The anticipation for Cheryl Dunye’s latest feature, an experimental narrative entitled The Owls (Older Wiser Lesbian) was high as information about the project has been accessible for some time. The filmmaker and actors belong to the Parliament Film Collective, a matrix of lesbian and new queer cinema creativity. The film cost $22,000 to make, and seems to fit in with the challenge made by Maya Deren to make good affordable films. (She said her films cost what Hollywood spends on lipstick.)
The Owls should turn queer cinema in a new direction, away from big budgets and narrative construction with rising falling action and resolution, following the old Hollywood premise. It's not about coming of age stories of lesbians or coming out or first romance. It’s a more authentic look at lesbian and queer lives with an authentic form to match. The short film category is pretty much saturated by lesbian filmmakers because of budgetary constraints, and even the documentary format with lots and lots of donors and sponsors. This film, too, had donors and sponsors, but was made collectively, and that is the difference.
The Owls is an odyssey about lesbian/queer personal politics and features actors that continue to put lesbian filmmaking on the map. With a smart script by Sarah Schulman, the premise of the film concerns four middle aged dykes whose lives didn’t turn out really they way they wanted, and who cover up the accidental murder of a provocative baby dyke. The initial moments of the film blast footage of the riot grrrl band The Screech with captivating music set to feminist political lyrics and jarring imagery to boot. With this the veteran director pulls you in from the first seconds.
The film seeks to unite today’s nuanced lesbian-queer-butch-transman movement with no labels, but enough signposts that reveal a collective language known to the audience it primarily caters to. The rich iconography of images, in your face closeups with gut wrenching confession, and split screen anecdotes interspersed with clever dialogue makes this an exciting film. The fragmented narrative and cinema vérité encounters with the actors, and the collective nature of the venture cooks up a fresh kind off story telling.