Su Friedrich

Su Friedrich (born December 12, 1954)[1] is an American avant-garde film director, producer, writer, and cinematographer.

Su Friedrich
Born (1954-12-12) December 12, 1954 (age 66)
Years active1978–present

Early lifeEdit

Su Friedrich was born in 1954 in New Haven, Connecticut. Her mother was German and came to the US with Friedrich's father who was working in Germany as a GI at the time.[2] Friedrich attended the University of Chicago (1971–72) and Oberlin College (1972–1975) from which she earned a B.A. in Art and Art History. She lives and works in Brooklyn, NY, and is a Professor in the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton University,[3] where she has taught film and video production since 1998. She made her first film, Hot Water, in 1978, and has produced and directed eighteen films and videos.


Friedrich's films regularly combine elements of narrative, documentary, and experimental styles of film-making and often focus on the roles of women, family, and homosexuality in contemporary America.[4] From the onset of her career in the late 1970s, Friedrich has been a leading figure in avant-garde filmmaking and a pivotal force in the establishment of Queer Cinema. Her work has radicalized film form and content by incorporating a feminist perspective and issues of lesbian identity and by creating a remarkable and innovative synthesis of experimental, narrative and documentary genres. Friedrich's films are multi-lingual, moving between the personal and the political, from autobiographical films about family to the investigation of society's notions of sexual identity. Her cinematic palette includes home movies, archival footage, interviews, and scripted narratives.

Friedrich is the recipient of the Cal Arts Alpert Award in the Arts[5] and has received fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as numerous grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, Independent Television Service, and the Jerome Foundation. Her films and videos are screened in the US, Canada, and Europe, and have been the subject of retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, The Stadtkino in Vienna, the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver, the National Film Theater in London, and many others. Friedrich's work is part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Royal Film Archive of Belgium, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the National Library of Australia. Her complete original film materials are being conserved at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive in Los Angeles.

Friedrich's films have won many awards, including: for The Odds of Recovery, Best Documentary at Identities Festival in Vienna; for Hide and Seek, Best Narrative Film Award at the Athens International Film Festival, Outstanding Documentary Feature at Outfest '97 in Los Angeles, Special Jury Award at the New York Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Juror's Choice Award at the Charlotte Film Festival; for Sink or Swim, Grand Prix at the Melbourne Film Festival, the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Gold Juror's Choice Award at the Charlotte Film and Video Festival, Special Jury Award at the Atlanta Film Festival and Best Experimental Film Award at the USA Short Film and Video Festival; for Damned If You Don't, Best Experimental Film Award at the Athens Film Festival and Best Experimental Narrative Award at the Atlanta Film Festival; and for Cool Hands, Warm Heart, Special Merit Award at the Athens Film Festival. Friedrich also won the Peter S. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.[6]

The films have been reviewed in numerous publications, including Variety, Premiere, The Village Voice, Artforum, The New York Times, The Nation, Film Quarterly, The Millennium Film Journal, Film Comment, Sight and Sound, Flash Art, Cineaste, The Independent, Heresies Art Journal, Afterimage, and The L.A. Weekly. Essays on her work as well as excerpts from her scripts have appeared in numerous books, including Women's Experimental Cinema (2007), 501 Movie Directors (2007), Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream (2005), Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000 (2002), Left In the Dark (2002), The Wedding Complex: Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture (2002), Girl Director: A How-To Guide (2001), Collecting Visible Evidence (1999), Experimental Ethnography (1999), The New American Cinema (1998), Play It Again, Sam (1998), Film Fatales (1998), Cinematernity (1996), Screen Writings (1994), Women's Films (1994), Queer Looks (1993), Avant-Garde Film: Motion Studies (1993), Vampires and Violets (1992), and Critical Cinema: Volume Two (1992).

The moving image collection of Su Friedrich is held at the Academy Film Archive.[7] The archive preserved Cool Hands, Warm Heart in 2019.[8]


Year Title Length Format Color Sound
1978 Hot Water 12min. super-8 b&w sound
1979 Cool Hands, Warm Heart 16min. 16mm b&w silent
1979 Scar Tissue 6min. 16mm b&w silent
1980 I Suggest Mine 6min. 16mm b&w and color silent
1981 Gently Down the Stream 14min. 16mm b&w silent
1982 But No One 9min. 16mm b&w silent
1985 The Ties That Bind 55min. 16mm b&w sound
1987 Damned If You Don't 42min. 16mm b&w sound
1990 Sink or Swim 48min. 16mm b&w sound
1991 First Comes Love 22min. 16mm b&w sound
1993 Rules of the Road 31min. 16mm color sound
1993 Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire, Too 60min. video color sound
1996 Hide and Seek 65min. 16mm b&w sound
1999 Being Cecilia 3min. video color sound
2002 The Odds of Recovery 65min. 16mm color sound
2004 The Head of a Pin 21min. video color sound
2005 Seeing Red 27min. video color sound
2008 From the Ground Up 54min. video color sound
2013 Gut Renovation 81min. video color sound

