Out of the Shadow, Into the Sun

Out of the Shadow, Into the Sun is a documentary by director Kathryn Klassen about female bullfighters in Spain and Latin America. Despite having no Lesbian content, the documentary was shown in LGBTQ film festivals across North America and received good reviews. Out of the Shadow is an obliquely Lesbian-related documentary that describes the folklife of bullfighters, illustrates subversion of gender roles occurring when women enter the bullfighting ring, and the re-enforcement of those roles in attempts to feminize the public image of female bullfighters.

Guadalupe Lopez of Mexico City (telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/picturesoftheday/8380640/Pictures-of-the-day-14-March-2011.html?image=15, June 2012)


The documentary begins with a comparison of bullfighting with the elegant sensuality of flamenco dancing. Klassen gives biographical details of the first women to dedicate their lives to the art, and has interviews with some of bullfighting’s most popular toreras (female bullfighters). These women describe the obstacles they face being women in the plaza (bullfighting arena), challenges they face as they undergo training, and how their image as women is a major preoccupation of those who hire them. Many toreras, for example, dye their hair blond, and are careful to cultivate an air of femininity so that their involvement in a traditionally masculine sport does not masculinize them too much in the eyes of their fans.

Christina Sanchez (askville.amazon.com/female-bull-fighter-arena-famous/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=54943611, June 2012)

Filming in the Closet

The documentary is unusual in that there are no references to homosexuality, neither in its making nor the final project, yet it was shown in LGBTQ film festivals.

During the 2004 Qualia Conference on Gay Folklife, Klassen described how she negotiated her own orientation when making Out of the Shadow. She filmed the documentary with assistance from her close friend and fellow director, José Torrealba from Venezuela. Both directors are Gay, but did not mention this to the people they interviewed for fear that it could be an unwelcome subject for the toreras. People associated with bullfighting tend to be very uncomfortable with even discussing homosexuality. This was especially true for female bullfighters, due to their already precarious position as women in an art associated so strongly with masculine virility and machismo. It was useful for the project that Klassen appeared with Torrealba, as many people assumed they were a Straight couple. The documentary, which Klassen shot with an eye toward showing the intimacy and sensuality generated between bull, bullfighter, and audience, has no overt mention at all of same-sex attraction.

Hilda Tenorio (commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PenduloHildaTenorio.jpg, June 2012)

Nevertheless, the documentary was well received at LGBTQ film festivals, in part because the narration is done in a woman’s voice describing another woman as sensual, seductive, and powerful. While being respectful to her collaborators, the deep attraction of a female director to female bullfighters is the film’s prevailing yet unspoken theme. A second major issue for Out of the Shadow is depiction of bulls being killed. Aware that many people feel discomfort at seeing that moment, and that public opinion is turning against the sport as cruelty to animals in Spain and Latin America as well as many other countries, Klassen uses such scenes sparingly. Klassen emphasizes the intimacy and agony that a bullfighter feels when she kills an animal she come to know and respect.

Conchita Cintrón made a name for herself in 1950 by breaking the law against women on foot in the ring during a bullfight. She went on to become an internationally famous matadora (economist.com/node/13217817, June 2012)

Klassen on Bullfighting

In the press release for the documentary, Kathryn Klassen describes what inspired her to make Out of the Shadow, Into the Sun:

The day I attended my first bullfight I had no idea that I would eventually make a documentary. I was living in Seville [Spain]. One Sunday afternoon a friend invited me to a bullfight. I refused. She begged me to accompany her and I did so reluctantly… The bullfight, which was to take place near sunset, was part of a small village festival.

It didn’t take long before we were caught up in the excitement along with the rest of the crowd, eating bocadillos [a kind of sandwich] with aged Manchego cheese and jamón serrano [dry-cured ham] washed down with glasses of warm tinto [red wine]. Our host invited us to meet one of the bullfighters and to my surprise, the bullfighter was a woman or rather a rejoneadora. This is a bullfighter who performs the corrida [corrida de toros or “run of bulls,” Spanish-style bullfighting, not to be confused with the annual encierro (corralling) or “running of the bulls” event in Pamplona] on horseback and then at the “moment of truth” gets off the horse and kills the bull on foot.

This was horrific to me. Yet this young woman was very excited about being a part of the corrida, and was charming and informative as she showed me her horses and explained the process to me. When she road into the ring at the golden hour, raising her sword silhouetted against the dusty sunset, it felt magical, as though I was transported to another era… and then when she had completed her seduction of the bull, she dedicated the life of the bull to us and then killed it. This brought me back to cold reality.

Regardless, a seed had been planted. I started by writing a story about it that afternoon but realised I knew nothing about bullfighting, or why a woman would engage in such a dangerous and violent act. I began my research. I read everything I could get my hands on about the subject… I studied at the National Library in Madrid and haunted obscure bookstores looking for anything I could find that spoke about women in the bullfighting world. I met writers, journalists, photographers, artists and their families and friends, who connected me to people in the bullfighting world. It was not easy. When I finally was invited and allowed to film at my first corrida, I was so thrilled to be there, included as a knowledgeable aficionado and from there began shooting interviews and corridas with women bullfighters.

Hilda Tenorio (ciudadtaurina.com/ct/wp/?m=20100903, June 2012)

About the Director

Kathryn Klassen was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. She moved to Montréal, studied film production at Montréal’s Concordia University, and furthered her education at the Universidad Central in Caracas, Venezuela. Out of the Shadow was her first full-length documentary, and was produced through 175 BPM Productions, a company created in 1998 by Klassen and Torrealba.

– Mickey Weems
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Further reading:

Caballero, Ernesto Giménez. Las mujeres de América. Madrid: Nacional, 1971.

Cintrón, Conchita. Aprendiendo a vivir. México: Diana, 1979.

Cintrón, Lola Verrill. Goddess of the Bullring: The Story of Conchita Cintrón, the World’s Greatest Matadora. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960.

Marvin, Garry. Bullfight. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 1994.

Nes, Illy. Hijas de Adán: las mujeres también salen del armario. Madrid: Hijos de Muley-Rubio, 2002.