Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories

Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories

19 Episodes

In 1979, poet Adrienne Rich observed that “one of the most powerful social and political catalysts of the past decade has been the speaking of women with other women, the telling of our secrets, the comparing of wounds and sharing of words.” Curated by guest programmer Nellie Killian, Tell Me celebrates female filmmakers who took the simple, radical step of allowing women space and time to talk about their lives. Made in a range of idioms encompassing cinema verité, essay film, and agitprop, the assembled films all share a startling intimacy between camera and subject. Whether through the bonds of shared experience or merely genuine interest, these portraits capture women talking about trauma and sexual identity, summoning new language to describe the long-simmering injustices and frustrations we still face today, making jokes, admitting insecurities, and organizing for the future. Featuring films by Chantal Akerman, Barbara Hammer, Camille Billops, Chick Strand, Joyce Chopra, Vivienne Dick, Su Friedrich, and more, this cross-section of feminist filmmaking speaks to Rich’s insight that “in order to change what is, we need to give speech to what has been, to imagine together what might be.”

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Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories
  • Introducing Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories

    Episode 1

    This conversation between curator Nellie Killian and actor and comedian Jenny Slate, discussing the films in the Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories series, was recorded in 2020.

  • Introducing New Day Films

    Episode 2

    Recorded in 2020, this conversation features curator Nellie Killian talking with Liane Brandon and Amalie R. Rothschild, who were two of the four founders of New Day Films, a co-op film distribution company that began in 1971.

  • Growing Up Female

    Episode 3

    Directed by Julia Reichert and Jim Klein • 1971 • United States

    Hailed by Susan Sontag (“One of those painful experiences that’s good for you”), Gloria Steinem (“A true and piercing look at American womanhood”), and Elizabeth Hardwick (“In its unadorned truthfulness there is a sad and simple poe...

  • Janie’s Janie

    Episode 4

    Directed by Geri Ashur, Peter Barton, Marilyn Mulford, and Stephanie Palewski • 1971 • United States

    The Newsreel collective’s JANIE’S JANIE breaks with the group’s usual format for a more personal approach, following a woman’s journey to self-determination; or, as Janie says, “First I was my fa...

  • Joyce at 34

    Episode 5

    Directed by Joyce Chopra and Claudia Weill • 1972 • United States
    Starring Joyce Chopra

    In feminist filmmaker Joyce Chopra’s JOYCE AT 34 (codirected with Claudia Weill, who would later direct the great unsung GIRLFRIENDS), Chopra examines the demands of juggling a baby and a professional career.

  • Betty Tells Her Story

    Episode 6

    Directed by Liane Brandon • 1972 • United States

    This poignant tale of beauty, identity, and a dress is considered a classic of documentary filmmaking. It was the first independent film of the women’s movement to explore the issues of body image, self-worth, and appearance in American society. I...

  • It Happens to Us

    Episode 7

    Directed by Amalie R. Rothschild • 1972 • United States

    Released a year before Roe v. Wade, this short film by Amalie Rothschild lays out the dire realities of illegal abortion, interviewing women from a variety of backgrounds who made the choice to terminate a pregnancy.

  • Yudie

    Episode 8

    Directed by Mirra Bank • 1974 • United States

    Yudie, an elderly Lower East Side lifer, looks back at a life lived on her own terms.

  • Chris and Bernie

    Episode 9

    Directed by Bonnie Friedman and Deborah Shaffer • 1975 • United States

    Two young, frustrated single mothers join forces to make a new kind of family unit for themselves and their children.

  • Inside Women Inside

    Episode 10

    Directed by Christine Choy and Cynthia Maurizio • 1978 • United States

    Christine Choy and Cynthia Maurizio offer a rare look at the degradation faced by women in prison, interviewing women who suffer daily within a system that disregards their humanity and neglects their basic needs.

  • Soft Fiction

    Episode 11

    Directed by Chick Strand • 1979 • United States

    Made in collaboration with its subjects, Chick Strand’s masterpiece SOFT FICTION gives five women the space to, in Strand’s words, perform “an exorcism of [an] experience.” Strand captures the slippery, vivid memories of erotic fantasy, confusing s...

  • Dis-moi

    Episode 12

    Directed by Chantal Akerman • 1980 • France

    For a French television series about grandmothers, Chantal Akerman interviews elderly women who survived the Shoah, including her own mother, whose experience in the Holocaust reverberated throughout the artist’s life and work.

  • I Am Wanda

    Episode 13

    Directed by Katja Raganelli • 1980 • United States
    Starring Barbara Loden

    This documentary by Katja Raganelli, filmed in 1980, features an interview with WANDA director Barbara Loden and brief interviews with cinematographer Nicholas T. Proferes and acting teacher Paul Mann.

  • Suzanne, Suzanne

    Episode 14

    Directed by Camille Billops and James Hatch • 1982 • United States

    One of the many films that Camille Billops and James Hatch made centering on Billops’s family, SUZANNE, SUZANNE presents a devastating portrait of the artist’s niece, haunted by the abuse she suffered as a child and the passivity...

  • The Ties That Bind

    Episode 15

    Directed by Su Friedrich • 1984 • United States

    Su Friedrich creates a dialogue between past and present, pairing her mother’s recollections of growing up in Germany during the rise and fall of Nazism with images of contemporary Germany and the artist’s current life in Chicago. The result is an ...

  • The Salt Mines

    Episode 16

    Directed by Carlos Aparicio and Susana Aikin • 1990 • United States

    Released the same year as PARIS IS BURNING, Susana Aikin and Carlos Aparicio’s THE SALT MINES focuses on three homeless Lantinx trans women living in a parking lot of old garbage trucks on Manhattan’s West Side. Aikin and Aparic...

  • The Transformation

    Episode 17

    Directed by Carlos Aparicio and Susana Aikin • 1995 • United States

    In THE TRANSFORMATION, Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio find one of the most engaging subjects of their previous documentary THE SALT MINES living as a man in Texas, forced to transition back by an evangelical missionary that of...

  • Conversations with Intellectuals About Selena

    Episode 18

    Directed by Lourdes Portillo • 1999 • United States

    Interrogating the Selena phenomenon, Lourdes Portillo brings together a group of Chicana cultural critics to talk about the Tejana music icon. Delving into their reactions to Selena’s groundbreaking rise, widespread influence, and tragic death,...

  • Shakedown

    Episode 19

    Directed by Leilah Weinraub • 2018 • United States

    Charting the eight-year run of Shakedown, a peripatetic black lesbian strip club in Los Angeles, director Leilah Weinraub attempts “to portray the before and after of a utopic moment.” Weinraub presents a world unto itself, shaped by the desires...