Myriam Fougère's documentary about the North American lesbian separatist movement

Lesbiana: A Parallel RevolutionImagine a society comprised of women, women who loved other women. How could that society liberate women from the oppression patriarchy imposes globally? How would those women change individually, and how would those changes impact future generations?

During the North American feminist movement in the 1970’s, lesbians began coming out and in Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan, and Israel, lesbian culture flourished. By the 1980s, there were groups of these women who got together and began living separately from men. These women became known as separatists.

And then, suddenly, in the early 1990’s, those enclaves seemed to disappear.

Filmmaker Myriam Fougère lived it and fortunately for the film’s audiences, documented it, traveling across North America visiting women’s festivals, political demonstrations, artistic happenings and women’s lands during the 1980s, making and selling her sculptures and connecting with other separatists.

“My life was all one thing,” she explained. “Everything held together, sculpture, inspired by women’s writing, being around women, creating this new life we were building. We shared a lot.” The women involved gained tremendously from the experience. “It gave us a lot of confidence in ourselves. We didn’t need society to approve of us, we gave that approval to each other.”

“It was really uplifting, creatively, politically, culturally, on every level,” said interviewee and activist Nicole Brossard of Montreal. “Part of our desire for each other was subliminal, and it was also with that part that we were actively rethinking the world.”

Then, fast forward to 2008: Fougère took to the road again and interviewed key players in the separatist movement, reflecting on those 15 years of thriving lesbian culture that they helped create.

“The film is playing the same role as my sculpture did. Women see the film and then I can talk to them, they know where I come from…there is a bond between me and women I don’t even know…women who realize we share the same culture.”

Myriam Fougère in 1989
Myriam Fougère in 1989

Fougère explains that she made the film “to listen and to be heard. The silence I was keeping without knowing it began to weigh on me. How (should I) speak about it? Who would want to hear it?”

It turns out a lot of people. To date, Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution has been screened at more than 30 film festivals internationally, including the London Feminist Film Festival; Cinéfable, Paris; Toronto Inside Out ; Image et Nation, Montreal; Festival de Film de Femmes, Paris; Reel Affirmations, Washington DC; Hamburg Queer Film Festival; and the Festival LGBT de Belgique, Brussels.

Fougère traveled to many of the screenings, and audience responses have been overwhelmingly positive. “One of the big reactions is ‘thank you for making this film;’ at last they can recognize their experience. Many women lived through that and never saw anything about it after it ended.” Several lesbians have indicated in audience discussions that they were writing their memoirs or have begun work on their own films.

“Often the separatist thing takes quite a lot of reaction at first. People will say, ‘it’s interesting, but I’m not a separatist, and I find it hard to deal with.’” The filmmaker explained that sometimes audience members feel she is being attacked though she doesn’t share that feeling.

The conversation in London took a dramatic turn. “One woman asked the men if they would leave the room to create a women-only space. The screening was open to everybody, it wasn’t advertised as a separatist event, but the men left without saying anything. Then there were other women who said if they agreed or not with the men leaving and why and so the discussion went around that for awhile. For me, it’s all relevant-it’s important to have women-only space, and my film can make this discussion possible again.”

“It makes people want to talk, to talk with the film instead of about the film.”

And what about the future? “There are many young lesbians who are creating women’s spaces still-I didn’t know that. And I’m wonder how the older generation will be able to pass on land to young lesbians-there’s no contact between the generations.

“In Italy, there is one collective of young lesbians, between 30 and 45. And I just met in Paris some young women organizing the International March for Women. It’s one week every two years for women only where they share art, poetry, workshops, and free time. I didn’t know that young lesbians are organizing among themselves. They’re very radical, and their movement is more about the whole world now. Life for lesbians is really difficult in many countries, and the young lesbians are aware of what is happening around the world. This was quite extraordinary for me to find out.”

For more information about the film including screening dates, click here.

After the years we spent developing ideas, theories and philosophies, inventing a life that we wanted, a culture we called our own…were we to simply disappear from history without trace? The idea of listening to old radical lesbians, intelligent and articulate, became unavoidable, to go and meet them before they all disappeared, to record part of their spirit – Myriam Fougère

Gail Marlene Schwartz lives in Montreal. Her play, "Crazy: One Woman’s Search for Sanity" was published in the anthology, Hidden Lives, Brindle and Glass. Her essay, “Loving Benjamin,” will appear in a new anthology, How To Expect What You’re Not Expecting, TouchWood Editions, in fall 2013; the piece was also awarded Honourable Mention from Room Magazine, creative nonfiction category, 2012. Gail’s work has been published in Poetica Magazine, Community Arts Network, Parents Canada, GO Magazine, Gay Parent, and Ms. Guided.

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