Sojourner


Same Audre, New Appeal:
A Look at Jennifer Abod’s film The Edge of Each Other’s Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde
(90 minute version)

By April Dobbins

reprinted from Sojourner: The Women’s Forum January 2001

 When I was approached to write this article, I was a bit skeptical, First of all, I am a poet and sometimes fiction writer from the school of southern hospitality. I was always told if you can’t say anything nice, at least make a pleasant face and nod.

Secondly, Audre Lorde has always existed in my mind as one of the chosen black artists. I define the chosen ones as monumental artists of color who become widely accepted in privileged white liberal circles and are used largely to flaunt cultural awareness. On rare occasions, these artists are used by white liberals as conversational points of intersection when interacting with live people of color. Say what you will, but I am merely speaking from personal experience.

Lastly, as blasphemous as this may sound, I tend to steer clear of anything marketing itself as feminist, and with good reason. I find it difficult to embrace a movement that has excluded issues pertinent to women of color since its conception. I have been duped on numerous occasions by white feminists who said they were addressing issues relevant to my life. I’ve attended too many meetings, and rallies, and classes — all feminist — where I felt excluded and overlooked, where I felt my issues were overlooked. Many times, I felt the class structure slap me in the face. I cannot afford to dedicate my life to volunteering or traveling or taking off work to go protest in the streets. I cannot afford to be arrested. Not with the $20.75 I have in my checking account.

 

In the film, Lorde explains that we all have differing battles, but we must continue to support each other through our individual struggles.

However after viewing Jennifer Abod’s film. The Edge of Each Other’s Battles: The Vision of Audre Lorde, I gained a new respect for Lorde and her work; seeing Audre in action was a testament to her ability to see struggle on all levels — to see me. I gained new hope for a feminist revolution because I saw that the definition and connotations of feminism are being questioned; people are beginning to discuss oppression within the circle. Feminists are beginning to open their eyes to their own faults. In the film, Lorde explains that we all have differing battles, but we must continue to support each other through our individual struggles. The film uses the “I Am Your Sister: Forging Global Connections Across Differences” conference — held in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1990 — to delve into the life and times of the self-described “black amazon lesbian feminist.”

For Abod, this project was a nine-and-a-half year endeavor; she endured numerous technological advances in the film industry, among other obstacles. Since the film was on video, she was constantly concerned with the storage and quality of the tapes. Finances were difficult to organize for Edge and not all conference participants wanted the event documented. However, when she finally completed the film, she not only had a video but she also had her first film for Profile Productions — her own production company dedicated to feminist documentary filmmaking.

FOR, BY FEMINIST MINORITY

Overall, the quality of the film was good in comparison to standard independent documentary fare. The sound was excellent andthe fact that the film took almost a decade to complete makes it more pertinent to the present. The film contains scenes from current news controversies like Amadou Diallo’s murder by New York City police ö this makes Lorde’s message even more timely. We see that her messages about our country and the hate that must be eliminated still hold true today — it makes for a reminder that we still have a way to go before we reach a true understanding of one another’s battles.

Some of the most emotional aspects of the film are personal testimonies of the conference participants. The “I Am Your Sister” conference was a unique gathering of feminists and supporters because the organizers demanded that at least 50 percent of the attendees be women of color or impoverished women, As a result, many potential supporters were gently turned away. This was: the first point that drew me in — it was a conference created for and by the feminist minority. It was refreshing to see these women addressing the issues of an often neglected group of feminists and creating a sort of familiar space for them.

Abod does a flawless job of weaving pieces of Lorde’s life into the conference footage. Lorde’s dedication to a compassionate, more understanding feminist world is touching to say the least. The surprising elements of the documentary are the actual interviews with Lorde; she is charming, witty, and insightful. I thought she would be more solemn, and not as young at heart. Lorde advocates a unified feminist front to combat all of our issues. There is even a discussion about the place of white feminists in Lorde’s realm. In the end, the message is one of sisterhood and brotherhood — all for a common cause.

However there were a few problems with The Edge — I am a true product of the MTV generation and openly admit to having a short attention span. In my opinion, The Edge is too long for a film that is not narrative, and could push younger viewers away to more fastöpaced pieces. The speeches and presentations are begging to be edited, though I would not want to be the one responsible for cutting anything out. Since this was a live conference, the pieces are not perfectly blocked or staged, and the single camera angle makes for monotonous viewing. Also, I think Abod tried too hard to include all the speakers in the film. Some of the pieces are too long.

