Toronto
2 min

Pillaging gender

Discover the buried treasure of imagination

BUTCH CAMP. Chrystal Donbrath-Zinga and Michael-Ann Connor star in the sexy, low budget epic Girl King. Credit: Xtra files

Filmaker Ileana Pietrobruno is the type of artist who makes work that she wants to see. “I love butches and drag kings,” she says over a friend’s borrowed phone from Vancouver, her home base while she’s been travelling. “But I never see those kind of women on screen. And I love camp. And dykes don’t seem to create much art with camp. So I decided to make a camp film featuring a whole lot of butches. And somehow a pirate movie seemed the best way to go about it.”



The result, Girl King, is true to her aim: a low-budget, high camp lesbian swashbuckling feature that turns notions of masculinity and sexuality upside-down and back again. Post-queer and post-feminist (and post just about everything else), it manages to tackle the complicated terrain of gender with insight and humour. And its recreated porn scenarios were sexy enough to spark a heated debate in the House Of Common a couple years back, when some Alliance MPs found out it received funding from the Canada Council.



Victoria Deschanel plays the Queen, whose precious “koilos” has been stolen by the King (Joyce Pate). Left to a life watching porn without pleasure, she recruits Butch (local artist Chrystal Donbrath-Zinga) to retrieve her missing treasure in return for the lovely Claudia (Michael-Ann Connor) as a reward. Needless to say, high seas hijinks ensue – complete with cross-dressing, gender bending and partner swapping.



“It’s basically a fantasy about the construction of gender. And the pirate theme plays on that – the way we can pirate gender and change who we are and how we identify. It also worked with how the film was made. We used pirated footage and set up anywhere we could to shoot.”



Shot on the cheap on beaches in Vancouver and on Galliano Island, Pietrobruno says production was brutal. “Shooting on location was really difficult. Everyone was miserable. It was cold, I didn’t have a lot of money, everyone was fighting. And yet it looks like we’re having such a great time. All I can say is that I’m glad we’re all still friends.”



Now recovered from that experience, Pietrobruno is making her tour of the queer film festival circuit where the film is making a big splash. “It was kind of a risk, because I wasn’t sure how much dyke audiences would respond to a film that’s so much about masculinity. But people who get it, really seem to love it.



“When you’re a woman and a lesbian, everyone thinks you have some kind of agenda that you want to hit your audience over the head with. I’m not heavy-handed at all, but if I did have an agenda with Girl King it was to celebrate chaos and encourage people to free their imaginations.



“I don’t think one should ever be too certain about what they like and what turns them on. If you let yourself be open, who knows what can happen.”



* Girl King with Ileana Pietrobruno in attendance, screens at 3pm on Fri, May 23 at the Cumberland 1.