Margaret Wescott

Documentarist, Editor, Producer

Documentarist, editor, producer (NFB). The discreet but brave lesbian voice within the NFB for almost three decades, Wescott made up the lonely queer fifth column, along with writer Gloria Demers, at the feminist Studio D before the skittish government studio’s great belated awakening around 1990. Trained as an editor at the beginning of the seventies, Wescott became a staff director with the new women’s studio around 1975, delivering an undercover lesbian punch with Some American Feminists (co-dir. Nicole Brossard and Luce Guilbeault [1935-1991], 1977, 16 mm, 56).

A pioneering feminist documentary produced by an almost all-lesbian team (except for the queer-friendly actor Guilbeault), Feminists was in many ways typical of the Studio’s ostrich-like queer politics of the period, subsuming sexuality within gender politics in the general sense. But anyone who saw the filmmakers’ in-your-face encounters with American lesbian feminist stars Rita Mae Brown, Kate Millett, Ti-Grace Atkinson, and above all defiant political prisoner Susan Saxe, could hear—to paraphrase Brown’s immortal words—the testicles rolling all around the floor of the Government Film Commissioner’s office. The film’s lone voice cried out within the lingering wilderness of lesbian and gay silencing, not only in Canada, but everywhere as the late-seventies backlash picked up steam. (Well, not quite alone, since it came out in the same year as Outrageous! and Word is Out, and the year before La Cage aux folles.)

Wescott’s next major film, the epic Behind the Veils: Nuns (1984), retreated somewhat in the naming department, but this intense exploration of female homosociality and spirituality featured some very dykey sisters in T-shirts and butch haircuts. After the Studio D shakeup at the end of the decade, Wescott and the other staff directors were pushed out into the patriarchal cold, and she was slow in finishing her final film elsewhere at the NFB, Stolen Moments (Montreal, 1997, 92), a cross-cultural and trans-historical tour of lesbian feminist communities, cultures, and sexualities in the cities of Europe and North America. When it finally appeared, this monumental essay shot in lush NFB classical style may have seemed dated and idiosyncratic in its politics and aesthetics, all the more since it had been upstaged by the hip megahit Forbidden Love five years earlier. But the glimpses of lesbian cultural and political mobilizations, both current and reconstructed from the distant past, from Paris to San Francisco (Vancouver and Montreal provide the Can Con), are evocative. And any hesitation about the wooden narration that refers to lesbians in the third person, if any remains after the boldest onscreen cunnilingus scene ever financed by Canadian taxpayers, dissolves when the boys’ anthem “Somewhere over the Rainbow” is appropriated at the end, swelling up over this summation of a utopian dream and lived history, the pre-retirement legacy of a pioneer.