Lisa Cholodenko on the lesbian films that inspired her and her first movie, “High Art”

Last Thursday night, out filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko was given the Visionary Award by Outfest, the world’s largest LGBT film organization. In her acceptance speech, she praised the lesbian-themed films she saw growing up (Personal Best, Lianna, I’ve Heard the Mermaid Singing), when she was “a young insecure lesbian in a world that is much less tolerant today.” Along with the envelope-pushing queer films by gay men in the ’90s (Todd Haynes‘s Poison and Gus Van Sant‘s My Own Private Idaho), Lisa credits these works as what pushed her to move to New York and become a filmmaker. Her first feature was the 1993 indie High Art, a film that Lisa noted was about “lesbians and heroin and ambition.”



“I was fresh out of graduate school and had very little money. To see a film like that get made by me and become a part of the cultural conversation was really something,” Lisa said. And even though gayness is part of her work and those she cites as being influential to her, it’s also not necessarily the only thread she sees between them. 

“What truly resonates for me with my purpose and passion as a filmmaker is to describe the truth in human relationships, in all their messy complexity and beauty and to illuminate complex interactions, human interactions, to capture the human journey and distill what makes us all collectively connected an done,” Lisa said.

2015 Outfest Legacy Awards - Arrivals


She also noted she wanted to use storytelling to “elevate cultural conversation” as well as defy categorization (“all that binary stuff that keeps people suspicious and keeps people apart.”)

“Knowing that my kid will have the experience—a different experience of having two gay moms—than any generation before him is profound,” Lisa said. “And if that sea change in culture has anything to do with my work as a filmmaker, it’s really an astonishing gift.”