Inside the boxes, Irene Lusztig found secrets and stories kept safe for forty years. Inside each envelope was the voice of a woman she had never met, yet in their midst she felt solidarity and sisterhood. Nearly a half-century after they were sent, she opened and read thousands of letters sent by readers to Ms. during its first decade on newsstands—and discovered, in the process, how interconnected feminists could remain across long stretches of time.
Among the correspondence was a 1973 letter from an angry woman forbidden to wear a pantsuit to work, a 1975 letter from a woman who left her family life behind to find herself and a 1976 letter from a teenager wherein she comes out for the very first time. “Collectively,” Lusztig wrote on the film’s website, “the letters feel like an encyclopedia of both the 70s and the women’s movement–an almost literal invocation of the second-wave feminist slogan ‘the personal is political.'”
Lusztig, an award-winning feminist filmmaker, archival researcher and professor, used the mostly-unpublished letters, stored at the Schlesinger Library, to connect over 300 women from across the country to their feminist co-conspirators across generations. The film for which that process gave way, Yours in Sisterhood, is a collective portrait of feminism across four decades—built uniquely through time travel and postage stamps.
For the project, Lusztig took the letters on the road and took them home—traveling for over two years to 32 states with a camera and portable teleprompter to return to the cities where they were written and record a belated response from a feminist stranger. Participants in each city read a letter from their hometown sent nearly a half-century earlier on camera and then engaged in a dialogue with the original sender in a response recorded live.
Lusztig also found five of the original letter writers—women who had the rare opportunity to see correspondence long since surrendered to the postal service decades earlier and in a much different world. In the film, one woman named Yvonne revisits her first-ever letter to Ms., which sparked years of correspondence between her and Ms. editor Valerie Monroe. In her initial letter, Yvonne declared her intentions to build a cabin and live mostly alone in the forest. Forty years later, she read that letter on the steps of her cabin.
Forty years later, Lusztig has finally located the feminist communities and counterparts Ms. readers sought and fostered in their letters to editors and staff. Four decades after the launch of a magazine that finally gave voice to the women’s movement, the stories and struggles of Ms. readers are now building bridges between feminist history and the feminist future.
“I’ve filmed readings with people of all ages, gender identities, shapes, colors and backgrounds on both coasts, in the Midwest, the Rockies and the South, in remote rural areas and major cities,” Lusztig wrote to supporters. “Along the way, I’ve built an incredible network of readers and supporters. Filming these conversations with strangers alongside the election, its aftermath, the #MeToo movement and much more, this project has felt increasingly timely and resonant—the stakes for how we create conversations about feminism right now are higher and more urgent than ever.”
In advance of the film’s world premiere at Berlinale, Lusztig is raising money to cover costs of production. Donations will be accepted through the month.