Dear Lisa: A Letter to My Sister

an intergenerational look at female socialization
Year Released
Film Length(s)
45 mins


The filmmaker questions her sister, herself and others about the dreams and hopes they had growing up as girls in contrast to the reality they face as women. Topics include: childhood, athletics, careers, motherhood, body image, sexual assault and self-esteem. Made in 1990, this film documents a growing awareness of feminist issues. Have things changed, today?

Featured review

...a haunting portrayal of that moment between girlhood and womanhood. It's moving and very real.
Dr. Arlie Hochschild Sociology
University of California


Dear Lisa A Letter to My Sister is a pastiche of women and girls who speak candidly about growing up female. Interviewees include a former Miss California contestant, a judge, a banker, an electrician, a secretary, and adolescent girls. The subjects of the film offer up their personal stories which range from getting a plastic baseball glove instead of a real one, to men doubting their capabilities in the work arena, to being trapped in a car and raped. These are sad and stirring tales that demonstrate the cultural landscape that women and girls had to navigate in the last century. Unfortunately these stories are as relevant today as they were back then.


...The lion's share of the program is devoted to women's responses revealed in thoughtful one-on-one interviews with the filmmaker. This diverse group, consisting of both young and middle-aged women, both white and of color, including a judge. a university professor, and a former "Miss California ". By cross-cutting these interview segments Clements makes this unwieldy material entertaining and also creates a framework for the presentation-which is narrated by the filmmaker and punctuated by clips from her own family's home movies. Clements' letter to her sister-delivered both as written comments and as a dreamy narration, against the background of the home movies, shown in slow motion-urges viewers to slow down and take a closer, more careful look. Several of her questions remain unanswered and invite further consideration. The video achieves its goals through a subtle interplay of visuals (interview segments, archival footage, and animation) and commentary. A catchy keyboard soundtrack stitches the production together into a nearly seamless whole. Highly recommended for all libraries, for use by women's groups and in related programs.
Christy Ziatos
Video Rating Guide for Libraries, Vol.2, No.4
One of the best films I've seen on women's issues, perspectives, and sexism.
Kent Koppelman Education Foundation
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Filmmaker J Clements explores issues related to growing up female by narrating a letter to her sister in this freewheeling production . Clever animated line drawings introduce footage of Clements' family from the 1960s, which is carefully interwoven with the diverse life stories of 13 contemporary women. After discussing their interests, careers, and relationships, these women share thoughts about child rearing, segregation, and discrimination, without bitterness, they also reveal poignant struggles with drugs and sexual assault. Although the filmmaker acknowledges that some things have not improved for women and minorities, she admits there has been progress. Concluding with the hope that each woman will know what's best for herself, this is thought-provoking fare. Ages 16-adult.
Nancy McCray
Journal of Sex Education and Therapy...provides a tapestry of women's voices, inviting the audience to identify at will and develop a sense of mutuality.
Journal of Sex Education and Therapy
Journal of Sex Education and Therapy
High school students and adults may find this film about how society views women and female attributes both instructive and thought-provoking. It can be used to foster discussion about how and why male and female children are often taught to behave differently in similar circumstances, play with specific types of toys, set separate types of goals, and base their self-esteem on mental or physical attributes dictated by their culture. Other topics covered include motherhood, job environments, and sexual assault. ~
Elizabeth Smith
NY Times

Awards and Screenings

The Discovery Channel, 1991
Special Jury Award, National Educational Film and Video Festival, 1991

Director Commentary

When I made Dear Lisa we were on the cusp of a new century. I had high hopes that the cultural landscape for women and girls would be quite different. I sadly see that some changes have happened but in many arenas things have stayed the same, or have even gotten worse. Just look at the lack of women representation in media, in the corporate boardroom, and in the trades. Young women on college campuses still face uncertainty and lack of support when reporting sexual assaults and rape. I think this film (as well as Man oh Man) would be enlightening for young college students to watch, because by looking backwards, they will more clearly see how to move society forward.

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