“The Edge of Each Other’s Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde” is a video about poet Audre Lorde’s broad social vision and the translation of that vision into a historic transnational celebration and conference, “I Am Your Sister: Forging Global Connections Across Differences” (October 4-9, 1990, Boston MA), which honored Lorde’s life and work. In this article, the producer, NWSA member Jennifer Abod, discusses the video, her motivation for undertaking the project, and some of the difficulties of bringing the video into being.
My reasons for wanting to create this video include both to produce a tribute to Lorde’s contributions to the development of feminism, and to communicate some of the intense joy, pain, passion and creativity associated with the dynamic exchange of ideas that is part of the feminist experience. Making a video about Audre Lorde and the communities that she brings together provided me that opportunity.
I found feminism in 1969 in New Haven, Connecticut, where I entered Women’s Liberation meetings as young, middle-class, white, secular Jew. In living rooms, church basements, classrooms and lofts, we inspired each other through conversation. The key that turned many of our self-doubts into strategies for social and political change and offered women a sense of community as an alternative to isolation was the love and respect that grew out of the war stories, analyses, and actions that we shared. Audre Lorde’s work and her compelling presence expanded the conversations and the analyses.
Audre Lorde was a ubiquitous presence in second wave feminism, a prolific writer, teacher, and spokeswoman both for and within women’s liberation, who contributed greatly to subverting, if not actually dispelling, the notion that feminism was of no use to Black women, but was of concern only to middle-class white women (Bowen)1
For me, Lorde fueled a deeper, stronger, more turbulent wave upon which my feminism continues to ride. My challenge in making this video was to convey Lorde’s power and presence and some of the ways in which she has ignited individual passions and collective desires among communities of color and other disenfranchised communities. The intention was to help make Lorde’s vision and presence felt even in her absence. The task in creating the narrative structure was to figure out ways to interweave the experience of the “I Am Your Sister” conference with the explication of some of Lorde’s philosophies without using a voice-over throughout. To that end, the organizers/activist/Jacqui Alexander and Angela Bowen serve as the narrative link between Lorde’s principles as depicted in her work and the use of those principles within the conference. As Bowen says, Lorde “helped put the face of black women into feminismÉ She was a consistent spokeswoman for black women’s interests within both the black community and women’s liberation circles.” This principle was utilized by creating an event in which 50% of the participants were women of color or impoverished women. Lorde’s ideas about the role of culture in political transformation, the erotic, inclusion, transnationalism, black feminism, black lesbian feminism, and the importance and difficulties of working across differences are explored in the video. Each of these ideas is captured by a direct quote from one of Lorde’s speeches, poems or essays and addressed by juxtaposing conference footage, including poetry, dance, and dramatic presentations, with interviews by the conference organizers, the participants and/or original interviews and speeches by Lorde.
Included is a rare interview between Lorde and Barbara Smith, which I had arranged to take place prior to the conference; and the day after the conference ended, Audre agreed to have a conversation with Jacqui Alexander, even though she was extremely tired. Lorde expressed the hope, with her usual sense of vision, that the exchange would be useful to the video I was determined to make.
“Edge” is meant to inspire young women and men and to serve as an educational tool and catalyst for conversation and change among those already committed. I believe that the “Eye to Eye” section in the video, based on Lorde’s essay (which she meant as an opener to an ongoing conversation), is among the most thought-provoking ideas in the video.1 In the essay, Lorde urges black women to recognize the differences among and between them so as to not let those differences tear them apart. “Edge” shows how this idea was implemented for the 1200 women, men and activist youth from 23 countries who came to the conference and the unpredictable results. Among my most gratifying experiences in producing this project came as a result of working with a black undergraduate student at the university where I was teaching. During her holiday break she typed out some of the interview transcripts. She was so moved by the ideas being discussed that she began reading Lorde voraciously, and subsequently formed an Eye to Eye group on campus for all women of color in a predominantly white private university environment.
Of course major obstacles arose in making this video. At the very beginning, the core organizing committee was resistant to the idea of having cameras and lights as a constant presence over the four-day event. They understandably feared that the documenting would interfere with the event and even change it. Several times I went home in tears after meetings. Eventually, after much negotiating, with safeguards in place, they assured their support, and I was able to move ahead. Although money was practically nonexistent for this purpose, the hard work of Boston community video women, coordinated by video-maker Catherine Russo, made possible the footage of the conference that is seen in the video.
The media plan for documenting the event included constant announcements and flyers explaining the purpose of the taping and photographing. The result of the documentation has been the “I Am Your Sister Perpetual Calendar” (some of which are still available), the “Cultural Events Video” (1990, Third World Newsreel), and now “The Edge of Each Other’s Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde.” Financing the video continues to be extremely difficult. A few progressive agencies have funded me over the years, and a small but steady group of supporters has sent money following my fund-raising pleas. Other allies have helped with dubbing tapes or camera work. The very existence of Dyke TV and the women there, encouraged me during the editing phase, making this video possible.
The night the video showed, Thursday, June 14th, was one of the most amazing nights of my life. The annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association was the logical first place for me to preview the “Edge.” The organization and the women within it have been my scholarly community for a number of years. Moreover, Audre Lorde has been so important to the development of Women’s Studies and to NWSA as an organization. The video was projected onto a big beautiful screen, the audio was clear and warm, and the audience filled the room to overflowing, while more people waited in the lobby, unable to enter. It’s good that I did not know this because I was so nervous and excited that I’m not sure how that information would have affected me since I couldn’t do anything about it. Not only were Jacqui and Angela there, so were some of the women who attended and/or volunteered for the conference. As we watched, I heard people laugh or being moved to tears. Then came thunderous, heart-felt applause. How rewarding. This is the community that I had kept in mind over the years when my spirits were low. This is the community that needed and wanted the video to exist. Based on the reception, I hadn’t disappointed them.
Since the NWSA showing, I have received requests for the video. So, thank you NWSA. I am distributing the video myself right now, but I am hoping to find a distributor to work with in the future. I would also like to create a shorter version of the video. However “Edge” is still in debt and so that will have to wait until funding becomes available. Above all, I hope that the video will be seen and discussed in university classrooms, conferences, and festivals. As Audre always said, “If my work is useful, it will be used.”
For more information about contributions and how you can obtain a copy of the video, Please contact: Profile Productions, Box 21387, Long Beach CA 90801 or write to email@example.com