Like Joan Braderman's 2009 doc The Heretics, Lynn Hershman Leeson's lionizing chronicle of the birth, in the late '60s, and efflorescence of feminist art is motivated by first-person recollection. "I realize the timeline of this film is my own timeline," says Leeson, born in 1941, a performance artist-turned-director who's made three movies with Tilda Swinton. Though her autobiographical asides sometimes disrupt the flow of her interview footage, which she began assembling 40 years ago, !Women Art Revolution moves briskly, unfolding as one lively sit-down after another with artists, scholars, and curators who established themselves at the height of second-wave feminism. !WAR features both the movement's higher-profile names—including a 1990 chat with Judy Chicago in the bathroom of a West Coast college (the acoustics were good)—and lesser-known figures like Howardena Pindell, whose 1980 video Free, White and 21 remains underseen. For all its celebration, Leeson's generational portrait also reminds us that sisterhood wasn't always powerful: Critic B. Ruby Rich recalls the craven responses of feminist artists who refused to speak up after the death of one of their own, Ana Mendieta, who many suspect was killed by her husband, the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. The laudatory though thankfully nostalgia-averse tone of !WAR is best summed up by Harmony Hammond's assessment of the era: "It was excitement, it was empowering, it was a lot of fucking work."
The Guerrilla Girls in action.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., June 17â€“Thurs., June 23. Not rated. 113 minutes.