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Barbara Hammer, pioneering lesbian director, dies at 79

Pioneering and prolific lesbian filmmaker Barbara Hammer also was a right-to-die advocate after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006.

Right-to-die advocate

In October, the New York-based experimental director, who was born in Hollywood and graduated from UCLA, gave a Whitney Museum lecture on living with advanced cancer called “The Art of Dying of  or (Palliative Art Making in the Age of Anxiety).”

“I needed to make visible this horrific disease that is so often misdiagnosed as women’s concerns are ignored by the medical profession,” Hammer said in a statement on her website.

Hammer died of ovarian cancer Saturday. She was 79 and is survived by her girlfriend of 30 years, Florrie Burke. The couple met at The West Coast Women’s Music Festival in Yosemite.

Barbara Hammer Lesbian Director

Barbara Hammer is pictured at the Billy Wilder Theater on Nov. 9, 2018, for the opening night of the retrospective “Barbara Hammer, Superdyke.” The event was hosted by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Photo: UCLA Film and Television Archive.

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Lesbian filmmaker

Hammer, whose career lasted more than 40 years and included 80 movies, captured subjects considered taboo — joyous lesbian sensuality, female sexual pleasure, aging, death and dying, menstruation. In November, Hammer attended the retrospective “Barbara Hammer, Superdyke” at the Billy Wilder Theater. The event was hosted by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Here’s a YouTube link of her discussion.

Hammer first gained notoriety in 1974 with “Dyketactics,” a four-minute experimental film that depicts lesbian sex from a lesbian point-of-view. The movie shows a group of intertwined nude women in a forest.

Two years later, Hammer made “Multiple Orgasm,” which continued her revolutionary exploration of the lives of lesbians from a lesbian perspective.

Indie Wire included Hammer’s 1992 debut feature film “Nitrate Kisses” on their 100 All-Time Greatest Films Directed by Women list.

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Coming out as lesbian

Hammer was born May 15, 1939, in Hollywood. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA in 1961 and two master’s degrees from San Francisco State University: one in English literature in 1963 and the other in film in 1975.

In 1974, she was married, but came out as a lesbian during the year. After leaving the marriage, Hammer “took off on a motorcycle with a Super-8 camera” and eventually made “Dyketactics.”

‘A lesbian lifestyle on screen’

Hammer’s work also was lauded by critics. In 2006, she won the Shirley Clarke Avant-Garde Filmmaker Award from New York Women in Film and Television and the Women in Film Award from the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Hammer also was included in the retrospective “Evidentiary Bodies” at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in 2017.

Hammer also formed the Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant in 2017.

“It has been the goal of my life to put a lesbian lifestyle on the screen. Why? Because when I started I couldn’t find any!” Hammer wrote in a statement after creating the grant. “Working as a lesbian filmmaker in the ’70s wasn’t easy in the social structure…and I want this grant to make it easier for lesbians of today.”

About the author

Beatriz E. Valenzuela

Beatriz E. Valenzuela is an award-winning journalist who’s covered breaking news in Southern California since 2006 and has been on the front lines of national and international news events. She also covers all things nerd, including comic book culture and video games. She’s an amateur obstacle course racer, constant fact-checker, mother of three, and lover of all things geek.

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