BFI #LFF 2018: YOURS IN SISTERHOOD Film Review

YOURS IN SISTERHOOD Film Still

Fusing the past with the present, YOURS IN SISTERHOOD is a collective portrait of feminism now and forty years ago

UK-born filmmaker Irene Lusztig presents a collective portrait of feminism and the lost art of letter writing in her new documentary YOURS IN SISTERHOOD.

Filmed between 2015 and 2017, YOURS IN SISTERHOOD invites strangers in communities across the US to give voice to letters sent to the editor of Ms. Magazine – America’s first mainstream feminist magazine – in the 1970s. The women read the letters aloud and then engage with the content, relating the letters to their own personal experiences.

Fusing the past with the present, YOURS IN SISTERHOOD is a collective portrait of feminism now and forty years ago. Lusztig follows a deceptively simple but hugely effective structure here, taking women of all races, ages and political views and framing them squarely in the centre of their ordinary lives. This relatively simple formula allows the women to convey the information with maximum clarity, the camera lingering briefly, silently and sometimes uncomfortably on the reader, before moving on to the next subject.

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The real value of Lusztig’s work is found in the words and the women who recite them. Here, the documentary doesn’t tell a story as such but gathers an ensemble of personal narratives related to womanhood. Lusztig pairs the women – and in a few cases, the author themselves – with a letter that speaks to them. A female cop reads a letter from a frustrated young woman who can’t get hired as an officer in the 70s. A modern student who is feminist and pro-life reads a letter from a woman who felt the same in the 70s. These letters explore stories of self-image, self-love, sexuality, breaking gender norms and women’s liberation to name but a few.

The real tragedy of this situation, however, is how little progress we seem to have made. These letters may 40 years old but as the women read the writer’s words and then comment on how it makes them feel or think, it becomes appallingly clear that many of the issues women faced in the 1970s are still the same issues that women face today. Everything from discrimination in the workplace and domestic violence to rape and racism is touched on here, a stark reminder of just how much work still needs to be done in the fight for equality.

There’s also a wider argument about the magazine itself, which was supposed to be a voice for female empowerment, yet mainly seemed to cater to a certain type of woman. Of all the correspondence received, only a select few were ever published, the remaining voices tucked away in an archive never to be heard. Minorities, lesbians, transgender individuals, victims of abuse and women with disabilities were often left out of the magazine as Lusztig effectively shows through the course of the documentary.

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Clocking in at 101 minutes, YOURS IN SISTERHOOD could do with a bit of editing here and there. While together the letters are incredibly powerful, the simplistic format of the documentary doesn’t really boast enough narrative force to handle a feature film. Lusztig also lets the women proceed at their own pace and while some performers read with great enthusiasm, others seem to lack energy in their performance.

That said, there’s a beauty to each static shot and the intimate, provocative and often thought-provoking conversations that emerge from the letters certainly make you think critically about the past, present and the future of feminism.

A timely and resonant piece.

(3 / 5)

YOURS IN SISTERHOOD screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 19 October 2018.

Donna is the Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she is a digital marketing whizz, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage, The Public Reviews and ScreenRelish. Loves Shakespeare, prosecco and Formula 1