After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art History at Wellesley College, Lizzie Borden moved to New York, painted, wrote for Artforum, and made an experimental documentary called Reassembly, featuring some of the art world’s superstars like Joan Jonas and Barbara Kruger, and is currently underway. Restored by Film Anthology Archive. Her next film “Born In Flames” premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize. Since then, it has been shown at more than 100 film festivals, written about in dozens of books, and taught in university curricula around the world. In 2016, “Born In Flames” was restored by an anthology archive. It is currently streaming on the Benchmark channel. Borden has a script for Bob Marley, “The Rebels,” currently in pre-production at Bron Studios. She is preparing to direct her next film, the romantic mystery Rialto, set against a McCarthy backdrop, and is editing an anthology of writing by strippers and sex workers for publication by Seven Stories Press.
Female Workers” premiered at the 1986 edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Directors’ Week, and won the Best Film Award at the Sundance Film Festival, distributed by Miramax. It has also been shown at dozens of festivals around the world, including Toronto, Telluride, London, Edinburgh and Berlin.
Restored Standard “Working Girls” is now in theaters.
W&H: Describe the movie to us in your own words.
LB: “Working Girls” follows Molly for a day in a New York brothel when a ruthless woman forces her to stay in two shifts, pushing her beyond her emotional limits.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
LB: Some of my friends in the downtown art/movie world worked in a brothel like this, which seemed like a viable way to fund their work. Also, I’ve never seen “middle-class” sex work portrayed in movies before – only prostitutes, high-class call girls, and women seeing clients at home.
W&H: What do you want people to think after watching the movie?
lbs: To consider the difference between renting your body for a few hours a week and having time for your own business or working a low paying job for more than 40 hours a week and being so tired you don’t have time or energy for anything else.
I wanted people to think of “work” in general. Do you feel taken advantage of at your job or by your boss?
W&H: What is the biggest challenge in the film industry?
LB: Finding actors playing some “John” and masked actors—and actresses—the script wasn’t porn. Also, dealing with the rating board because they asked for a lot of cuts.
W&H: How did you get your film financed?
Lbs: I filmed Working Girls with $100,000 of rent money I got in escrow and two grants, which D.A. Pennebaker helped me get. Two women from Alternate Current joined the board of directors and created a limited partnership to raise the $200,000 we needed to finish.
W&H: What inspired you to become a director?
Lbs: I come from the art world, where women I know like Yvonne Rayner and Joan Jonas have been making demo films and video along with their other work. After seeing a retrospective of Godard’s films, I realized I could make part feature films and part essay. These all inspired my first films, which were more experimental than Working Girls.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
LB: The worst advice was not to offer “Born in Flames” because I didn’t know where to turn – all I had was a hypothesis.
The best advice was from a lecture given by Susan Brownmiller, who said not to read newspapers first thing in the morning – start working properly when one’s brain is fresh.
W&H: What’s your advice for other female directors?
Lbs: My best advice to all independent filmmakers – cis/non-binary – is to tell your own stories. Nobody sees the world from your point of view. Try to own or master as many production tools as possible. Collaborate with others.
If you want to make movies with a bigger budget, offer free director services – research, web services, and tech skills you might not know.
W&H: Name your favorite female-directed movie and why.
LB: I’ve always been drawn to films that are about women on the edge. Now this is the “wrath” of Ida Lupino. Lupino depicts the horror and confusion that its main character, Anne, experiences after a rape – that is, a “criminal assault” – through great sound and visual design, while Anne heads west trying to escape the home spaces she rules and defines.
After #MeToo, it seems very relevant.
W&H: How are you coping with life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you maintain your creativity, and if so, how?
LB: There have been many phases of the epidemic – some activists. It felt like a lot of it “found time”, albeit with anxiety and distraction. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve worked on back-torch projects, including a book, an anthology of strippers/sex workers.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color on screen and behind the scenes and promoting – and creating – negative stereotypes. What actions do you think should be taken to make Hollywood and/or the document world more inclusive?
LB: I think there are two paths toward more inclusivity.
Independent films and documentaries have been made for decades by talented, international filmmakers, WOC’s, and converts, often undervalued due to their low budget or lack of visibility. Films like Garrett Bradley’s “Time” and Radha Plank’s “The Forty-Year-Old Version” have had a huge impact in fighting negative stereotypes, but many independent/document films have been made for less money. If more distribution channels could be created to showcase it, it could have a huge impact in fighting the stereotypes that appear in big commercial entertainment.
The second is the fight against the industry for parity: There were discussions after the BLM and several WOCs were set on episodic television as a result. But how does a WOC gain enough experience to hire them as pilot directors or show directors? Women in Power must emulate Ava DuVernay – hire WOC, provide experience, step up. The studio system reflects our divided country, so it will be arduous and slow, but we must take heart from the Indies, [which showcase] An amazing collection of experiences voiced by the WOC.