“Love, Barbara” was selected as a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival, presented by TheWrap. You can watch the films 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 groundbreaking director in the lesbian film genre, Hammer’s work was iconoclastic and experimental, focused on offering a window into lesbian life and relationships with artistry and innovation.
What “Love, Barbara” offers that other overviews of Hammer’s work might have missed is the perspective of Florrie R. Burke, the filmmaker’s lover for 31 years who, after Hammer’s death in 2019, dedicated herself to preserving her legacy for posterity.
Director of the documentary 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 new insight into the artist whose love for lesbians burned so bright.
When did you first learn about Barbara Hammer and how did she come to be so important to you?
I actually wrote my thesis on Barbara and her early filmography in the ’70s, so I was focused [on] some of her early films like “Dyketactics.” I studied American Studies in History and I was really interested in lesbian cinema throughout history and I came across Barbara Hammer’s work and learned of her at that time, as a queer pioneer of lesbian film.
I went to school in DC, George Washington, and I wasn’t able to access any of Barbara’s films. They weren’t online; I couldn’t access them through any of the libraries in the DMV area, and so I just reached out to Barbara herself and she sent me her films, so we met through that process. Then I moved to New York to become a filmmaker myself and met her, and I was really invigorated and inspired by Barbara’s journey and trajectory 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 in her 30s and falling in love with a woman. She wanted to show this reference point in a really personal and fun, experimental and playful way.
I know Barbara passed in March 2019. When did you enter her sphere? When did you connect?
We connected when I was in school in 2016 and we met up in person in 2017. When I was in production on my first film in June 2019 and I’d reached out to Barbara in January or February and asked her for coffee and ask for advice, she let me know she was at the end of her life. But I felt really grateful for her presence in my journey. I do feel like seeing her start making films in her 30s and coming out later in life was really encouraging for me to graduate and make films in New York.
So then how did “Love, Barbara” come to fruition? How did you end up connecting with Barbara’s widow Florrie?
I actually didn’t know Florrie until Barbara passed. I just cold emailed her fall of 2019 and explained how I was such a fan of Barbara and had done so much research on her. It was right around the time I had started to go to the Beinecke [Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale] where Barbara’s formal archive is housed to continue my research with hopes to make a documentary on her life and work and impact.
At the time I was really just interested in speaking with Florrie about her thoughts on a documentary about Barbara, what she would find interesting. We built a relationship and got really close talking about Barbara and we’re still really close to this day. I’m in the throes of making a feature on Barbara now and I see Florrie a fair amount; she’s flying up to New York next week, actually, for another shoot. But we started talking and I think me sharing how much I had been touched by Barbara’s career and films, and just her presence as a cultural figure, was really exciting to Florrie.
I was grateful to have connected with her; she still lived in New York at the time, then it was the pandemic and we hunkered down for awhile and stayed in touch virtually, but then we were able to dive back in and I was at her house in West Village a day a week until she moved in 2021, digitizing Barbara’s archive, the things that didn’t go to Yale, as Florrie was going through everything to prepare to move across the country. We were filming through that, as well.
Did meeting Florrie bring you new insight into who Barbara was as an artist and a person?
Absolutely. I had done so much research on Barbara’s work, and her formal practice and her intention behind her career. I was familiar with interviews she’d done and all of that. But I think it was really touching and, honestly, really fun 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’s so interesting to me is she’s this huge, charismatic personality and she’s so electric talking about her work and as a performer, so I was just curious. I definitely feel like I got to know who Barbara was much more closely because of Florrie’s stories, and insight and extra information around the films and the process.
One thing in particular that was really illuminated for me was Barbara’s deep, deep love for editing. It sounds like a professional note, and it is, but I think with Barbara, those lines of public and private were sort of 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 her editing studio in San Francisco and she asked Florrie for her thoughts or her notes. [She] would hand her a pen and paper and want her to give her opinion. Those things I had never known just by doing research, it was really eye-opening. I just really appreciate, considering the queer archive at large, the fact that oral history is so valuable in terms of remembering history.
As more people see the film what do you hope they take from it?
A few things. I hope that, for people who know and love Barbara and her work — and this goes for people who are first engaging with her work through “Love, Barbara” as well — I hope that people see how her massive career collection and her determination to have done what she did, and produce the work that she did, was really inspired by and came from the love that she shared with Florrie.
The fact that, especially the first years after Barbara passed, Florrie was literally sheperding Barbara’s legacy into the future, physically doing that. It’s a testament to the love and partnership, and Barbara Hammer’s love and partnership in particular, because it makes so much sense that she was the lesbian lover filmmaker. That this 31-year, love of her life relationship was the thing that she lives on through.
The 2023 ShortList Film Festival runs online from June 28 – July 12, honoring the top award-winning short films that have premiered at major festivals in the past year. Watch the finalists and vote for your favorite here.