Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

Collage with two film stills: black and white photo of a woman speaking emphatically on stage, and Color photograph of a man and woman on the beach.

Two California Documentary Projects Premiere at Frameline48

Above: (left) SALLY!, (right) HELEN AND THE BEAR

Portraits of Two Iconic Women

Promo graphic with spliced words spelling INTERSECTIONS, with "F" for Frameline in upper right hand corner.

Just in time for Pride Month, we are proud to announce that two California Humanities-supported documentary features will premiere at Frameline48: the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, running June 19-29, 2024. Founded in 1977, Frameline is the longest-running signature showcase of the world’s leading queer cinema, and this year, SALLY! and HELEN AND THE BEAR will make their festival premieres after years of research and production work.  

Both films are California Documentary Project recipients, California Humanities’ competitive grant program that supports documentary film, audio, and digital media productions that explore California in all its complexity and tell stories from every corner of the state. California Humanities will collaborate with Frameline as a community partner to present these two unique California stories to new audiences in the Bay Area.

The recipient of a 2021 California Documentary Project Production Grant, SALLY! is a portrait of Sally Gearhart, a “good Southern girl” who then helped transform the world for women and queer people. She co-founded the first-ever women studies program, wrote firebrand lesbian-feminist works and female-focused fantasy novels, established a utopian women’s land community in Northern California, and battled for gay rights side-by-side with Harvey Milk in the 1970s. But how did a poster child of the LGBTQ rights movement end up living alone in the woods, virtually forgotten by history?  

Black and White photo of woman speaking emphatically into a micrphone
Sally Gearhart takes the microphone during a victory party at the Shed, a nightclub on San Francisco’s Market Street, in 1978. Courtesy of Steve Savage.
Two women with gray hair, one wearing a red turtleneck and one a black hoodie, pose for a photo.
Sally Gearhart (left) with director Deborah Craig. Courtesy of Deborah Craig.

SALLY! Director Deborah Craig shared with California Humanities a little about the film’s journey, and Sally’s place as a pivotal California figure: 

“Making the film SALLY!—about lesbian feminist activist Sally Gearhart—has been a long journey with many twists, turns, and bumps in the road. We couldn’t have made the trip without the invaluable and ongoing support of California Humanities, and are beyond thrilled to premiere this June at Frameline48 in San Francisco! This launch is so fitting for many reasons. Sally spearheaded the San Francisco gay and lesbian movement throughout the 1970s and 80s, and the classic film WORD IS OUT, which normalized gay life, featured Sally among others and premiered at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.  

We couldn’t have made the trip without the invaluable and ongoing support of California Humanities, and are beyond thrilled to premiere this June at Frameline48 in San Francisco!

Deborah Craig

Hers is truly a California story of transformation and constant evolution: She had deep Southern roots, yet became a flame-throwing lesbian radical, and then morphed yet again to a back-to-the-land eco-minded lesbian separatist in Northern California. In Sally’s last act, she embraced her broader community in Willits, connecting with women and men, gay and straight, and even many Republican neighbors. Critically, Sally fought for gay rights and women’s rights during a fraught period, where folks risked their jobs and even their lives to come out and speak out. We are again in troubled times, with the trans community constantly under attack and intolerance in the air. What better moment to learn about a fiery yet loving powerhouse who led the charge for visibility, human rights, and justice. We need her spirit now more than ever!” 

Color photograph of a man and woman on the beach.
Pete and Helen McCloskey on the beach, n.d. Courtesy of HELEN AND THE BEAR.

The recipient of a 2017 CDP Research & Development Grant and 2018 Production Grant, HELEN AND THE BEAR is a feature documentary about the unconventional relationship between Helen, a passionately independent 63-year-old woman, and her late-husband Pete McCloskey, an iconic California Republican Congressman thirty years her senior. Told from Helen’s perspective, this film captures a fiery political couple forced to evaluate their contribution to American politics and explores the burdens a public spotlight puts on your story. 

Director Alix Blair said that McCloskey, who passed away last month at 96, was able to see the finished film before he died: 

“While Pete’s passing leaves a giant hole in California, in the environment and in politics, if it wasn’t for California Humanities I may never have finished this film and I never would have had the chance to share his private life and his tremendous love for his wife Helen, nor would I have had the chance to get to know him in great friendship. One of my greatest gratitudes is that Pete got to see the finished film before he died and gave me his blessings (and laughed at the funny parts!).” 

Blair further communicated his excitement at sharing this film—seven years in the making—with the local community here in California: “California Humanities was the first organization that believed in me and my documentary idea. It can be an incredibly lonely experience to make a film, to trust that your wild, personal idea means anything to anyone else. Since this film is about real people moving through time, the story changed a lot over the years, but staying in relationship with California Humanities throughout those shifts and surprises kept me connected to my original delight and inspiration for making the documentary in the first place. While my film celebrates the unconventional love story of Pete and Helen McCloskey, it offers universal questions of how to find your independent self in a relationship and challenges what a “good” marriage looks like.  

One of my greatest gratitudes is that Pete got to see the finished film before he died and gave me his blessings (and laughed at the funny parts!)

Alix Blair

For tickets to HELEN AND THE BEAR and SALLY!, and to view the full festival lineup, visit the Frameline website

To learn more about the California Documentary Project, visit the project page

Share

Related Articles

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.