Arts professor to premiere film at 2018 Berlin International Film Festival


Irene Lusztig (photo by R. Ron Jones)



Letters from the 1970s sent to the editor of Ms. Magazine
UC Santa Cruz alumnus Alex Johnston (Ph.D. Film & Digital Media, 2017)

UC Santa Cruz film and digital media professor Irene Lusztig will premiere her new film, Yours in Sisterhood, at the 2018 Berlinale, running February 15-25 in Berlin, Germany.

One of the world’s leading international film festivals, the annual event screens nearly 400 films each year of every length and format, attracting visitors from more than 100 countries.

Yours in Sisterhood is a collective study of feminism--both now and four decades ago--that has recently taken on a new sense of urgency since the 2016 election. Between 2015 and 2017, Lusztig invited hundreds of strangers from communities across the United States to read aloud and respond to letters from the 1970s sent to the editor of Ms. Magazine, America’s first mainstream feminist magazine.

“I spent the summer of 2014 in the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America reading boxes containing thousands of these mostly unpublished letters to the editor,” said Lusztig. “What was most striking during my archival research is that the issues covered by these letters are still the same big issues that women and gender-nonconforming people are facing today--sexual harassment, violence, and assault, access to abortion and birth control, body image, workplace discrimination, gender and sexuality, race, class, and inclusivity."

“Inspired by these incredible letters, in the summer of 2015, I set off on a journey to share these letters with ordinary people all over the U.S. I wanted to know if this rich collective archive of everyday feminist history and experience could be a catalyst for a new kind of national conversation about feminism today.”

For the next two years, Lusztig filmed over 300 readings with volunteers in 32 different states across the country. Each project participant was matched with a 70s letter sent from their own city or town and invited to read aloud and respond to their letter.

“I've filmed readings with people of all ages, gender identities, shapes, colors, and backgrounds on both coasts, in the Midwest, the Rockies, and the South, in remote rural areas and major cities,” Lusztig noted. “Filming these conversations with strangers alongside the election, its aftermath, the #metoo movement and much more, this project has felt increasingly timely and resonant--the stakes for how we create conversations about feminism right now feel higher and more urgent than ever.”

Born in England to Romanian parents, Lusztig grew up in Boston and has lived in France, Italy, Romania, China, and Russia. She received her BA in filmmaking and Chinese studies from Harvard and completed her MFA in film and video at Bard College.

Her work has been screened around the world in such venues as the Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Anthology Film Archives, Pacific Film Archive, IDFA Amsterdam, and on television in the U.S., Europe, and Taiwan. She is also the 2016-17 recipient of a Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship in Portugal.

UC Santa Cruz alumnus Alex Johnston (Ph.D. Film & Digital Media, 2017) will also have a film screened at the 2018 Berlinale. Evidence of the Evidence is about the 1971 Attica prison uprising. Utilizing rarely seen video recordings (produced by a New York State Trooper), the film offers a visceral ground level account of the events at Attica.

“Irene (Lusztig) was my primary creative advisor at UCSC, and has been a massive influence on my work as a filmmaker,” said Johnston. “The film I am screening at the Berlinale constituted a ‘visual’ chapter in my recently completed dissertation,” he added.

Johnston’s work has screened at a wide range of venues, including the Cachoeira Doc Festival, San Francisco’s Other Cinema, the New Orleans Film Festival, Iowa City Documentary Film Festival, and the Miners' Colfax Medical Center, a convalescent home for retired hard rock and coal miners in Raton, New Mexico.