Two Riot Grrrl College Professors Are Doing Something Cool at LMU

Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart in Floria Sigismondi's The RunawaysEXPAND
Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart in Floria Sigismondi's The Runaways

“When I first moved here, I was like, ‘Where are all the punk kids?,” says Sharon Mooney, describing coming to Los Angeles to teach at Loyola Marymount University two years ago. “The first place I saw one was at the library. I saw a girl wearing an Adicts shirt and I was like, ‘OK, I gotta hang out at the library.'”

For Mooney, clinical assistant professor in the School of Film and Television, a punk niche was something she'd been in search of on campus since she arrived. She ended up finding it in Evelyn McDonnell, assistant professor of journalism and new media at LMU and author of four books — including 2013’s Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways.

“Journalism students need all kinds of skills these days,” says McDonnell, explaining her need to teach her students how to use video. “I approached the chair of the production department at LMU and asked if there was someone who could help. … I didn’t know Sharon; we’re in different colleges on campus. Like many universities, the colleges don’t always interact.”

So, about a year ago, McDonnell and Mooney connected when Mooney, a filmmaker herself, came to speak to McDonnell's class. As a thank you to Mooney (and also because Mooney had just given birth to a son), McDonnell sent her a copy of her book, Mamarama: A Memoir of Sex, Kids and Rock 'n' Roll.

“I didn’t know she was into music; it didn’t come up,” says McDonnell, she laughs recalling the exchange that ignited their friendship. “She emailed me back and was like, ‘I’m pretty much all about women and punk bands,' and I was like, ‘What?!’”

“It was like one of those things where you find your soul sister,” she says.

Their conversations shifted from teaching students to shoot film to the films they loved themselves — such as The Punk Singer, the 2013 documentary about Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna — and the revival of interest in the Riot Grrrl movement happening in music and film today. At the time, McDonnell had been trying to organize a Riot Grrrl film festival in New York City, but that didn't really work out. “So I said, ‘Why don’t we show them at LMU?’” she recalls.

So now they are. McDonnell and Mooney have teamed up to present the inaugural Grrrls on Film, a three-day film and music festival taking place March 18 through 20. The pair chose films directed by women and about women in the rock and Riot Grrrl scenes. The films cross genres spanning from documentary style (Michael Lucid’s Dirty Girls) to cyberpunk (Adebukola Buki Bodunrin and Ezra Clayton Daniels’ Golden Chain) and even incomplete: Jill Reiter’s In Search of Margo-Go staring Kathleen Hanna. The unfinished portions will be performed live by artist and USC vice dean of art Nao Bustamante, LMU School of Film and Television associate professor Sue Scheibler and more.

Filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, right, and her daughter Anna Spheeris Fox will appear.
Filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, right, and her daughter Anna Spheeris Fox will appear.
Photo by Suzanne Allison

Other screenings include Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways, Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames, shorts Daybreak and Quinn by Lucretia Tye Jasmine, Vega Darling’s Lost Grrrls: Riot Grrrl in Los Angeles and Abby Moser’s Grrrl Love and Revolution: Riot Grrrl NYC. Q&A sessions with each of the directors will take place in the Mayer Theatre following the films.

Panels will be interspersed throughout the weekend, like “Behind the Lens” with women including LMU professor and filmmaker Leena Pendharkar, Angela Boatwright (Los Punks), Karyn Kusama (Girlfight), Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn and LMU associate professor Vanessa Newell, and “LAy of the LAnd: We Will Bury You” with Alice Bag (The Bags), Phranc, Nicole Panter (writer, feminist, manager of The Germs), Raquel Gutiérrez and Rubén Martínez.

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Mooney says the panels will outline how these artists “have navigated being women in this industry, and how they’ve crossed over from working independently and having a little bit more freedom into working in the Hollywood structure.”

The event wraps up Sunday afternoon with the concert Grrrls on Stage, hosted by Alison Wolfe (Bratmobile), featuring Kim and the Created, Colleen Green and Peach Kelli Pop, with spoken-word performances by Kari Krome, Alicia Partnoy and Sarah Maclay and DJ sets by KXLU’s Mukta Mohan and more.

Guests and activities also will be around the university’s alumni mall on Sunday; participants include Razorcake, Ovarian Psychos, KXLU, Honey Power, Rock Camp for Girls L.A. and many more. Hannon Library will host a zine-making table, while food trucks will be slingin’ goodies — with 10 percent of the proceeds going to the scholarship fund provided by LMU’s Committee on the Status of Women.

And the best part: It’s all free.

The hope is that the event will attract all kinds of people but especially young women, the audience McDonnell and Mooney are hoping to reach.

“There are many goals,” McDonnell notes of Grrrls On Film’s purpose, “but a huge goal is inspiring particularly LMU students, but young women overall, to pick up a camera, to pick up a drumstick, to pick up a microphone, to make a fan zine, to make a bike … to create by any means necessary. You have the tools.”

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