Gently Down the StreamEdit

The short film consists of texts and rephotographed imagery, which both represents Friedrich's fourteen dreams that are taken from eight years of her journals. Imagery of the Virgin Mary and Christ, a woman rowing a machine in gym, another woman swimming in pool, and body of water are presented with a hand-scratched word at a time, and pulled audience in Friedrich's flow of consciousness in the process to reconstruct and analyze her dream.[9]

The Ties That BindEdit

The Ties That Bind is a documentary of Friedrich's mother, who was born in Ulm in Germany and grew up with the Third Reich. The film centered narrative by mother about her personal history in Germany, rise of Nazism, life during the war, and the day when the war was over, in form of an interview by a daughter/director. Mother's voice is illustrated by various imagery, including Friedrich's travel to Germany, scene of anti-nuclear demo in New York, as well as the mother's personal moving images. As the title of The Ties That Bind suggests, this film depicts the ties that lie between the past and present, between mother and daughter.[9]

Damned If You Don’tEdit

Damned If You Don’t is the film about Catholicism and lesbianism, particularly the sexuality of nuns. The narrative in the film has three layers in its structure; a young woman seducing a young nun; adaptation of Powell and Pressburger's film, Black Narcissus (1947) that is about a nun in the convent in Himalayas; reading of Judith C. Brown's Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. By exploiting the layered narratives, Damned If You Don’t reveals a common assumption in melodrama that all desire is heterosexual, and shows a new direction of depiction of female desire, pleasure and sexuality.[9][10][11]

Sink or SwimEdit

Through a series of twenty six short stories, Sink or Swim describes the childhood events that shaped a girl's ideas about fatherhood, family relations, work and play. As the stories unfold, a dual portrait emerges: that of a father who cared more for his career than for his family, and of a daughter who was deeply affected by his behavior. Working in counterpoint to the forceful text are sensual black and white images that depict both the extraordinary and ordinary events of daily life.[12]

In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected Sink or Swim for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[13]

Hide and SeekEdit

Hide and Seek is an exploration into lesbian adolescence in the 1960s. Lou is a 12-year-old girl who daydreams in a tree house, tries not to watch a sex education film, wins a rock throwing contest, and is horrified to discover that her best friend is taking an interest in earrings and boys. Interwoven with Lou's story are the mostly hilarious, sometimes painful recollections of adult lesbians who try to figure out how they ever got from there to here. Completing the picture are clips from a wide array of old scientific and educational films blended with the black and white images of Lou's world.

From the Ground UpEdit

Friedrich's work has always used personal narrative to support strong political beliefs. With her recent movie From the Ground Up she follows the coffee road from bean to purchased brew, in a quest to "understand how the cup of coffee [she'd] just gotten at the pushcart could cost only fifty cents." Beginning with the farmers in the Guatemalan countryside, we follow the bean from the exporter in Guatemala City, to the importer in Charleston, SC, then on to the roaster in Queens before it ends up in the Manhattan pushcart. Rather than make a traditional social documentary, Friedrich made a film that echoed her own experience, "which was that of being stunned by the unimaginable scale and complexity of the coffee industry and the often grueling physical labor required to get those seedling to eventually yield a cup of coffee." During the making of the film Friedrich became a supporter of the fair trade coffee movement, and dedicated the film to the movement and the people involved.[14]

Gut RenovationEdit

Documentary about the gentrification of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the displacement of long-term businesses and residents.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Summary of Su Friedrich, Su Friedrich website
  2. ^ Su Friedrich, interview, in Scott MacDonald, A Critical Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, Berkeley: University of California Press, 305.
  3. ^ "Su Friedrich". Lewis Center for the Arts. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  4. ^ Lynn Bell, Su Friedrich, Senses of Cinema, website
  5. ^ "Su Friedrich | The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts". Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  6. ^ "Peter S. Reed 2000". Archived from the original on March 13, 2017. Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  7. ^ "Su Friedrich Collection". Academy Film Archive.
  8. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.
  9. ^ a b c Scott MacDonald, "Su Friedrich: Reappropriations.” Film Quarterly Vol.41 No.2 Winter 1987–1988: 34–43.
  10. ^ Liz Kotz, "Anything But Idyllic", Columbia Readers on Lesbians and Gay Men in Media, Society and politics. New York: Columbia UP, 1999. Print
  11. ^ Chris Holmlund, Feminist Makeovers: The Celluloid Surgery of Valie Export and Su Friedrich, Play Iy Again, Sam; Retkes on Remarks, edited by Andrew Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal, 1998 Berkeley: University of california Press 217–237.
  12. ^ William C. Weiss, “Carrying on: Leslie Thornton, Su Friedrich, Abigail Child and American Avant-Garde Film of the Eighties.” Canadian journal of Film Studies, Vol.10 no.1 Spring: 70–95. Weiss noted that, in Sink or Swim, accumulated images and allusions “leave little doubt about the girl/woman’s sexual orientation”, however, unlike some of Friedrich’s other films, such as Gently Down the Stream (1981), Damned if You Don’t (1987), and Hide and Seek (1996), lesbian desire is not a major theme.
  13. ^ Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  14. ^ Notes, From the Ground Up, Su Friedrich, 2008
  15. ^ Holden, Stephen (March 5, 2013), "A Work in Progress, From the Inside Out", New York Times, retrieved May 28, 2013

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit