Wind your way backward through the work of acclaimed avant-garde moviemaker Su Friedrich, as will be possible during REDCAT and Outfest’s co-presented two-night retrospective, and you will find yourself on a remarkable journey from the elegant informality of such recent short video works as Seeing Red (2005) and The Head of a Pin (2004) through to the razor-sharp black-and-white imagery of Friedrich’s earlier, densely constructed feature-length films. Those works in particular are dazzling mashups of myth, pop culture, personal reminiscence and fictional narrative, as Friedrich channels her intelligence and yen for experimentation into a study of lust, gender politics and the epochal struggle to truly know thyself. Yet, above all, Friedrich is a storyteller, fascinated by the various forms stories can take and by what we can see of ourselves in them. Made in 1990, Sink or Swim assembles the fragmented portrait of a young girl and her relationship with her estranged, abusive father over the course of 26 “chapters” that are layered with allusions to Greek mythology and excerpts of what look like 1950s-era sex-ed films. In the equally mesmerizing Damned if You Don’t (1987), Friedrich reconstructs a 16th-century nun’s life of forbidden passion via narrated fragments from the nun’s diary, re-photographed sequences from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus and dramatized scenes in which an actress plays a contemporary clergywoman similarly touched by desire. Friedrich’s newer work is no less concerned with matters of desire and animal instinct — hence The Head of a Pin, whose title refers to its macroscopic look at the natural world, including a tour-de-force sequence of a spider slowly trapping and devouring a wasp. Friedrich’s finest achievement, however, may be Hide and Seek (1996), in which documentary interviews with adult lesbian women alternate with a lyrical narrative about a tomboyish pubescent girl’s sexual awakening. It is one of the most piquant memory films I know, at once roiling with the tenderness and cruelty of adolescence and marbled by the wisdom of age. REDCAT; Mon., March 19, 8 p.m. www.redcat.org. Egyptian Theatre; Wed., March 21, 7:30 p.m.

LA Weekly