Writer, actor, director, artist and app developer Miranda July has always been a testament to keeping busy and making your own way creatively. The impulse is hardly recent: when she was 21 she started an underground network for women and girls making movies called Joanie 4 Jackie. Originally known as Big Miss Moviola, the project was inspired by the Riot Grrrl movement in her her adopted hometown of Portland. The pre-YouTube venture took advantage of a very 90s form of communication — the chain letter — to connect women across the world and share amazing homemade and vintage feminist films.
Participants joined in by posting their own movies in, and received what July described on Instagram as "a Chainletter tape in return — their movie compiled with nine others." The original instructions read: "A Challenge and A Promise: Lady, u send me yr movie + $5.00 & I'll send you the latest Big Moviola compilation (that's 10 lady-made movies including yrs)." The polymath described the project as "one way we could see each other's work and know we weren't alone." She would eventually tour the films across country, hosting screenings and meet ups in high schools, colleges, punk venues and galleries.
Years later, the project and the women she met through it still influence her work. She explains, "We granted each other a powerful space that I have kept my heart in and built upon, often in the face insidious, dispiriting misogyny. " Lucky for those of us who weren't able to participate in Joanie 4 Jackie the first time around, The Getty Research Institute have acquired the complete archives. That includes "Twenty-seven boxes of tapes, posters, letters, embarrassing notes, to do lists, and grandiose plans that will be made available to researchers and preserved for all time in a feminist and queer context, alongside the archives of artists such as Yvonne Rainer, Robert Mapplethorpe and Carolee Schneeman." The whole venture is available online at the newly launched joanie4jackie.com.
Speaking to the New York Times about this period in her life, July reflects that as well as being an awesome way to discover film and meet other women it was also her personal response to the Riot Grrl movement. "Riot Grrrl had permitted us to pick up guitars and sing about our lives with a passion that made mastery irrelevant. Could the same thing be done with movies?" Revisiting the movies a decade later, it's pretty apparent it can be.
Text Wendy Syfret
Image via @mirandajuly