Su Friedrich has tackled extremely personal issues in her films since she began working in the medium in 1978: “The Ties that Bind” focused on her mother, while “Sink or Swim” explored her relationship with her father; another featured a fictionalized breakup. But “The Odds of Recovery,” screened last Thursday as part of the Screen Arts and Cultures Department’s Woman Filmmaker Series, has exposed her in a way that none of the others did.
“It was very hard to make,” Friedrich said, cigarette in hand outside the Modern Languages Buliding. “I guess for most of my filmmaking career, I have been determined not to use myself so directly – not to use my voice, not to be on camera – and there was no way around it with this film. So I suddenly had to get around that hurtle.”
In “The Odds of Recovery,” Friedrich takes center stage and documents her recent spate of a number of health problems. Over the years, she’s tallied many surgeries and treatments, including a hormonal imbalance affecting her sex drive that leads to the deterioration of a long-term relationship.
The film, which was made without an actual crew, tags along to a mammogram, examinations and appointments with breast-cancer specialists. Set on the counter, the camera almost becomes another character in the film – an impartial viewer who records her frustrations with everything from her treatment to the way that the surgical gown ties up.
At first, Friedrich felt uncomfortable with how much “The Odds of Recovery” revealed as the movie speaks openly about her health issues and sexual problems, even exposing her physically throughout.
But that’s the point, she says. “If I am willing to do it in a public venue, then I feel like I can give other people the opportunity to think about themselves.”
Friedrich hopes that the film will encourage women to think about their health and speak out about problems that people tend to keep private. “One of the big issues running through the film is this hormone imbalance I’ve had. It devastated me for a number of years. But after a new drug became available and I was able to deal with it, I realized that this is not a commonly known medical issue. Part of making the film is thinking, ‘If I show this a lot and women see it who have the problem, they’ll learn something from it and be able to help themselves.’ “
Women’s issues are a central concern in Friedrich’s films, which have recently been digitally remastered and released in a five-volume collection. But she doesn’t want to be defined by her gender in her professional life. “I wouldn’t mind being called a ‘woman filmmaker’ if every male filmmaker was called a ‘man filmmaker.’ Women have been trailblazing in so many parts of film history,” she said.
“But the risk is that we keep being ghettoized. Men get treated like the norm and women or filmmakers of other ethnicities get treated like the other. The same holds true for being called a ‘lesbian filmmaker.’ On some level, I think that all of these categories don’t really make sense.”