Award-winning feminist filmmaker Lizzie Borden used independent and guerilla film tactics before these terms were commonly known. Her early films take on hot topics in the feminist movement with visual representations of struggles for equality in race, class, gender, and sexuality. Her later films focus on women’s sexuality, and her attempts to move into more mainstream film in the 1990’s were challenged by studio politics. She continues to work in film today as a script doctor while developing her own projects.
Borden’s 1983 film “Born in Flames” combines a gritty documentary style with fictional components and a diverse, though sometimes tokenized, cast. Written, directed, produced, and edited by Borden, the film is set in New York City ten years after a “Social Democratic Cultural Revolution,” when the government is moving to a less egalitarian model than the revolution promised. Borden worked with women she knew personally to develop characters based on their experiences, further blurring the stylistic distinction between documentary and fiction.
Watch: Born in Flames Trailer (1983)
With each character representing a political stance or an aspect of the feminist movement of the time, the cast includes notables such as lawyer and civil rights advocate Flo Kennedy as an advisor to a women’s army and film director Kathryn Bigelow playing an editor of a socialist newspaper. “Born in Flames” was mostly unscripted, and shot at intervals as Borden could afford production expenses. Its raw, confrontational style resulted in awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Creteil Women’s Film Festival, and it is a unique landmark in independent feminist filmmaking.
Watch: Working Girls Trailer (1986)
Debates related to the 1981 anti-porn documentary “Not A Love Story” inspired Borden to make “Working Girls”, the 1985 narrative feature about sex work, feminism, and exploitation, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1987 Sundance Film Festival. Her 1992 film “Love Crimes” was produced by Miramax. After a brief theatrical run, two versions of “Love Crimes” were released on video- the director’s cut and the studio cut. Borden went on to direct the 1995 feature “Erotique” and several television episodes, thought she has been quoted as saying, “Born in Flames and Working Girls the only two films I consider my own. The others – especially Love Crimes and Erotique – were so radically re-cut and interfered with by producers, they’re not ‘mine’ …the issues I believe in – social issues, feminist issues, radical issues – are difficult to finance, even independently.”
Lizzie Borden interviewed by artist Betsy Sussler in BOMB Magazine
Lizzie Borden interviewed by Kick It Over Collective members.