NewFest 2019 Film Review: The Archivettes ★★★★

If you have one takeaway from the documentary The Archivettes it would be the power of resilience. This concise (just over an hour long) film looks at the history of the Lesbian Herstory Archive, a collection of lesbian documents and “herstory” that started life in the mid-70s as a bookshelf in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Megan Rossman presents the history of the archive through interviews with staff over the years, photos and footage of a new group of volunteers helping to preserve the variety of lesbian experience. The great work Rossman does here is to capture these brilliant women and all of their strength and positivity – this is their great project that will outlive them and it’s a wonderful thing to see grow and unfold.

There’s a great inclusion of their own, personal histories as well – from the curation of the smallest of notes, to the archival system which is deliberately non-patriarchal.

While the film covers the upheavals of Gay Liberation, Stonewall and the ongoing political struggles, the focus is not on the fights but on the strong bonds of connection formed between these women across generations.

As the Archive is set to face a change of leadership after nearly 50 years, The Archivettes shows it has overcome all the challenges before this through the support and love of the community that birthed it.

Rossman has created a great, feature length documentary (expanding on her short film Love Letter Rescue Squad) honouring the history of this unique piece of lesbian herstory. It is a legacy, an inheritance handed down to the next generation of lesbians and queer women. It is a gift to the future.

By Chad Armstrong

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