Movies that shine like comets in the night. Filmmakers who challenge their limits with indescribable passion and intensity. For the Very First or the Very Last Time -a section under the permanent influence of Nick Ray, a dazzling and border filmmaker- suggests a celebration of a cinema unconnected to news and trends, revisiting films made of rare and beautiful moments in which filmmakers, either out of intrepidity or mere necessity, managed to make their images scintillate as they can only do the first and last times.
On this occasion, Elena Oroz, researcher and programmer, selected The Watermelon Woman (1996), the first film directed by the American director and screenwriter of Liberian origin Cheryl Dunye, an outstanding exponent of a cinema that explored questions of identity, gender, race, sex, etc., from a personal and autobiographical perspective that aspired to amplify the mere theoretical position. Thanks to Elena Oroz we will discover why The Watermelon Woman is one of the milestones of the militant cinema of the nineties.
Teatro de Pontevedra
THE WATERMELON WOMAN
USA | 1996 | 83′ | Color |
In The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl, a fledgling Black lesbian filmmaker played by Dunye herself, sets out to make a documentary about Faith Richardson, a lost cinematic ancestor glimpsed in 1930s race films. Playfully switching between 16mm film and the radical and short-lived 1990s grainy videotape aesthetic, Dunye layers slices of everyday life with black-and-white archival bits about Faith, then known as The Watermelon Woman.
Cheryl Dunye (1966, Monrovia, Liberia), first emerged as part of the Queer New Wave of young filmmakers in the early 1990s with her first feature film, The Watermelon Woman (1996), winning the Teddy Award for Best Feature at the 1996 Berlin International Film Festival. The film, now considered a classic, was restored in 2016 for its 20th anniversary and resides in the permanent cinema collection at the MoMA, NY. Since The Watermelon Woman and Stranger Inside (2001), Cheryl has written and directed a number of films including The Owls (2010), Mommy is Coming (2012), and Black is Blue (2014). Her TV directorial debut began in 2017 with Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar. Her episodic directing credits include Claws (TNT), The Chi (Showtime), Star (FOX), Dear White People (Netflix), All Rise (CBS), and Lovecraft Country (HBO), among others.
MASTERCLASS WITH ELENA OROZ
Sexuality, race, archival lies and videotapes
The Watermelon Woman (1996) is the first feature film by Cheryl Dunye (1966, Liberia). The film closes the cycle of what she called Dunyementaries, a series of autobiographical tapes where subjectivity and identity become spaces for cultural and political intervention. In her words, “I was fed up with the lack of a black lesbian imagery in the world, so I decided to do something about it. I used myself as a landscape, mixing fact, fiction and narrative issues. They became what I affectionately referred to as Dunyementaries, a mix of film, video, friends, and artistic passion.”
The film stands out for its questioning of the archive (as a regulated space, but open to the figuration of alternative memories and genealogies), its narrative fragmentation, its low-resolution aesthetic typical of video and a sense of humour as light as irreverent. In this sense, the audience will be able to find echoes with other experimental filmmakers such as Su Friedrich or Barbara Hammer, as well as with some of the most representative low-budget American comedies of the 90s, such as Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994) or Go Fish (Rose Troche, 1994), the latter also key in the articulation of the new queer cinema. As a final label points out, which we do not reveal, The Watermelon Woman continues to be a current and necessary film due to its consideration of History and its writing as a space for contestation. And there is a lot at stake here.
Elena Oroz (1978,Soria, Spain). Assistant professor at Carlos III University of Madrid in the Department of Communication, a member of the TECMERIN research group and the University Institute of Spanish Cinema of the same university. Her areas of study are documentary, Spanish cinema, and feminist film and theory. She has written more than 20 book chapters and articles published in academic journals and, among others, she has co-edited the books Lo personal es politico. Documental y Feminismo / The Personal is Political. Documentary and Feminism (Gobierno de Navarra, 2011), and Entrevistas con creadoras del cine español contemporáneo. Millones de cosas por hacer (Peter Lang, 2021). She also belongs to the association Mujeres y Cine. MYC, and Latin American Women’s Audiovisual Research Network, RAMA. Webpage: www.elenaoroz.com
Página web: www.elenaoroz.com