the diverse interests of the glbtq community and of the centrality of our issues in the national dialogue about civil rights and equality.

For example, recent biographical documentaries have focused a lens on a wide range of queer issues by exploring the lives of both well known and relatively unknown people. Examining the accomplishments and heritages of individuals has facilitated the exploration of issues ranging from the intolerance of organized religion to the unconventional expression of gay painters and fashion designers.

These documentaries include Charles Atlas's The Legend of Leigh Bowery (2003); Carole Bonstein's A Swiss Rebel: Annemarie Schwarzenbach 1908-1942, produced in 2000 but receiving new exposure at recent film festivals; Matt Sneddon's The Truth or Consequences of Delmas Howe (2004); and Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's Hidden Führer: Debating the Enigma of Hitler's Sexuality (2004).

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