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Barbara Hammer
ArtAndFeminismNYC-Barbara Hammer.jpg
Hammer at the 2014 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Editathon
Barbara Jean Hammer

(1939-05-15)May 15, 1939
Died March 16, 2019(2019-03-16) (aged 79)
Occupation Filmmaker
Years active 1968–2019
Spouse(s) Florrie R. Burke

Barbara Jean Hammer (May 15, 1939 – March 16, 2019) was an American feminist film director, producer, writer, and cinematographer. She is known for being one of the pioneers of the lesbian film genre, and her career spanned over 50 years. Hammer is known for having created experimental films dealing with women's issues such as gender roles, lesbian relationships, coping with aging, and family life. She resided in New York City and Kerhonkson, New York, and taught each summer at the European Graduate School.


Hammer was born on May 15, 1939, in Los Angeles, California, to Marian (Kusz) and John Wilber Hammer, and grew up in Inglewood. She became familiar with the film industry from a young age, as her mother hoped she would become a child star like Shirley Temple, and her grandmother worked as a live-in cook for American film director D. W. Griffith. Her maternal grandparents were Ukrainian; her grandfather was from Zbarazh. Hammer was raised without religion, but her grandmother was Roman Catholic.

In 1961, Hammer graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles and married Clayton Henry Ward, on the condition that he take her traveling around the world. She received a master's degree in English literature in 1963. In the early 1970s, she studied film at San Francisco State University, where she first encountered Maya Deren's experimental short film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), which inspired her to make her own experimental films about her personal life.

In 1974, Hammer was married and teaching at a community college in Santa Rosa. Around this time, she came out as a lesbian, after talking with another student in a feminist group. After leaving her marriage, she "took off on a motorcycle with a Super-8 camera." That year she filmed Dyketactics, widely considered one of the first lesbian films. She graduated with a master's degree in film from San Francisco State University.

In 1992, she released her first feature film, Nitrate Kisses, an experimental documentary about the marginalization of LGBT people in the 20th century. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. It won the Polar Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Best Documentary Award at the Internacional de Cine Realizado por Mujeres in Madrid. She earned a post-master's in multimedia digital studies at the American Film Institute in 1997. In 2000, she received the Moving Image award from Creative Capital, and in 2013, she was a Guggenheim Fellow.

She received the first Shirley Clarke Avant-Garde Filmmaker Award in October 2006, the Women In Film Award from the St. Louis International Film Festival in 2006, and in 2009, she received the Teddy Award for best short film for her film A Horse Is Not a Metaphor at the Berlin International Film Festival.

She taught film at The European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. In 2017, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University acquired her archives.

Hammer's film collection, comprising her originals, prints, outtakes, and other material resides at the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles, where a project is in progress to restore her complete film output. As of 2020, the archive has preserved nearly twenty of her films.

After years of short-term relationships, she married human rights advocate Florrie R. Burke; in 1995, she made Tender Fictions, a film featuring images of Burke. They were partners for thirty-one years, until Hammer's death in 2019.  


Hammer's career worked within experimental 16 mm film and video, spanning five decades. Hammer was both innovative and productive. Her body of work includes almost 100 films. Throughout her career, Hammer kept challenging herself and exploring new and unfamiliar topics. Her career could be divided into three stages according to her developing focus of work: early career stage (1960s–1970s), mid-career stage (1980s–mid-1990s), and late-career stage (mid-1990s–2018).

1960s–1970s: Early career and cultural feminism

Her early films, made during her time at San Francisco State University, focused on female and homosexual topics and embodied the 1970s notion of cultural feminism. During this early stage of Hammer's career, especially in the mid-1970s, her role as the only women filmmaker who openly claimed as a lesbian was widely indicated in her works. Her works during this period were later critiqued as romanticism and essentialism.

Hammer was actively involved in media making industry during this period, including learning new skills and techniques, organizing premieres of her own works, opening film workshops and lessons that are related to women filmmaking, etc.

1980s–mid-1990s: Mid-career and deepened focus

Hammer's mid-career films danced between short film and feature-length. This part of her career was staged by her decision to move from California to New York, provoked in part by her desire to remove herself from the social and political environment that had directed her towards the cultural feminism of her early films, which were later so harshly critiqued. Hammer's focus shifted to more formal works. She started to explore the relationship between the self and the outside world, including light, life, nature, society, government, etc. With the deepened theme and more elaborate production of her works due to her early efforts, many of her works during this period gained attention from the public.

mid-1990s–2018: Late career and self reflection

Hammer's late career coincides with her rise to public prominence with museum retrospectives and her acquisition of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She focused more on identity politics during this period. The theme of wars, health issues, and liberties came to Hammer's attention. She explored the relationship between art and social issues in her works.


Hammer created more than 80 moving image works throughout her life, and also received a great number of honors.

