Advice to Adventurous Girls
February 21, 2016
How did you find out about Joanie 4 Jackie and how old were you at the time?
I’d seen Miranda’s film “The Amateurist” and been thrilled by it. I was an artist in my twenties, inspired by photographer Cindy Sherman (Untitled Film Stills series) and filmmakers Anne McGuire (“When I Was a Monster”, “I Am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong”) and Chantal Akerman (“Je,Tu, Il, Elle”, “Jeanne Dielman”). I felt something resonant in what Miranda was doing and kept my ear to the ground for future projects. When I learned she was inviting women filmmakers to send her their own films, I did, in a heartbeat.
What interested you about the project?
I loved the mission, the D.I.Y. attitude, the mix of irreverence and earnestness in the promotional video and fliers. Joanie 4 Jackie created a forum that allowed the community to reveal itself and strengthen by doing so.
At the time you participated in Joanie 4 Jackie did you consider yourself a filmmaker? What was your relationship to making movies?
I was a photographer who eased into filmmaking by attaching a motor-drive to my still camera to shoot twelve frames per second to make silent movie inspired flip-books. Then I bought a wind-up Bolex 16mm film camera and slept beneath streamers of clothes-pinned index cards, each representing a film scene. Each day I carried a tackle box filled with paper tape, splicers, grease pencils and sat in darkness with a six-plate Steinbeck editing machine. Akin to acquiring a trade like blacksmithing or millinery, I felt I was being inducted into the arcane guild of filmmakers.
Do you have any specific anecdotes or memories associated with your movie?
I began with a shoebox of mysterious 1920s photographs. In them, a young woman—calves sheathed in leather, chest blazoned with skull and crossbones—straddles a motorcycle and rides perpendicular to the ground, chasing her own shadow on a twenty-foot high Wall of Death.
I didn’t own a computer, but there wasn’t much of a World Wide Web yet anyway. So I called strangers—carnies, bikers, daredevils, historians—to ask if they knew or had known “Lillian LaFrance, The Girl Who Flirts with Death”. No one did, though many had heard her name. I began to face the impossibility of my task but couldn’t give up—somehow I needed Lillian.
The History Room of Oakland’s main library has an imposing wall of local phone directories for each county from 1869 to 1943. One afternoon, on a hunch, I went there and selected one at random, 1938, and there was my first clue: my daredevil, living on Dante Avenue. I checked fifteen years in both directions and found no trace, save the first book. Lillian wanted me to find her—she needed me, too.
What did you think/feel about the Joanie 4 Jackie at the time? And now, in retrospect?
There are now many other means of production, outlets, ways to connect that shift focus and broaden the cinematic landscape beyond “Hollywood”. Joanie 4 Jackie not only anticipated this shift, but helped to launch it. It was immensely validating as an artist to be included, and just plain cool to see the other women’s films, all of which I likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
What institutions, groups, people, publications and movements were inspiring you at the time of your participation in J4J?
The San Francisco 1990s experimental filmmaking scene was so vibrant and generous. Lynne Sachs taught me (among other things) how to load a movie camera, Gail Silva’s Film Arts Foundation gave me my first grant, filmmakers Barbara Hammer, Lynn Kirby and Jeanne Finley critiqued my first footage, Craig Baldwin gave me my first public screening, at Artists’ Television Access, Greta Snider and Bill Daniel toured that film around the U.S. as part of a mobile art show via VW van. There were so many inspiring makers and venues, I couldn’t help but pick up a camera and see what would happen.
What do you do now – professionally and otherwise? Are you still involved in filmmaking?
My chainletter film was based on the life of a Kansas farm girl who ran away with the carnival and traveled the globe as a motorcycle daredevil, breaking hearts from Hong Kong to Hollywood. Although this feminist pioneer inspired me, her regrets about her limited opportunities and the price exacted by fame also broke my heart.
For more than a decade I’ve been haunted, daisy-chaining a timeline from new evidence, reaching for deeper understanding. But I was neither able to escape nor tell this story with the courage and candor it demanded until I accepted its lesson regarding the rewards and consequences of life lived on one’s own terms. A different daredevilry.
I’ve since written a book about her life and my haunting. Part fictional biography set in a Burmese mental hospital in the 1930s, part literary memoir set in an artist’s colony in present-day New Hampshire, “Advice to Adventurous Girls” incorporates the unpublished letters and photographs of the first woman in the world to ride a Wall of Death.