A 1995 documentary feature by Michelle Handelman, professor of Film, Media, and Performing Arts, titled BloodSisters: Leather, Dykes and Sadomasochism, is being rereleased by Kino Lorber and will be screened throughout the end of this year and into next year.
Recognized as a groundbreaking work, BloodSisters captures San Francisco’s leather dyke scene in the early 1990s, a time when the city was the epicenter of body modification and gender nonconformity, with transgender pioneers like Patrick Califia and Tala Brandeis fighting for visibility, alongside the voice of this bold S/M community speaking out for equal rights. Handelman’s DIY-style documentary introduces viewers to eight self-described leather dykes who describe their feelings of being cast off by the larger lesbian community.
Originally distributed by Women Make Movies, an organization that received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, BloodSisters was at the heart of a censorship controversy when the NEA was up for ratification in the late 1990s. The controversial film was attacked in Congress by the American Family Association for its depictions of radical lesbian sexuality, but it reveals a fluidity to role-playing that is more complex. As one woman declares, “S/M is about finding your own boundaries and moving beyond … claiming your own agency.”
BloodSisters was the first film to represent this queer community on the fringes and features players who started the current conversation on gender fluidity and radical sexuality. On Dec. 3, Handelman will participate in a discussion about the film organized by the Stonewall National Museum and Archives with the organization’s executive director, Hunter O’Hanian. An interview with Handelman about the film can also be found in Bomb Magazine here.