Blog Post 5 – Catherine Saalfield’s Sacred Lies, Civil Truths (Jose C)

Highlighted in the Film Fatales reading, filmmaker and activist Catherine Saalfield is an auteur that stood out to me. Her work, often having a political edge to it often explores the experiences of women and homosexuals. Her approach to her work is that of an artist and an activist. Seeing that filmmaking is “the most efficient, creative and satisfying form of activism” [1], much of her work discusses the power of politics and social movements on the lives of women and homosexuals.

This is especially important because the media has very little representation of both women and homosexuals and their lived experiences as political bodies with agency. As an auteur whose work reflects her own reality as a queer woman, the personal is political and the elevation of her subjects and their lives to the realm of media is as important as it is rare. I watched her 1993 documentary Sacred Lies, Civil Truths and was altogether touched and reminded of my own place in the modern world as a queer person of color.

It’s not a surprise that Catherine discusses how difficult it is to get funding for her work in a male-dominated landscape where images of women are created by men, for the male gaze [3]. Similar to when Gloria Steinem discussed of her own difficulty finding funding for her Ms. magazine in the Sex, Lies and Advertising, there is a general disinclination for major media forces to address women’s stories in any meaningful way, especially in place of the patriarchally-defined images of women that are sold to us. bell hooks discusses this as well in her own critiques of films, particularly with director Spike Lee’s attempts at envisioning a black femininity and “liberated” sexuality. [4]

The documentary Sacred Lies, Civil Truths was a powerful and affecting exploration of the corruption of the religious right-wing and their attempts to gain political leverage by exploiting the country’s fears of homosexuals (and AIDS), also calling to light the effect this hate has on the lives of queer individuals. Juxtaposing news stories of the conservative corruption and the very personal, intimate stories of abuse queer people were faced in their lives really called to light the effect our media has on how minority groups are treated by the larger culture. Groups like the Christian Coalition used the media (as well as grassroots organizing) to build a campaign of hate and ignorance against homosexuals, which fed into the intolerance and violence homosexuals faced. I found this difficult to watch at times.

The importance of work like this cannot be understated. We need media like this that not just represents minority groups like women and homosexuals as they are narrowly defined by patriarchal fantasies and tropes, but in a way that is true to their own lived experiences that encourages viewers beyond tolerance of difference, but into understanding. Auteurs like Catherine create work fueled by their own experiences that discuss social and political inequalities and how those inequalities affect individuals in a real and personal way.

Catherine Saalfield’s Sacred Lies, Civil Truths (Part 1):

You can download Part 2 here:

[1] Film Fatales pp 66
[2] Sex, Lies and Advertising – Gloria Steinem
[3] Visual Pleasure – Laura Mulvey
[4] Reel to Real – bell hooks


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