The Owls Raises the Bar for Queer Cinema - A Movie Review

By Moira Sullivan

Cheryl Dunye’s latest feature The Owls is an experimental narrative that screened at Frameline June 18th. The anticipation for this film was high as information about the project has been accessible for some time including a Facebook group. Owl stands for Older Wiser Lesbian. 

The filmmakers and actors belong to the Parliament Film Collective, a matrix of lesbian and new queer cinema creativity.  The film cost 22,000 dollars to make and seems to fit in with the challenge made by Maya Deren to make good affordable films, she said her films cost what Hollywood spends on lipstick. 

The Owls should turn the way queer cinema is going in a new direction, away from big budgets, narrative construction with rising falling action and resolution, following the old Hollywood premise. Its not about coming of age stories of lesbians or coming out or first romance. It’s a more authentic look at lesbian and queer lives with an authentic form to match. The short film category is pretty much saturated by lesbian filmmakers because of budgetary constraints and even the documentary format with lots and lots of donors and sponsors. And this film too had donors and sponsors but was made collectively and that is the difference.

The premise of the film with a smart script by Sarah Shulman concerns four middle aged dykes whose lives didn’t turn out really they way they wanted, who cover up the accidental murder of a provocative baby dyke. The initial moments of the film blast footage of the Riot Girrl band "The Screech" with captivating music set to feminist political lyrics and jarring imagery to boot. With this the veteran director pulls you in from the first seconds. This is an odyssey about lesbian/queer personal politics and features actors that continue to put lesbian filmmaking on the map. First up are veteran actors that changed the way lesbian storytelling was done in Rose Troche’s Go Fish (1994). Guinevere Turner  plays Iris former Screech lead singer and V.S. Brodie  sticks with the initials as MJ, former Screech producer.  Dunye couples up as Carol with UK filmmaker Lisa Gornick who plays bass player Lily and then there is baby dyke, Deak Evgenikos as Cricket and her tool toting mate, Skye, played by Skyler Cooper

The film seeks to unite today’s nuanced lesbian queer butch transman movement with no labels but enough signposts that reveal a collective language known to the audience it primarily caters to.The rich iconography of images, in your face closeups with gut wrenching confession, in of split screen anecdotes interspersed with clever dialogue that makes this an exciting film. The fragmented narrative and cinema verité encounters with the actors, and the collective nature of the venture cooks up a fresh kind off story telling. 

© 2010 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/23/10
Movie Magazine International


  1. We would love to cross-post this review. If you're interested, let me know. infoATfeministreviewDOTorg


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