‘Pioneers of Queer Cinema’ film series at the Billy Wilder Theatre

Pioneers of Queer Cinema

“The Times of Harvey Milk” is one of 33 films that will be shown as part of the “Pioneers of Queer Cinema” film series at the Billy Wilder Theatre at the Hammer Museum. Photo: UCLA Film and TV Archive.

May Hong HaDuong says watching movies helped her develop a sense of queer culture and identity.

“For many queers, having films and art reflect who they are is part of their growth,” says, HaDoung, 43, who identifies as queer and was raised in Huntington Beach, but went to Hollywood to emerse herself in film festivals and movie screenings.

“I was formed by the art and culture around us. This art is how I grew up and how I learned what queer is. It was part of coming into my own identity,” she says.

“I spent so much time in my 20s looking for queer identity through art, and now I get to share it. That’s so gratifying.”

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‘Pioneers of Queer Cinema’

HaDuong is director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which helped organize the upcoming “Pioneers of Queer Cinema” film series. In the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s 55-year history, she is the first woman to lead the archive and only its fourth director.

The movie retrospective, which will open Friday and close March 28, includes 33 films that will be shown during 12 evening programs at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum.

Admission to the screenings are free, but online registration is required.

“Pioneers in Queer Cinema” brings together a diverse group of filmmakers who showcase radical explorations of sexual orientation and gender identity, HaDuong says.

“ ‘Pioneers of Queer Cinema’ celebrates groundbreaking achievements born from visionary artists who have powerfully illustrated identities pushed to the margins,” HaDuong says.

Opening night

The film series will open Friday with Gus Van Sant’s 1986 feature “Mala Noche” and the 1996 film “Hide and Seek” from Su Friedrich. Van Sant is scheduled to appear in-person for a Q&A discussion

“Mala Noche” is Van Sant’s incandescent debut feature, and it foreshadows the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s. The film follows a liquor store clerk who romances Mexican men in the down-and-out  Pacific Northwest city of Portland. Critics have said that Van Sant filmed the gay experience as classic cinematic masculinity.

Friedrich is a pivotal force in the establishment of a queer cinematic mode and aesthetic. Her legacy is cemented with her 24-film body of work and her veneration in seminal queer theories and histories.

Mining her own experience as a young girl for “Hide and Seek,” Friedrich daringly immerses her viewer in her own 1960s adolescence via the uncharted angle of a teenage lesbian awakening.

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Queer cinema filmmakers

Many of these pioneers of queer cinema are independent auteurs who offer a fresh point-of-view, reject heteronormativity, and spotlight the lives of queer protagonists living on the fringe of society.

The filmmakers support a range of voices and sexualities and examine the relationship between sexual, social, and political oppression.

“We want to make time for these (film) revelations to unfold,” HaDuong says. “They tell brave stories that were not, and still are not, being told.

“These films are like time travel snapshots of queer identity. These stories are ones you can reach out and feel,” she says.

“Each program is multiple films tied together to tell a story. It shows how crucial American queer cinema is,” HaDuong says. “What’s important is that each program is a journey. It’s our own journey. You get to choose your own queer adventure.”

Here are some of the films:

  • ‘Coming Out’ (March 12)

This joyful time capsule from Arthur J. Bressan Jr. offers a fabulous perspective of what it meant to be gay in 1972. Bressan documents San Francisco’s 1972 Gay Freedom Day Parade utilizes simple, non-synch sound, on-the- street interviews, and joyous footage of the day. Like “Gay USA,” Bressan’s subsequent feature-length documentary of the Gay Freedom Day parades of 1977, this 1972 short offers up a thrilling collective portrait of gay liberation.

  • ‘Coming Out Under Fire’ (Feb. 20)

Award-winning filmmaker and author Arthur Dong’s 1994 film is the first of three documentaries about homosexual repression and persecution. This documentary about gays and lesbians in the military during World War II is the filmmaker’s cornerstone representation of the systemic oppression of queer communities.

  • ‘The Times of Harvey Milk’ (March 12)

Rob Epstein’s 1984 film is a powerful record of the activist-politician’s inspirational life and work. With archival and biographical material and poignant remembrances from friends and colleagues, Epstein reveals an intimate, complex portrait of Milk.

  • ‘Tongues Untied’ (Feb. 20)

This provocative 1989 film is as personal as it is political. It haunts, engages, and informs the viewer. Working with poet and collaborator Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs creates a dynamic space to explore the identities of Black gay men.

  • ‘The Watermelon Woman’ (March 14)

With her first feature, writer-director-punk archivist-actor Cheryl Dunye creates a new form of blended fictional narrative, mockumentary, and archeological dig, in this 1996 movie.

After becoming obsessed with the Black actress who keeps popping up in 1930s American films, only credited as “Watermelon Woman,” Dunye sets out to create a documentary that will lead her to the identity of Fae Richards/Faith Richardson, with whom she feels an unexplained kinship.

  • ‘Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives’ (March 7)

In the mid-1970s, the Mariposa Film Group, a collective of six queer filmmakers traveled around the country, interviewing more than 24 men and women of various backgrounds, ages, and races to talk plainly and directly to the camera about their lives as gay men and lesbians. This groundbreaking, landmark 1977 film is a time capsule of an era when participation was an act of courage.

In partnership with IndieCollect and Outfest, “Pioneers of Queer Cinema” is drawn primarily from the collection of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, the largest public archive of LGBTQ moving image media in the world. The Legacy Project is a collaboration between the UCLA Film & Television Archive and Outfest, the queer film festival.

HaDuong was previously a manager for the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project. 

The film archive, which is a division of UCLA Library, is the second-largest repository of moving-image materials in the country after the Library of Congress.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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