In 2007, Hammer was honored with an exhibition and tribute at the Chinese Cultural University Digital Imaging Center in Taipei. In 2010, Hammer had a one-month exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Additionally, in 2013, she was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship for her film Waking Up Together. She also had exhibitions at the Tate Modern in London and at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2012; for the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival; and at the Koch Oberhuber Woolfe in Berlin in both 2011 and 2014.

Hammer received numerous awards during the span of her career. She was chosen by the Whitney Biennial in 1985, 1989, and 1993, for her films Optic Nerve, Endangered, and Nitrate Kisses, respectively. In 2006, she won both the first ever Shirley Clarke Avant-Garde Filmmaker Award from New York Women in Film and Television and the Women in Film Award from the St. Louis International Film Festival.

In 2008, Hammer received The Leo Award from the Flaherty Film Seminar. Her films Generations and Maya Deren's Sink both won the Teddy Award in 2011 for Best Short Film. Her film A Horse Is Not a Metaphor won the Teddy Award for Best Short Film in 2009; it also won Second Prize at the Black Maria Film Festival. It was also selected for several film festivals: the Torino Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Punta de Vista Film Festival, the Festival de Films des Femmes Creteil, and the International Women's Film Festival Dortmund/Koln.

A cumulative list of her acquired awards is available below:

  • Stan Brakhage Vision Award, Denver Film Society (2018)
  • Temple University Films and Media Arts Tribute Award, Philadelphia, PA (2018)
  • Selected Master Filmmaker, Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, Claremont, CA (2018)
  • Resisting Paradise, Best Documentary, Memphis Film and Video Festival, Memphis, TN (2018)
  • Resisting Paradise, Aesthetic Art Award, Asolo Art Film Festival, Asolo, Italy (2018)
  • Resisting Paradise, Southern Circuit Tour (screenings in 7 southern cities) (2018)
  • Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts, Trinity College (2012)
  • The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction (2011)
  • The Publishing Triangle Lambda Award for Best Lesbian Memoir Writing (2011)
  • LEO Award for Outstanding Contribution to Film, Flaherty Seminars, Leo Dratfield Endowment and International Film Seminars (2008)
  • Platinum Tribute, Outfest (2007)
  • Shirley Clarke Avant-Garde Film Award, St. Louis International Film Festival, NYWFT (2006)
  • Fulbright Senior Specialist, Academy of Fine Arts and Design Batislava, Slovakia (2005)
  • Selected Master Filmmaker, Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, Claremont, CA (2005)
  • Resisting Paradise, Southern Circuit Travel Award (2004)
  • History Lessons, Documentary Award, Athens International Film/Video Festival (2003)
  • Resisting Paradise, Close-up: Visionaries of Modern Cinema Award, Frameline (2003)
  • Peace Prize, 1st Global Peace Film Festival (2003)
  • Tribute, U.S.A. Film Festival (2003)
  • Career Honor from Mayor of Philadelphia, International Gay-Lesbian Film Festival (2001)
  • Frameline Award, Career Honor, Frameline International Film Festival (2000)
  • Devotion, Jurors' Merit Award, Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival (2000)
  • Tender Fictions, Awarded Best Documentary Cash Prize, Immaginaria Festival (1998)
  • Tender Fictions, Documentary Competition, Yamagata International Doc Film Festival (1997)
  • Tender Fictions, Director's Choice, Charlotte Film Festival (1996)
  • Documentary Competition, Sundance Film Festival (1996)
  • The Forum, Berlin International Film Festival (1996)
  • Isabel Liddell Art Award, Ann Arbor Film Festival (1996)
  • Cineprobe, Museum of Modern Art, NYC (1995)
  • Nitrate Kisses, Audience Award for Best Documentary, International Festival of Women Directors (1994)
  • Polar Bear Award for Lifetime Contribution to Lesbian/Gay Cinema, Berlin International Film Festival (1993)
  • Cineprobe, Museum of Modern Art, NYC (1993)
  • Vital Signs, Excellence Award, California State Fair (1992)
  • Best Experimental Film, Utah Film Festival (1992)
  • Juror's Award, Black Maria Film Festival (1992)
  • Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art Video Award (1992)
  • The John D. Phelan Award in Video (1991)
  • Sanctus, Special Award, Ann Arbor Film Festival (1991)
  • Second Prize, Experimental Film, Baltimore Film Festival (1991)
  • Endangered, First Prize, Atlanta Film Festival (1991)
  • First Prize, Black Maria Film Festival (1991)
  • First Prize, Buck's County Film Festival (1991)
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial (1991)
  • Cineprobe, Museum of Modern Art, NYC (1991)
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial (1989)
  • Endangered and Optic Nerve (1988)
  • The John D. Phelan Award in Film (1988)
  • Place Mattes, First Prize Animation, Marin Country Film Festival (1988)
  • No No Nooky T.V., Second Prize, Ann Arbor Film Festival (1987)
  • First Prize, Humboldt Film Festival (1987)
  • Optic Nerve, First Prize, Ann Arbor Film Festival (1986)
  • First Prize, Onion City Film Festival (1986)
  • Optic Nerve, Cineprobe, Museum of Modern Art, NYC (1985)
  • The Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial (1985)


In 2017, the first Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant was awarded to Fair Brane.

