Love, Barbara sheds new light on the pioneer of queer cinema

“Love, Barbara” was selected as a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival, presented by TheWrap. You can watch the movies and vote for your favorite here.

Whether you’re a fan of Barbara Hammer’s work or a complete neophyte, “Love, Barbara” welcomes you with open arms. A pioneering director in the lesbian film genre, Hammer’s work was iconoclastic and experimental, focused on offering a window into lesbian life and relationships with art and innovation.

What “Love, Barbara” offers that other reviews of Hammer’s work might have missed is the perspective of Florrie R. Burke, the filmmaker’s lover of 31 years who, after Hammer’s death in 2019, dedicated herself to preserving his legacy for posterity.

Documentary director Brydie O’Connor sat down with TheWrap to discuss her affection and admiration for Hammer’s work, which ultimately led her to Burke and offered a new insight into the artist whose love for lesbians burned so brightly.

When did you first hear about Barbara Hammer and how did she become so important to you?

In fact, I wrote my thesis on Barbara and her first filmography in the 1970s, so I concentrated on [on] some of his early movies like “Dyketactics”. I studied American Studies in History and I was very interested in lesbian cinema throughout history and I came across the work of Barbara Hammer and learned about her at that time, as a queer pioneer of lesbian cinema.

I went to school in DC, George Washington, and I couldn’t get into any of Barbara’s movies. They weren’t online; I couldn’t access them through any of the libraries in the DMV area, so I contacted Barbara herself and she sent me her movies, so we met through that process. Then I moved to New York to become a filmmaker and met her, and I was really invigorated and inspired by Barbara’s journey and journey as a filmmaker. She credited not seeing the life on screen that she was living and she wanted to be able to share her spirit and her life, what she was feeling coming out of the closet at 30 and falling in love with a woman. I wanted to show this reference in a very personal and fun, experimental and playful way.

"With love, Barbara"
“Love, Barbara”

I know Barbara passed away in March 2019. When did you come into her sphere? When did you connect?

We connected when I was in school in 2016 and met in person in 2017. When I was in production on my first film in June 2019 and I contacted Barbara in January or February and asked her for coffee and advice, she made me knowing that he was at the end of his life. But I felt very grateful for her presence on my trip. I feel like seeing her start making movies at age 30 and coming out later was really encouraging for me to graduate and make movies in New York.

So how did “Love, Barbara” come to fruition? How did you end up hooking up with Barbara’s widow, Florrie?

In fact, I didn’t meet Florrie until Barbara passed away. I emailed him in the fall of 2019 and explained that I was such a fan of Barbara and that he had done so much research on her. It was right around the time I started going to the Beinecke [Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale] where Barbara’s formal archive is located to continue my research in hopes of making a documentary about her life, work and impact.

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At the time I was really interested in talking to Florrie about her thoughts on a documentary on Barbara, which she would find interesting. We built a relationship and became very close talking about Barbara and we are still very close to this day. I’m in the middle of doing a report on Barbara right now and I see Florrie quite a bit; she’s flying to New York next week, actually, for another shoot. But we started talking and I think sharing how much I had been moved by Barbara’s career and films, and just her presence as a cultural figure, was really exciting for Florrie.

He was grateful to have connected with her; she was still living in nyc at the time then it was the pandemic and we snuggled for a while and kept in touch virtually but then we were able to dive back in and i was at her house in the west village one day a week until she moved out in 2021, she digitized Barbara’s file, the stuff that didn’t go to Yale, while Florrie went through everything to prepare to move across the country. We were shooting through that, too.

Florrie R. Burke in "With love, Barbara"
Florrie R. Burke in “Love, Barbara”

Did meeting Florrie give you a new perspective on who Barbara was as an artist and as a person?

Absolutely. He had done a lot of research on Barbara’s work, her formal practice, and her intention behind her career. I was familiar with the interviews he had done and all that. But I think it was really moving and honestly really funny for me to be able to ask so many questions about Barbara behind the scenes. How she talked about her work, how she was at home. One thing about Barbara that I find very interesting is that she has a huge and charismatic personality and she is very electrifying when talking about her work and as a performer, so she was curious. I definitely feel like I got to know who Barbara was a lot more closely thanks to Florrie’s stories, and the additional insight and information about the films and the process.

One thing in particular that enlightened me was Barbara’s deep love of publishing. It sounds like a professional note, and it is, but I think with Barbara, those lines between public and private were blurred. She loved editing and she loves sharing that with Florrie.

Florrie said that one of the first times she really fell in love with Barbara was when Barbara was showing Florrie around her editing studio in San Francisco and asked Florrie for her thoughts or notes. [She] I would give you a pen and paper and want your opinion. Those things that she had never known just by researching, were really revealing. I really appreciate, considering the queer archive in general, the fact that oral history is so valuable in terms of remembering history.

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As more people see the movie, what do you hope they take away from it?

A few things. I hope that for people who know and love Barbara and her work, and this also goes for people who are first becoming involved with her work through “Love Barbara,” I hope that people see how her enormous career collection and his determination to have done what he did and produce the work he did was really inspired by and grew out of the love he shared with Florrie.

The fact that, especially the first few years after Barbara’s death, Florrie was literally guiding Barbara’s legacy into the future, physically doing that. It’s a testament to love and partnership, and Barbara Hammer’s love and partnership in particular, because it makes perfect sense that she was he lesbian loving filmmaker. That this relationship of 31 years, the love of her life, was what she lives.

The 2023 ShortList Film Festival takes place online from June 28 to July 12, honoring the best award-winning short films that premiered at major festivals in the past year. See the finalists and vote for your favorite here.

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