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Filmmaker discusses inspiration for feminist documentary

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 01:01


“A Moment in Her Story,” (2012) a film chronicling the challenges of the Second Wave women’s movement in Boston in the late 1960s and early 1970s, will screen tomorrow at Tisch Library Room 304, launching Tufts’ new film series featuring the work of women directors and producers.

Filmmaker Catherine Russo, a member of the Second Wave of feminism herself, will participate in a discussion with Lecturer Ronna Johnson following tomorrow’s screening.

The series, titled “A Camera of Her Own: Women Filmmakers Today,” is designed to bring attention to women involved in filmmaking, a group that is underrepresented in the industry according to Professor of the Practice in Film from the Drama and Dance Department Jennifer Burton. The communications and media studies program, the women’s studies program and the Department of Drama and Dance are jointly organizing the series.

The Daily spoke with Russo earlier this week to discuss the film that took her nearly two decades to complete.


The Tufts Daily: How did you first get involved in the Second Wave of the women’s movement?

Catherine Russo: In 1968, I was at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the anti-war student movement was starting then ... Because the student movement was so male-dominated at the time, a lot of the women starting realizing that we needed to organize as women ... I quickly got into what was called consciousness-raising groups then and everybody did and we started realizing we had very common experiences as women. We quickly started organizing women’s sections of the anti-war movement and after doing a lot of that work, people realized they wanted to organize for women’s rights too, not just for civil rights or just for anti-war activity, but women had a movement of their own. 


TD: You said the women’s movement saved your life. Why?

CR: I came from a working-class background and neither of my parents graduated high school ... They didn’t have a lot of expectations for me. To go to secretarial school and when you get married if you have some extra time you should make some extra money and help your husband, that was the expectation. I had a boyfriend in high school and I didn’t really want to get married but I didn’t really see any way out of it ... So when the women’s movement came along in the late ’60s, it was like, “Wow!” and a bell went off for a lot of us ... Back then it was really an incredible sense [that] we were going to change the world. I dropped out of school because I thought the revolution was coming anytime and I wanted to devote myself full-time to the revolution, and many people did that because we really thought we were going to drastically change the country and the capitalist system. That didn’t happen. Many things did happen, but that didn’t happen. But it was this amazing sense that we were living in this amazing time and we were young and idealistic and working in collectives and living in collectives.


TD: You said that you didn’t accomplish all of the things that the women’s movement tried to accomplish, but what are the things that you did accomplish coming out of that movement?

CR: When people think of the women’s movement now they think of equal rights, they think of women having the same pay as men, access to abortion, they think of that kind of thing. But actually the biggest part of the women’s movement in that era of late ’60s through the ’70s was a really radical women’s movement whose belief was that we needed to change the way that everybody related to everybody, the way countries related to each other. A big slogan for us was “the personal is political.” Everything is political and everything you do is political. It wasn’t about getting equal rights for women; it was really about changing all the dynamics of oppression ... Back then we looked down upon [National Organization for Women]. They are reformers rather than revolutionaries.


TD: Who are the feminist stars you chose to feature in your film?

CR: In one part of the film one woman says that star-tripping was very frowned upon. We believed in collectives, we believed in collective responsibility. We really didn’t believe anyone should be playing the role of a leader ... The women I choose are the women who were very involved in building institutions like battered women’s shelters and women’s committees and Take Back the Night and different organizations ... A lot of women who were prominent in their own political field but not necessarily picked up by the media because the media never picked up on our message. They felt safer with someone like Betty Friedan.


TD: You portray a lot of women who are, as you describe, working class, black, Latina, lesbian, socialist and, by and large, those less included in the First Wave of feminism. How did the Second Wave of feminism attempt to transcend these identity lines and form a cohesive movement? What struggles were involved?

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