On July 9, at the opening night gala for Outfest, the Los
Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, out director Donna Deitch received
the 12th Annual Outfest Achievement Award, given in recognition of a body of
work that significantly contributes to LGBT film. An annual award since 1997,
Deitch is only the third woman to receive this honor. Christine Vachon and
Jane Anderson were recognized in 2001 and 2003 respectively.
In 2007, Outfest named Deitch’s groundbreaking 1985 film Desert Hearts as one
of 25 Films That Changed Our Lives. In addition to that lesbian classic, Deitch
directed The Women of
Brewster Place, a miniseries featuring a black lesbian couple that was
produced by Oprah Winfrey, and Common
Ground, a Showtime movie that explores the lives of lesbian and gay
citizens in a small Connecticut
town over several decades. Deitch also has a prolific career as a television
director, and has directed shows ranging from NYPD Blue and Crossing Jordan
These days, Deitch is turning her attention back to her own
work and her independent filmmaker roots. She is working on the screenplay for
the first of several Desert Hearts
sequels; looking for financing for a screenplay she wrote set in World War
and preparing to direct the film version of true crime memoir Strange Piece of
Paradise, written by her partner, Terri Jentz.
Deitch recently spoke with AfterEllen.com about her Outfest
award, juggling multiple projects, and her trip last month to Africa
with feminist icon Gloria Steinem.
Donna Deitch at Outfest
Congratulations on your Outfest Achievement Award. How does this recognition
Donna Deitch: I feel very honored to be
getting this award, and that’s because I have such high regard for Outfest and what they do. It
really means a lot to me to receive an award from an organization that is doing
things like the Legacy Project
[in which LGBT films are restored] — that no one else has ever thought to do or
seems to be taking care of. It’s so important that these films are saved and
archived and restored. That’s in addition to the film festival and all the
other programs they run throughout the year.
I feel like I’m in some pretty good company with regards to
those who have preceded me. Not enough women, just Christine Vachon and Jane
Anderson. We’re always looking for women to be recognized for what we do. But
the award — it’s awfully good company, and it’s fantastic.
AE: Desert Hearts is much adored, of course,
but I’m also glad to see you receiving recognition for Common Ground. It was very well done, and it didn’t get the attention
DD: Showtime is subscription television, so
unless you subscribe you wouldn’t get a chance to see it. And then those shows
go on to the video store, but their profile is lower than a theatrical release.
Joanne Vannicola (left) and Brittany Murphy in Common Ground
AE: It’s so
rare to find significant men’s and women’s queer content in the same film,
which is one of the things I appreciated about Common Ground.
DD: The writers were spectacular — Paula Vogel, Terrence
McNally, and Harvey Fierstein. So that was quite a group to begin with. I saw it as a gay
and lesbian Our Town. It was so much
more evenly divided than typical fare.