'!Women' director sees irony in TIFF lineup

Bell Lightbox inaugural lineup of films is virtually all by men

TORONTO -- The irony wasn't lost on Lynn Hershman Leeson.

The San Francisco filmmaker on Sunday debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival "!Women Art Revolution -- A Secret History," a film about breaking down barriers facing women in the art world.

And Hershman Leeson lamented an inaugural fall lineup of films at Bell Lightbox, TIFF's newly-launched year-round home, that is virtually all by men.

"It's really kind of disgraceful," Hershman Leeson said.

The Bell Lightbox lineup includes new works by Denis Villeneuve, Bruce McDonald, Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, James Andean, Francois Xavier Saint-Pierre and Barr Gilmore.

"It (Bell Lightbox) is an incredible structure and leaves open great possibilities of how they can make amends," she added.

The irony also wouldn't be lost on Hershman Leeson's contemporaries, women artists and critics who she filmed for over 40 years before distilling those interviews into "!Women Art Revolution," a chronicle from Hotwire Productions of feminist artists forcing their way into the modern-day art world.

"I see this film as a gesture of inspired empowerment, of how obstacles caused a certain stoppage and how women in the film insinuated themselves, often by reinvention, into the art world," the filmmaker explained.

An example was the New York City-based Guerrilla Girls movement, which in 1985 used artistic humor and the element of surprise to indict the art world with sexism.

"We were anonymous, so we couldn't be accused of sour grapes," a Guerilla Girl known as Gertrude Stein said while wearing a gorilla mask and being interviewed at TIFF on Sunday.

The Guerilla Girls are only one part of Hershman Lesson's feminist art world chronicle, which starts amid the backdrop of the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements, moves to breakthrough women artists of the 1970s and 1980s, including Judy Chicago's epic installation "The Dinner Party," before turning to major art movement changes of late.

As the 21st century dawns, how is feminist art doing? "It's still pretty bad, though not as bad as it was," the filmmaker says.

"!Women Art Revolution" features an original film score by Carrie Brownstein.

The film was written, directed, produced and edited by Hershman Leeson. Producer credits also go to Kyle Stephan, Carla Sacks and Alexandra Chowaniec.

After debuting Sunday in Toronto, "!Women Art Revolution" has additional public screenings here on Sept. 14 and 19.
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