“Pleasure is a priority,” says Tova Sewall in Michelle Handelman’s 1995 documentary, “Bloodsisters: Leather, Dykes And Sadomasochism,” which is now screening virtually as part of OUTFEST 2020.
Though not for the faint of heart, the experience of watching Handlemann’s 25 year-old masterpiece is poignant and pleasurable. With eight brave and articulate interview subjects, the doc breaks down the subculture from the inside out. Handlemann foregrounds courage, activism, and communion as elements of the SM leather dyke experience. The charismatic subjects share an awareness of the sanctity of community, interpersonal relationships, the body, and individual desire. The film is enhanced by a killer soundtrack featuring Chris + Cosey, Coil, Fred Giannelli, Frightwig, and Typhoon, plus kaleidoscopic high 8 visuals.
Woven throughout the film are play scenes with alternating color filters: bodies in chains, pierced by needles, whipped, bound, clipped and clamped, an electrifying array of genuine pain and raw tenderness.
Beyond identity or community alone, the subculture provides an animal/spiritual belonging. “She stuck her fist in my cunt and I knew that I was home,” says J.C. Collins. The catharsis that comes from bringing another or being brought toward one’s fear, and coming through it stronger seems to be at the heart of the dangerous activities, radical politics, and rugged fashions.
As the aesthetics of S/M culture have become increasingly mainstream, this film is an important bridge reminding us to learn our history and understand the intricacies and stakes of the lives of our elders, should we choose to live as bravely as they did.
A live digital panel with director Michelle Handelman, and Leather/Kink/S&M community leaders Queen Cougar, Patrick Califia & Pony Lee will be Moderated by Outfest Legacy Project Manager Brendan Lucas on Fri, Aug 28, at 9pm ET / 6 PM PT.