Audre Lorde is unquestionably the 20th century’s most famous African American lesbian activist, but did you know she spent a good chunk of her last eight years, from 1984-1992, in Berlin? Her friend and German publisher Dagmar Schultz’s documentary depicts the late poet’s time here in a straightforward yet touching portrayal. Through camcorder footage and audio from countless readings and talks, as well as candid home footage, Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years offers a unique look at a little-known aspect of Lorde’s later life. Catch this touching and inspiring documentary of one of the most important figures of 20th century history in the presence of both director Schultz and co-author and protagonist Hügel Marschall at EXBlicks on Monday, August 29 at 8:30pm (encore September 3) at Lichtblick Kino.
You started filming Lorde way back in 1984. Did you have a feeling this would be a full-length film one day?
It came about later. I did have a sense that I would do something with the photo and audio material, and so did Audre. But that it would be this kind of film, and that it would turn out to be quite successful? No, that was not in my mind.
How did Lorde come into your life?
I first met her in Copenhagen at the World Women’s Conference in 1980, and I was very impressed by a reading she gave and the discussion she held afterwards. I thought it would be good to have her come to Berlin. At the time I was teaching at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, and so I tried to organise a guest professorship for her, which I eventually did. In the meantime I met with her in the US, and in 1984 she finally came to the Institute as a guest professor. The year before that, I had already published a collection of texts by her and her colleague and friend Adrienne Rich, under the title Power and Sensuality, which was influential in opening a discussion on racism in the women’s movement.
The film portrays the empowering effect Audre Lorde had on women who she helped to identify themselves as Afro-German, as “hyphenated people”.
She was a very pivotal person for them – the encounter with her, students and activists who came in contact with her. It was a lasting experience for all of the women and men who met her.
You released the film in 2012, 28 years after meeting her. Why the wait?
I worked on it off and on. I knew this was something other people, Audre’s many fans, should have access to. It was difficult getting money and finding people to work with. The 20th anniversary of her death was coming up and I thought now or never, and found a professional editor, Aletta von Vietinghoff, and worked with her on producing the film. Then we were invited to the Panorama section of the Berlinale. That was really wonderful, in terms of getting the film out into the world, and to many other festivals and getting it screenings.
The film is composed of interviews from today but also footage that you recorded when she was alive.
I had many photos and audio material from her readings, and in addition I could buy material from Third World Newsreel, who had made a film about Audre Lorde, A Litany for Survival. They had come to Berlin in 1989 to film Audre and they used only a fraction of their material in the film, so I could use some of it. So the first section of the film which deals with the young Afro-Germans uses material from Third World Newsreel, and then the later material is mine.
At one point, Audre speaks of a reluctance by white women to recognize the differences between white and black feminists. It means we have moved separately. Your power is not my power. Is this idea still relevant today?
Audre put new ideas into women’s political circles in Europe. Like, to be conscious of the differences that exist and use them in a positive way. Don’t use them to separate or distinguish yourself from others. A discussion started and women found themselves confronted with new perspectives on race. Her idea was very important – that every person had some power, even if it’s very little, and that we need to work on focusing that power. She said that if we don’t use it, someone else is eventually going to use it against us.
Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years, Mon, Aug 29, 20:30 | Lichtblick Kino, Kastanienallee 77, Prenzlauer Berg, U-Bhf Senefelderplatz