Director Wendy Jo Carlton on making lesbian movie “Hannah Free” with Sharon Gless

One of my favorite sites, Melissa Silverstein‘s Women&, recently published an interview with Wendy Jo Carlton, the director of the new lesbian film Hannah Free. The film made its world premiere last night in San Francisco at Frameline (the world’s oldest LGBT film festival).


In the interview, Carlton says that while working on the Chicago Gay History Project, she met playwright Claudia Allen, and along with executive producer Tracy Baim, the three women decided to adapt Allen’s play, Hannah Free, for film.

Starring Sharon Gless (Queer as Folk) and Maureen Gallagher, the film follows two women throughout their lifelong love affair. Here’s the synopsis from the official site:

Hannah and Rachel grew up as little girls in the same small Midwest town, where traditional gender expectations eventually challenge their deep love for one another. Hannah becomes an adventurous, unapologetic lesbian and Rachel a strong but quiet homemaker. Weaving back and forth between past and present, the film reveals how the women maintained their love affair despite a marriage, a world war, infidelities, and family denial.

That level of interpersonal lesbian drama definitely gives the women of The L Word a run for their money!

W& asked Carlton some interesting questions about how the film portrays lesbians, working with Sharon Gless, and how she hopes the film will be perceived. Below are a few excerpts from the interview:

W& H: There are not many films that show lesbians in this way. Do you think this is a breakthrough in how lesbians will be seen on film?
WJC: It was important to me to portray Hannah and Rachel not just as young lovers but as older lovers as well, two women who share a deep emotional connection but also a passionate physical and sexual connection. And not to just imply that, but to show their attraction visually, cinematically. Most mainstream feature films don’t show older couples sharing physical affection and sexual attraction for one another. Whether they are straight or queer, we just don’t see many older characters in bed together or see older people kissing and being sensual together onscreen. I think it’s sexy and fun and life affirming.

Sharon Gless and Maureen Gallagher

Most long-term romantic relationships, regardless of orientation, wax and wane in the lust department. What’s great about Hannah and Rachel is that theirs is the kind of great love affair that has sustained its passion and lust over decades, the kind of fantastic, enduring attraction and love that is celebrated and pined for in straight films all the time.

Too true. The Notebook, anyone? Perhaps this is why so many fans still clamor for a sequel to the epic lesbian romance, Desert Hearts (1985).

W&H: How can this film break out from the gay and lesbian film circuit into the mainstream?
I think this film is very entertaining, sensual, and provocative as a story of a great love affair. It’s universal and will engage viewers regardless of sexual orientation. Hannah is a dynamic, sexy, flawed, passionate human being and who can’t relate to that? And Sharon Gless is such a pleasure to watch in every scene.

W&H also asked Carlton about her work as an independent filmmaker.

W&H: What advice do you have for women filmmakers?
Find some mentors because when things aren’t going well, a good mentor, male or female, is someone who believes in you and can help keep you focused and encouraged and help you make the right connections.

Also, I think it’s been said before, but it bears repeating – explore your personal obsessions. It helps make for more original story-telling. And give yourself permission to be funny, idiosyncratic, raunchy.

Director Wendy Jo Carlton and Sharon Gless on the set of Hannah Free

To read the interview in its entirety, go to Learn more about the film and follow its travels through the LGBT film festival circuit on the Hannah Free Facebook page.

Have you seen Hannah Free? If so, what did you think?