In her 1983 classic indie polemic on racism, sexism and socialism, director Lizzie Borden definitely has her own ax to wield-and grind. On the tenth anniversary of the United States’ Social Democratic War of Liberation, the government celebrates “the most peaceful revolution the world has known,” while the citizenry of New York City becomes increasingly angry and agitated. In this alternate America, government oppression and violence against women is rampant, and the feminist response is increasingly potent. Embedded within the radical feminist underground, Born in Flames follows the activities of the Women’s Army, a powerful but loosely organized faction of female vigilantes and counterrevolutionaries, and two pirate radio programs trying to awaken the sisterhood and shake up the system. Three female reporters (including a young Kathryn Bigelow) for the government’s Socialist Youth Review newspaper play intelligent counterpoint to the antiestablishment activities, but when the outspoken Black leader of the Women’s Army dies in police custody, a united front emerges to take direct action and potentially dangerous measures. A futuristic feminist drama shot 25 years ago in vérité documentary style, Born in Flames defies the borders of time and politics-here, the past is still very much the present, the revolution still the reality. An inspiration to director Jamie Babbit’s Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Borden is the godmother of cinematic insurrection. And with eerily prescient pre-9/11 images of the World Trade Center bookending her film, she may just be the much needed prophet of our time.
Frameline31, the 31st San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, screening June 14-24 at the Castro Theatre, Roxie Film Center, the Victoria Theatre, and at the Parkway Theater in Oakland, is the oldest and largest event of its kind in the world.