The San Francisco State University Queer Cinema Project supports queer filmmakers through the annual Barbara Hammer Awards, which grants two SFSU students funding towards the completion of a queer-focused project.

In 2020, filmmaker Lynne Sachs created the Ann Arbor Festival Award, for the creation of a film that best conveys Hammer's celebration of the female experience.

Feminist and lesbian works impact

Hammer is considered as a pioneer of queer cinema. Her goal through her film work was to provoke discourse on the marginalized, more specifically, marginalized lesbians. She felt that making films that showed her personal experience around renaming herself as a lesbian would help start the conversation on lesbianism and get people to stop ignoring its existence.

Illness, right to die activism, and death

In 2006, Hammer was diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer. After twelve years of chemotherapy, Hammer died from endometrioid ovarian cancer on March 16, 2019, at the age of 79. She had been receiving palliative hospice care at the time of her death.

Selected filmography

  • Contribution to Light (1968)
  • The Baptism (1968)
  • White Cassandra (1968)
  • Schizy (1968)
  • Clay I Love You II (1968–69)
  • Aldebaran Sees (1969)
  • Barbara Ward Will Never Die (1969)
  • Cleansed II (1969)
  • Death of a Marriage (1969)
  • Elegy (1970)
  • Play or 'Yes', 'Yes', 'Yes' (1970)
  • Traveling: Marie and Me (1970)
  • The Song of the Clinking Cup (1972)
  • I Was/I Am (1973)
  • Sisters! (1974)
  • A Gay Day (1973)
  • Yellow Hammer (1973)
  • Dyketactics (1974)
  • X (1974)
  • Women's Rites, or Truth is the Daughter of Time (1974)
  • Menses (1974)
  • Jane Brakhage (1975)
  • Superdyke (1975)
  • Psychosynthesis (1975)
  • Superdyke Meets Madame X (1975)
  • San Diego Women's Music Festival (1975)
  • Guatemala Weave (1975)
  • Moon Goddess (1975) – with G. Churchman
  • Eggs (1972)
  • Stress Scars and Pleasure Wrinkles (1976)
  • The Great Goddess (1977)
  • Double Strength (1978)
  • Home (1978)
  • Haircut (1978)
  • Available Space (1978)
  • Sappho (1978)
  • Dream Age (1979)
  • Take Back the Night March on Broadway, 1979 (1979)
  • Our Trip (1980)
  • Lesbian Humor: A Collection of Short Films (1980–1987)
  • Pictures for Barbara (1980)
  • Machu Picchu (1980)
  • See What You Hear What You See (1980)
  • Our Trip (1981)
  • Arequipa (1981)
  • Pools (1981) – with B. Klutinis
  • Synch-Touch (1981)
  • The Lesbos Film (1981)
  • Pond and Waterfall (1982)
  • Audience (1983)
  • See What You Hear What You See (1983)
  • Stone Circles (1983)
  • New York Loft (1983)
  • Bamboo Xerox (1984)
  • Pearl Diver (1984)
  • Bent Time (1984)
  • Doll House (1984)
  • Parisian Blinds (1984)
  • Tourist (1984–85)
  • Optic Nerve (1985)
  • Hot Flash (1985)
  • Would You Like to Meet Your Neighbor? A New York Subway Tape (1985)
  • Bedtime Stories (1986)
  • The History of the World According to a Lesbian (1986)
  • Snow Job: The Media Hysteria of AIDS (1986)
  • No No Nooky T.V. (1987)
  • Place Mattes (1987)
  • Endangered (1988)
  • Drive, She Said (1988)
  • Two Bad Daughters (1988)
  • Still Point (1989)
  • T.V. Tart (1989)
  • Sanctus (1990)
  • Vital Signs (1991)
  • Dr. Watson's X-Rays (1991)
  • Nitrate Kisses (1992)
  • Shirley Temple and Me (1993)
  • Out in South Africa (1994)
  • Tender Fictions (1996)
  • The Female Closet (1997)
  • Blue Film No. 6: Love Is Where You Find It (1998)
  • Devotion: A Film About Ogawa Productions (2000)
  • History Lessons (2000)
  • My Babushka: Searching Ukrainian Identities (2001)
  • Our Grief Is Not a Cry for War (2001)
  • Resisting Paradise (2003)
  • Love/Other (2005)
  • Dying Women of Jeju-Do (2007)
  • A Horse Is Not a Metaphor (2009) (Teddy Award-winner)
  • Generations (2010)
  • Maya Deren's Sink (2011)
  • Welcome to This House (2015)
  • Lesbian Whale (2015)
  • Evidentiary Bodies (2018)


See also

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