Hide and Seek (1996): Su Friedrich’s Docu of Lesbian Childhood

Sundance Film Fest 1996 (Documentary Competition)–Challenging the notion that there is such as thing as a “typical” or “normal” childhood, Hide and Seek is a provocative documentary about lesbian childhood that weaves archival scientific footage and sex-education films with real growing-up tales.

Helmer Su Friedrich‘s film breaks new ground thematically, but its rather short running time and specialized goal make it a likely candidate for PBS and other venues for nonfiction fare, after traveling the gay and lesbian festivals.

Skillfully melding fictional and nonfictional sources, Hide and Seek observes the emerging sexuality of Lou, a 12-year-old girl growing up in the l960s, and her friends, a closely-knit group, as they experience societal gender roles and expectations. Particularly traumatic is the sudden realization that beyond a certain age it’s not acceptable anymore to be a “tomboy,” and that there is a distinction between being “girlfriends” and having “friends who are girls.”

Hide and Seek explores its subjects’ sexual awakening, specifically their early feelings of desire, as they are repressed and molded by society’s mass media, educational institutions and the family according to permissible and desirable values. Imposing these strict definitions almost forces adolescents who are different to label themselves–and be labeled by others–as deviants.

Drawing on numerous coming-of-age stories, Friedrich and co-scripter Cathy Nan Quinlan create an intriguing narrative about the conflicting, often contradictory, signals of pre-adolescence in American society. The film punctuates the fictional narrative with clips of the era’s “scientific” and “educational” films, which advised viewers–and their parents–about the stages of “proper” development of childhood sexuality.

These scenes are interwoven with subjective memories and narratives from a host of lesbians, whose girlhood recollections and testimonies prove the era’s scientific theories false, or at least superficial and distorted, when measured against the complexity of their individual lives and real experiences. As one witness recalls: “I was really in love with this little girl, but, none of the books had the two little princesses getting married or anything, it was always the prince and the princess and the kind and the queen.”

A personal and candid film, Hide and Seek inevitably encourages viewers of various sexual orientations to reflect upon the idiosyncrasies of their own childhood and coming-of-age.


A ITVS (Independent Television Service) production. Produced by Katie Roumel and Eva Kolodner. Executive produced, directed, and edited by Su Friedrich. Screenplay, Friedrich and Cathy Nan Quinlan. Camera (b&w), Jim Denault. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 1996. Running time: 64 minutes.