3 min

Wild kingdom

There's no life like it

Credit: Sheila Spence

Do you have what it takes to become a Lesbian Park Ranger?

You’re mettle will be tested at the Inside Out Lesbian And Gay Film And Video Festival with the Canadian premiere of Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan’s new video Lesbian National Parks And Services: A Force of Nature.

The screening is part of the Directors Series, and will feature Dempsey and Millan in conversation with local radio host Jane Farrow. The Lesbian National Parks And Services is a witty mockumentary that parodies how nature is a boys’ world, from the Scout movement to Jacques Cousteau and his macho crew. The intrepid Lesbian Rangers step into the breach and take us along on their fearless exploration of the wilds of the lesbian ecosystem.

Like most of Dempsey and Millan’s other work, the Lesbian Rangers appropriates mainstream images in ways that are hilarious and smart. The pair’s earliest video was the internationally acclaimed We’re Talking Vulva from 1990. Part rap video and part outrageous performance romp, the tape featured Dempsey wearing a five-foot replica of women’s genitals, a prop which parodied anatomically fixated sex-education tapes, providing a sharp and funny critique of the taboo’s which regulate women’s sexuality.

The Winnipeg-based pair also produced the stunning magazine and video-diary A Day In The Life Of A Bull Dyke. This project was a satire of the famous chronicle of middle America: Life Magazine. During the 1950s and 1960s Life ran photo-spreads on such “deviants” as “the unwed mother” and “the homosexual.” Dempsey and Millan appropriated the Life format for a razor sharp talk-back to these journalistic exposés.

The Lesbian National Parks And Services video was based on a performance created for the Banff Centre For The Arts in the summer of 1997. For this project Dempsey and Millan created an official-looking khaki uniform (complete with the Lesbian Rangers insignia) and their tourist-friendly performances involved handing out LNPS brochures on the main streets of Banff and sponsoring an LNPS recruitment table in Central Park.

The subversive brochures interspersed actual tourist information about Banff with tongue-in-cheek commentary on the local wildlife, including the warning that, “Four legged-lesbian herbivores are apt to rut frequently, throughout all four seasons. Be they elk, moose, mountain sheep or goats, lesbians are powerful beasts who are unhappy to be interrupted.”

Like the well-known television show Talking With Americans by Rick Mercer, the Lesbian Rangers performance piece produced some memorable encounters with typical Banff tourists. Perhaps the most striking involved a man who spied the Ranger badge on Dempsey and Millan’s shoulders and approached the pair. Dempsey describes his response: “When he got up to us he read my shirt insignia out loud: ‘Lesbian National Parks And Services.’ Realizing that he didn’t know (or couldn’t acknowledge) what he was dealing with, he suddenly had to improvise.” Dempsey says the man asked a most Canadian question: “‘Now that must be federal, isn’t it?'”

Dempsey’s responded with, “Well no, actually we’re international.” The man remained steadfastly puzzled.

“By the time we parted,” Millan continues, “I still don’t think the penny had dropped for him. Perhaps he thought ‘lesbian’ was one of those supposedly obscure central European countries.”

While the performance piece in Banff provided many opportunities for interaction with unsuspecting tourists, the 23-minute video enables Dempsey and Millan to apply their satiric skills across a wider cultural landscape. Using a voice-over that mimics the authoritative male voice in Wild Kingdom-type nature shows the video parodies the icon of the forest ranger, and his nature-smart traits such as perseverance, resourcefulness and an unfailingly hospitable character.

It also sends-up the heterosexist bias of these shows, when they focus on the bizarre mating behaviors and drive towards reproduction that supposedly characterize the animal world.

In one of the funniest sections of the video we get to witness the training of Eager Beavers who pine for full Lesbian Ranger status. Who knew that tying knots, spit polishing boots and bush identification could be so practical, as well as fun?

Dempsey and Millan’s satiric play on the Ranger also sends-up the safe and romanticized idea of lesbianism as “just natural,” by turning this conception on its head, and re-sexualizing lesbians as a force of nature to be reckoned with.

So if you’re hankering to wear a uniform and find your true orientation, remember the Lesbian National Parks And Services wants you!

* The Lesbian National Parks And Services: A Force Of Nature screening is part of Inside Out’s Director Series; co-directors Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan will talk about their work with Jane Farrow. The pay-what-you-can event starts at 4:30pm on Sat, May 18.