The films by American filmmaker and activist Lizzie Borden are like a wake-up call urging us to think about the past, the present, and the future of feminism through a particular understanding of the creative process and cinematic language. Following her dream of being a painter, Borden studied art and came into contact with the American conceptual art scene in the early seventies.
As a result of clashes with the prevailing discourse on abstract expressionism led by Clement Greenberg, she drifted away from painting, although she maintained close links to the art world through her work as a writer for ‘Artforum’ and her friendships with some artists. Her discovery of Jean-Luc Godard’s films and his way of mixing essay and narrative within a single artistic expression was a turning point in Lizzie Borden’s career.
In 1976, armed with a 16 mm camera and surrounded by friends and acquaintances – including Joan Jonas, Barbara Kruger and Kathryn Bigelow – Borden shot her first film, entitled ‘Regrouping’. Made in the context of the second wave of feminism in the US, it reflects on the reason for being and the living conditions of a group of women in a man’s world. The film, which used an experimental and very beautiful cinematic language, with audacious fades to white, abrupt editing, and an expressive, unconventional use of sound, was literally kept in a closet for forty years, before finally coming to light again recently.
Borden’s second film, ‘Born in Flames’ (1983) was framed within a more radical discourse. It reflects on the situation of black non-heterosexual women and on the nature of activism and violence as revolution. In an exercise in speculative fiction that draws on documentary strategies, Borden explores dystopias in an Afrofuturist setting. The film, which Borden shot in stages over four years as she managed to raise the financing, has become a cult work of feminist activism.
In her third film, ‘Working Girls’, made in 1986, Borden turned to the problems of race, class and stereotypes in relation to sex workers, from a demystified female point of view totally removed from the voyeurism and prejudices with which prostitution is usually portrayed.
SON[I]A talks to Lizzie Borden about inductive and deductive filmmaking, about filming without a script, about the importance of editing, about style, about the use of documentary strategies in fiction films, about alternative distribution as a form of activism, about the lack of women in the film world and about her notion of television as the future of audiovisual media.