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Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives

Directed by Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman
Canada, 1992 (documentary / fiction, 85 minutes, colour, English)
Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives
Image: © National Film Board of Canada

Film Description:
"Compelling, often hilarious and always rebellious, nine women paint a portrait of lesbian sexuality against a backdrop of tabloid headlines, book covers and dramatizations from lesbian pulp novels."
-- National Film Board of Canada (source)

Film Credits (partial):
Written by: Aerlyn Weissman, Lynne Fernie
Produced by: Margaret Pettigrew, Ginny Stikeman, Rina Fraticelli
Principal Cast: Stephanie Morgenstern, Lynne Adams, Marie-Jo Thério, George Thomas, Lory Wainberg, Ann Marie MacDonald, Michael Copeland
Cinematography: Zoe Dirse
Film Editing: Cathy Gulkin, Denise Beaudoin
Music: Kathryn Moses
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada / Office national du film du Canada

Award won by Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives

Quotes by the Director

"I was into the cross-pollination of popular culture with lesbian history, feminist art and film theory, and [Aerlyn Weissman] was extremely knowledgeable about documentary filmmaking, so we made a very good team."
-- Lynne Fernie (source)

"There was a fear at the studio that the drama would overwhelm or belittle the women's stories in the documentary. But when we shot the drama, we had seen our documentary rushes, and we knew that nothing but nothing was going to overpower the personalities and storytelling of the women in the documentary"
-- Lynne Fernie (source)

"We simply set out to say we don't want to have voice-overs, we want it to be alive, we want it to be about pleasure. We constructed it so someone didn't have to come in with an explanatory text."
-- Lynne Fernie (source)

"Another thing that I took great joy in—I think we both did—is that we used many historical, archival, and family photographs in Forbidden Love. We always hoped that audiences would go home and flip through their own photo albums and go, 'Maybe this isn't quite what it seems. Maybe there was something going on between Aunt Mimi and that woman she lived with for forty years."
-- Aerlyn Weissman (source)

"We wanted to present a reinterpretation of the traditional pulp-novel ending because most of them end with the lesbian killing herself and her temporarily-swept-away beautiful young lover going back to the husband, who had suddenly turned into a nice guy. We wanted to present the kind of happy ending that you didn't get to see in the 1950s, where it all turned out well."
-- Aerlyn Weissman (source)

Quotes about Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives

"Forbidden Love's talking heads and archival footage are intercut with a dramatization of a lesbian pulp novel, which climaxes in a sizzling love scene complete with deep kisses and bare breasts, surely a first for the NFB, Fernie says, though 'no one at the Board ever suggested cutting it.'"
-- Will Aitken (source)

"In their appropriation of the lesbian pulp genre, Fernie and Weissman counter the stereotypes of lesbians that often pervaded these books. Their version of events has the couple together in the end, well-adjusted, and leading openly lesbian lives."
-- Elizabeth Anderson (source)

"Interested in using formal strategies to make accessible, pleasureable films, Fernie and Wiessman bent Studio D aesthetic rules in Forbidden Love. [...] Their first line of attack was the decision not to have voice-over narration."
-- Elizabeth Anderson (source)

"The film's opening plays knowingly with the conventions of the institutional style of the NFB by satirizing both the Board's logo and its tendency to warn viewers in writing about the contents of its films, despite their general tameness."
-- Jean Bruce (source)

"Forbidden Love has the dubious honour of being one of the last films made by the women's unit, Studio D, as well as the first overtly lesbian film made at the NFB. Lynne Fernie suggests that the NFB's working processes, at the time Forbidden Love was conceived and produced, are largely responsible for its success. She cites Studio D, an overtly feminist space within the NFB with its visionary leader, Rina Fraticelli, as a major factor in allowing women to work, in large part, in a creative and supportive environment."
-- Jean Bruce (source)

"With the cheeky combination of documentary interview and melodramatic bodice-ripper styles, the film [Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives] manages to be both serious and playful, and it invites the audience to enjoy the modulated experience it offers, the pleasures and the trials of its truth and fiction about lesbianism in Canada. [...] What a joy—and education—for everyone who sees it."
-- Jean Bruce, Gerda Cammaer (source)

"Forbidden Love makes some further inroads in the complex terrain of historical archaeology by intercutting the now requisite talking heads with reenactments based on the lesbian pulp novels of the Fifties and Sixties. Produced by the Women's Studio of the National Film Board of Canada, the writers/directors Aerlyn Weissman and Lynne Fernie had the budget to successfully reproduce a filmic effect similar to the sultry, bad-girl esthetic of the novels. The music croons; the blonde ingenue nervously nurses her drink; the mannish (but elegant) brunette seduces; and a new lesbian femme is born, along with a renewed mythology of lesbian history."
-- Alisa Lebow (source)

"Forbidden Love (1992) is the film to see—for every lesbian wannabe out for a quick fix, every heterosexual queer curious about the past, every out-of-it straight who's read Newsweek and wants to know where lesbian chic came from. It's the movie of choice for dykes who suffered through Claire of the Moon (1992), tore their hair out over Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), who wondered when—when, oh lord, when—someone would get around to telling the truth about the life. Take heart. Lynne Fernie and Aerlyn Weissman have made the film you've been yearning to see."
-- B. Ruby Rich (source)

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