Another issue is that the conference falls into the trap of linking feminism and sexuality. Many of the conference participants speak of their experiences as lesbian feminists, which left me wondering where the heterosexual feminists belonged in this scenario — A mistake that many feminists make — when lesbianism and feminism become inexorably linked, people will be excluded from the movement Luckily, I had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Abod about the making of The Edge of Each Other’s Battles.

April Dobbins: In your opinion, what changes need to be made in the feminist movement to make it more effective?

Jennifer Abod: Feminists need to respond to issues as feminists . . . if we don’t do so, we perpetuate the belief that we are only concerned with a narrow set of interests — that we are not everywhere, interested in every thing. When we place ourselves in struggles that are not seen as traditional feminist issues . . . we need to let it be known that we are feminists, whatever our ethnicity — and/or lesbians for that matter. Putting information into areas, communities, and constituencies that are outside of traditional feminist circles would be helpful also.

Can you give the readers a little background on Profile Productions?

Building and being part of an antiracist inclusive feminist politic is my passion. Lorde’s political vision, her philosophy feeds me.

In the mid-1980s, there was very little in the media about feminism and women of color: I was working at WGBH-FM [a public radio station] in Boston at die time, and I met Audre through Angela Bowen. Audre agreed to the audio projects I had in mind. . . . in forming Profile Productions, my goal was and still is to help spread the word of feminist activists and cultural workers, particularly women of color and lesbians who are influencing a broad constituency-

Why this particular topic?

Building and being part of an antiracist inclusive feminist politic is my passion. I am still on a learning curve; and creating the video has fed me analytically, politicaly, and emotionally. Lorde’s political vision, her philosophy feeds me. Also, I wanted to share all of this with other people who have similar visions.

What struck you about the conference as being worthy of documentation?

I have a strong sense of history and have always documented the movement. . . . Recently, I attended me 30th anniversary of New Haven Women’s Liberation and took with me from my collection some rare photos, flyers, posters, and brochures of… a variety of events…. So even as we were beginning to organize “I Am Your Sister” I realized that we were doing something historic and began photographing and asking — pleading with actually ö the other core organizers for permission to document our progress by means of photographs and videotape.

How did you manage yourself to take such a leap of faith?

Lorde always said she wrote things that she wanted to read. I wanted to see and hear people who declared their feminism, who spoke feminism, who said the word lesbian. It would have been a sacrifice to give up on the project.

What other sacrifices had to be made?

The years of struggling to hold onto the project took a toll on my family. By far, the biggest strain to our family has been financial.

How so? Obtaining funds has been extremely difficult. A few progressive feminist and lesbian agencies have funded me over the years. I kept their cards of encouragement on my wall during my final hectic weeks of editing. However, the amounts ranged from small to smaller — just enough to keep a project going.
What type of input did you receive from those who would not invest in the project?

Other arts agencies were hostile, from “You can’t do what you say you’re going to do,” to “Why do we need another video about Audre Lorde?” But what I did have was Audre’s support.

How did Audre handle the concept of your film?

She wanted the video to exist because it deals with grassroots community organizing and building a movement which is why she agreed to stay in Boston an extra day to be taped holding a conversation with Jacqui Alexander . . . Without Jacqui’s belief in me, I wouldn’t have had her interviews, without which the making of the video would have been impossible. And of course, I cannot say enough about the loving; encouraging support of Angela Bowen, my partner of twenty-one years.

Are you satisfied with the final produce For the most part, I am satisfied. There are things I would like to change. There were many different formats and different situations in which the interviews were conducted, so the quality could have been more consistent, but I am grateful for how good it does look and sound. The response has been extremely gratifying.
What advice do you have for women interested in doing documentary feminist film?

Do it. Be passionate about your topic. Know the audience you are making it for and keep their needs before you at all times. Figure out where the film might be seen. Find and create support networks for different aspects of the project. Also, explore the new digital technology

What can readers do to help you in your endeavors?

Readers can help by ordering the video for their libraries, schools, and community groups — This is how I hope to eliminate the debt I am also looking for some funding angels to help fund a series of Profile projects…

The Edge of Each Others Battles: The Vision of Audre Lourde will be screened at the next NWSA conference in Minnesota in June. For more details, see nwsa@tc.unm.edu. April Dobbins is a 23-year-old aspiring filmmaker who moonlights as a writer. She resides in Boston, Massachusetts.

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 jennifer@jenniferabod.com