From Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution
Quebec filmmaker Myriam Fougère had her hands buried in clay before she first picked up a camera and turned it on the radical movement she saw unfolding around her. The switch to filmmaking wasn’t so abrupt; the tactile nature of sculpting translated into the way she would bring together the people, places and events of the past to shape the narrative of her community. In Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution, Fougère captures the height of the lesbian movement across North America, using her personal journey through life, love and activism as a conduit to preserve an untold history.
The film is being shown at L Cinema, a night of independent screenings and discussion presented by Québec Lesbian Network as part of this year’s Fierté Montreal Pride celebrations. Ahead of the event, I contacted Fougère to discuss her personal journey into filmmaking and the importance of preserving invisible histories through visual storytelling.
Fougère has always adamantly rejected the pervasive male gaze and overrepresentation within the art world and wanted to communicate her sense of sexuality and feminism through artistic practice. She recalls her first brush with the intersection of these two ideas. “At some point I was just making clay and by happenstance I made this shape and it looked like a vulva. I wanted to make a mask and then I saw that. I destroyed it the first time but it stayed with me, and I thought, ‘Why don’t we ever see vulvas anywhere?’” She adds, “There must be a reason. God knows there’s lots of penises in art.”
It was her sculptures that provided the initial access to the kind of community she had been seeking. In the following years, Fougère travelled across the U.S. with her sculptures, stopping off in the now defunct lesbian community, Pagoda, in Florida, ending up in New York City where she began her filmmaking career.
The journey she embarked on and the activism she encountered throughout eventually transpired into what would be her first feature film. “(Lesbiana) is about my life in my 20s. Back then I was travelling with my sculptures to meet women, to meet lesbians, and to go in women’s spaces and to show my work,” she says. “Showing my work was good pretext to meet all the right people, because of course I would meet lesbians who were into art, too.”
Through archival footage and testimony, the film depicts the inner workings of the North American lesbian movement in the ’70s to late ’90s.. It was, in part, a response to the lack of representation Fougère saw in the media coverage of LGBTQ+ issues that were gaining popularity at the time, which she describes as overwhelmingly white, male and middle-class. “Men see themselves, they don’t see women and we need the women to tell their stories and be seen and heard,” she says. “I’m there to give women a way to look at their work and themselves, and a way to be represented.”
She took matters into her own hands and documented the group she belonged to, one she felt was being largely ignored. “There was no other film about this feminism, and look how much action was there,” she says. “There’s so much the people didn’t record or film, and it’s as if it never happened.” The lack of attention and the interruption of digital technology into a previously analog media made this effort a difficult feat. Fougère had to rely largely on her own archives and interviews to tell a story that was expansive beyond her own experience.
The “parallel revolution,” as Fougère describes it, was a reaction to the exclusion the lesbian community felt from the larger society, and even from within the LGBTQ+ spheres. “For me it was like, do I want to repair all of the shit from patriarchy? I wanted to live now and see if we could create something else,” the “something else” being an alternate reality operating parallel to real life, rather than trying to adapt to the structural oppression they faced within it. “The problem is, we don’t like the world how it is. How do we change it if we just disappear within it?” she says.
From Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution
Though the film received acclaim for telling a story from a historically underrepresented perspective, Fougère acknowledges that there was much left unsaid. “In almost every city there could be hundreds of stories. Everything we went through here (in North America), they went through in other countries, the way the lesbian movement evolved it’s the same through the world,” she says, adding, “I would be really interested in seeing other women do it.”
Passing on the torch and continuing the tradition of activism and filmmaking is something Fougère hopes to inspire amongst the younger generations of women with the screening of Lesbiana at this year’s Pride celebrations. “For us (the older generation), when the LGBTQ movement came, the L was this big,” she says, pinching fingers together, “and the G was this big,” she adds, raising arms apart. “What I hope to do with my films is make a bridge between the different generations. I think we have a lot to learn from each other. We lost touch with each other and I hope we can connect again.” ■
The L Cinema screening and Q&A with Myriam Fougère will take place at the Community Centre for Gay and Lesbians of Montréal (2075 Plessis) on Monday, Aug. 13, 7–11 p.m., free
See our Pride event highlights here.