7 Questions with Legendary Lesbian Filmmaker Monika Treut

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With over 20 films under her belt, filmmaker Monika Treut is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to cinema. With the exception of cinematic icon Barbara Hammer, no one has been making lesbian and queer films as long as Treut, who began working in video in the 1970s while she was completing her doctorate in philology from the University of Marburg, in Germany, and made her first film, How Does the Camel Go Through the Needle’s Eye?, in 1981.

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June 30th marks the digital release of her 2014 film, Of Girls and Horses, from Wolfe Video. The film is a notable departure from her earlier work, including the cult classics, Virgin Machine, Seduction: The Cruel Woman, and Lesbian Nation, as well as her work with marginalized lesbian-feminist public intellectual Camille Paglia in Female Misbehavior.

Of Girls and Horses is a coming of age story of 16 year-old Alex, as we witness her rehabilitation from drug abuse and self-harming tendencies like cutting, through her budding relationship with Nina, a horse trainer, and the horses she engages with on a daily basis. Her new life in the countryside allows Alex the kind of quiet rumination needed to create a better self. Her rehabilitation is challenged, to say the least, with the arrival of Kathy, with whom Alex forms an intense, and sexual bond.

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Treut spoke with AfterEllen about the film’s significance in 2015, and why horses really are a girl’s best friend.

AfterEllen: Would you consider Of Girls and Horses a coming of age story? What defines “coming of age,” and how is it different, if at all, for queer kids?

Monika Treut: It’s always hard to generalize, but in the case of the rebellious character, Alex, I see someone who is really troubled—a troubled teenager—who is searching for her identity, even more so than the other teenage girl, Kathy, who come from a bourgeois background. I was drawn to this type of rebellious person because, I guess, I was feeding on my own experiences of being a teenage girl and a horse girl at the same time.

Alex is just one type of queer kid. We have all types. The rebellious type is always the more interesting to me. The character type gives you more room to experiment, and even though the experiences in themselves aren’t so beautiful, for a movie it just gives you more material.

 

AE: Of Girls and Horses seems less experimental than your previous films—what were you trying to achieve in this film?

MT: It’s always hard for me to compare my own films. This film is just another side of me. As I mentioned, I was a horse girl when I was growing up, so the opportunity showed itself that I could just spend some time around horses—and that’s what I’m very much missing in my personal life these days, because I live in the city and travel a lot.

I personally really enjoy being in horse stables, and around horses, and just smelling and touching horses—this really grounds me and makes me calm. Making this film was almost like a holiday. We all lived together on that farm for three weeks. We were very close to outdoor living, and the time we had in between scenes we would take little horseback rides.

 

AE: Of Girls and Horses is a highly metaphorical narrative film. What was the significance of the horses? What does it mean that the horses escape the night Alex kisses Kathy?

MT: Well, the significance of the horses in this film is they are acting as a medium between the people, the women, and the girls. Horses are so interesting to me. These days, people do a lot of therapy with horses—from people in prisons to troubled teenagers, to people who have experienced trauma—because horses mirror the stage you are in as a human being. You communicate with them through body language. Horses are so sensitive; they know when you’re afraid or angry, or when you’re nervous or not focused.

We have a little bit of this [type of relationality] in the film, in one of my favorite scenes, when Nina rides with closed eyes. She rides with nothing, no reins, no saddle. She just tells him what she wants by changing her body weight. In the end, he follows her. He then also lies down, and you can really see the horse is in total harmony with the rider. This is exactly what I love about riding: It is so wonderful to communicate with another being, another species—and that tells you a lot about yourself.

 

AE: I feel like it also says a lot about human relations—that we are able to have this type of intuitive relationship with another species, and yet, in this tech-driven age in which we relate to each other almost completely digitally, so rarely with humans.

MT: Yes, it’s quite fascinating. We were all changed after the shoot. The entire crew, surrounded by horses, were charmed by them.  

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AE: How does Alex’s struggle reflect the struggles of queer youth today?

MT: I think it’s a situation of abandonment. Her adoptive mother is not very understanding, so there is some element of self-destruction in there, because of the abandonment. There is a kind of insecurity about who she is and where she wants to go. She’s a lost kid. And you can see this with some types of queer teenagers—that they are really, really, in trouble.

In this film, I  just wanted to picture this situation and find a way of coming out of it. I really feel like the work on a farm, with horses, and in a situation where you’re really having to do physical work and you’re surrounded by these creatures, can really help. With Alex, I wanted to show a possible situation that she can have trust in others, and that her unlikely friendship with Kathy is possible through the medium of horses.

 

AE: In thinking about Alex’s relation to Nina, who is figured as a kind of mentor, what is the role of transference in sexual relations, or, at the very least, in coming to an understanding of one’s own sexuality and libido? Was this—having Nina as an older “crush”—a critical dynamic for Alex coming into her own sexuality?

MT: I believe so. I believe it’s quite common. I think that we have crushes on these teachers, especially, like, older mentor-type people, especially in a situation like Alex’s when she has no … she’s a lost creature. She needs someone who can show her the way…

 

AE: It’s a kind of idealization. I jokingly refer to it as the BUFU paradigm—the “Be You/Fuck You” paradigm; a becoming an other through a kind of sexual consumption.

MT: It’s a very old pattern, especially in lesbian-themed films, like Mädchen in Uniform. I think we’ve all had experiences at one time in our lives when we’ve been attracted to the older role model types.

Of Girls and Horses is available from Wolfe Video on June 30th.

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