The filmmaker, fighting ovarian cancer, stage 3, returns to her experimental roots, in a multilayered film of numerous chemotherapy sessions with images of light and movement that take her far from the hospital bed.
A a cancer ‘thriver’ rather than ‘survivor’, Barbara Hammer rides the red hills of Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, the grassy foothlls of the Big Horn in Wyoming, and leafy paths in Woodstock, New York changing illness into recovery.
The haunting and wondrous music of Meredith Monk underscores and celebrates in this film that lifts us up when we might be most discouraged.
2nd Prize, Black Maria Film Festival, 2009
A Horse is not a Metaphor a new film by Barbara Hammer
Freedom is movement, freedom is ease; freedom is a horse galloping with mane and tail flying in the wind. Freedom is my eye and mind following the flow of expression through movement. Freedom is riding my horse on a trail exploring the unknown or seeing with the eyes that rebirth from cancer has given me, as the world becomes new again. I am completing a film that shows the power of living in the present to the fullest and with the greatest freedom.
When I was seven, when I was sixty-seven, my desire was the same. All I wanted was a horse in my backyard. I truly believed as a youngster that I would wake up one morning on my birthday and find a horse tethered, eating lawn grass and waiting for me. The surprising thing is that I still look. Perhaps it is my naiveté but more likely it is a persistent sense of hope that keeps this dream alive. This same ability to hope and dream kept me alive throughout the rigorous four and a half months of chemotherapy even though half of that time was spent in bed. As I built my muscles back day by day by taking longer and longer walks and hikes, I knew I was preparing for the day when I could swing my legs into the saddle, pat my horse on the neck, and ask her to carry me onto the beckoning trail.
That dream came true for me this summer and fall. Although I did not find a horse in my backyard, I did find many people who generously let me ride their horses. I rode and filmed in the Catskill Mountains of Woodstock, New York in preparation for the rides in New Mexico at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch and in the Big Horn Mountains at Red Reflet Ranch in Wyoming. Beauty and wonder are not the words to capture the thrill and expanse I felt loping the high desert, climbing the red hills marked by early snow, or loping through the dry fall grasses of the foothills. Wherever I rode I had my video camera and shooting from horseback, I was able to record the vibrancy and variety of landscape that filled me with hope.
When I was undergoing extensive chemotherapy, the recommended procedure for ovarian cancer, I never thought I could or would want to make another film. Still, I was not adverse to my loving partner of 20 years taking stills and videotaping my progression. When a San Francisco friend and filmmaker flew out to take me to the country for a week of retreat, I was not adverse to her shooting my bald head and skinny body as I swam in a Catskill creek. Eventually from my own hospital bed I did use my camera to film the huge bags of chemicals dripping into me, the nurse attending, and my own steroid-swollen face. Throughout the hospital time, I used horse images as meditation to take me out of the confines of the hospital room and to a landscape that knew no boundaries.
Experimental film can best convey the emotional ups and downs of a cancer patient. The multi-layers of feelings, experiences, visions and tears can be portrayed through juxtapositions, editing rhythms, image super impositions, and a personal point of view which are some of the hallmarks of experimental film. A traditional documentary approach would dampen the emotional impact and could not convey both the trials and the thrills of hopes that I’ve experienced. .
Ovarian cancer stage 3 is not an easy diagnosis with 70% chance of recurrence within two years. Lesbians increase their risk for this disease if they have not had children and have infrequent gynecological exams due to the continuance of a homophobic medical profession. It is also a difficult disease to detect before metastises. As a lesbian living with cancer, I want to bring to audiences both my difficult medical diagnosis so that they be more aware and my positive attitude of hope which we can all share.
‘Survivor’ has never seemed to me to be the right word for a person who lives with cancer. I would choose a word that signifies flourishing, a sense of well being, exaltation and love of life. The horse is not a metaphor, but a living, breathing creature of power and pride that I join with in moment-by-moment living. Let me share it with others who face the same life challenges I face. Let me show this film.
Camera and Editing:
Braid, Braid 2, Line,
Liquid Air, Shaking;
Doctor/Patient, Urban March Masks,
Skeleton Lines, Epilogue,
Early Morning Melody, Travellers 5,
Plague, Jewish Storyteller,
Fields/Clouds, slow dissolve,
Sacred Song and Travelling.
Courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes
ECM New Series
Blazing, Flowing and Grounded
Courtesy of GERHARD STAEBLER
Sound Mix STEPHANIE TESTA
Hospital Cancer Center:
DR. CAROL AGHAJINIAN, MD
VIANCA, ANN & MARY
PENNY DAMASKOS, LCSW
Tanis Hollow Ranch
Red Reflet Ranch
HF Bar Ranch
LESBIAN CANCER INITIATIVE
The GUEST LIST Care Team
Funding Provided by
Film & Video Completion Fund
This film could not have been
the loving support of
(c) 2008 Barbara Hammer