In 'Vulveeta,' a fictional riot grrrl band gets back together and finds that a lot has changed. (Courtesy of Maria Breaux)
In 2022, it’s still middle fingers up to the patriarchy. Scream it louder for the people in the back.
In her latest work, Vulveeta, filmmaker and activist Maria Breaux revisits the ’90s riot grrrl era—a feminist punk movement known for its do-it-yourself attitude. Reminiscent of a modern-day Spinal Tap, the San Francisco-shot mockumentary follows 50-year-old Grrrilda and the resurrection of her band Vulveeta after a 20-year hiatus.
Inspired by Breaux’s own experiences, Grrrilda is an aging rockstar who has tried really hard to heal herself even though she has this punk ethos of “Namaste, but f— you all.” “There’s pretty much nothing in the film that [she] had done that I haven’t done myself,” the actor and filmmaker says.
Grrrilda ghosted the band before their big break, and when she returns the city and its punk scene aren’t what she remembers. Rent has increased by tenfold. Tech bros have moved in. We’re not making zines like we used to. And apparently, social media marketing took over good ol’ grassroots efforts to spread the word.
Pulling from Breaux’s earlier days in sketch comedy, Vulveeta is entirely improvised and character-driven. Breaux and the cast spent a year workshopping the film prior to filming.
Improv is rooted in the notion of “Yes, and…” Rather than getting stuck or fighting against a statement, it’s the practice of accepting what’s said and building on that story. “The creativity continued all the way to our wrap day,” says associate producer and actor StormMiguel Florez.
“It was a long process of meeting up and slowly getting to know each other better, figuring out who my character Jett is,” says J Aguilar, who plays bassist Jett Groan. “Maria has a way of bringing people together to build community and trust and to collaborate in ways that allow each of us to shine and be seen, which is a rare and beautiful experience.”
Vulveeta—though comedic—emanates from a place of Breaux wanting to overcome trauma. In our interview, she opens up: “I got to this period of my life where I'm like, ‘OK, this is a time of healing and self-care and all these things…’ And I just went all out.”
In search of peace, the past 20 years have involved traditional therapy, acupuncture, ear candling and even a two-week trip to Peru’s Amazonian rainforests. “I [didn’t] care what it [was], just tell me what to do. And I'm gonna have this wild time trying it out,” Breaux says.
The rock-umentary was crowd-funded and featured a cast that included her entire family and close friends. Breaux’s wife, Sarah Korda—who plays Vulveeta’s newest band member, Harriet—was hesitant at first, but with a little persuasion grew to love the process.
“It was special for me as a performer to remember that part of myself. I love improv! This experience reignited my love of creativity, which is central in all my work, whether it’s performance or in my private psychotherapy practice,” Korda says. “[It’s a] reminder of how creative and funny much of life can be.”
Their 25-year-old daughter, Dakota Billops-Breaux, who has worked with her mom since she was four years old, says, “Being on set, I always pick up skills that are surprisingly applicable in video content I create in my everyday life—how to frame a shot, where to point the microphone to best pick up a voice, tips on improvising—and this time was no different.” In Vulveeta, Billops-Breaux plays Killer Child, the once-two-year-old badass drummer who now wishes to be seen for who she is rather than work she’s done in the past.
The film takes us into the questions that can arise in artist’s mind: What does it mean to keep pushing even when you get lost in your own demons along the way? And how do we navigate the waves of an evolving society and culture?
Though San Francisco has changed tremendously, Breaux chooses to highlight the good and what’s still here. She celebrates the blooming artists, shout outs San Francisco Arts Commission for continuing their local programs, and—from a parent’s point of view—expresses gratitude for new parks.
In creating Vulveeta, Breaux was reminded of the unconditional love and support of her close circle. “Change is possible. I know that for myself, scientifically, you know, you can kind of recircuit, if you will, parts of the brain so that you’re triggered less,” she explains. “I did a lot of work to get through it, but also a lot of people helped me overcome it.”
Breaux—who currently works a day job at Common Sense Media—has won numerous filmmaking awards, including Frameline33’s Audience Award for Best Short for Lucha and the Silver Remi Award at WorldFest-Houston for Mother Country. In 2013, she was a contributing cinematographer on 99%–The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival. As a solo sketch comedian, she’s performed at local venues, such as Theatre Rhinoceros, Josie’s Cabaret and Luna Sea.
Much like how improv comedy rolls with the punches, Vulveeta reminds us that there’s acceptance to be found in understanding life as a work in progress. It’s an ongoing game of “Yes, and…” As Breaux says, “I expect this journey of mine to be a lifelong one—with stops, starts, detours, roadblocks and long, carefree stretches of open road along the way.”
Up next, Breaux will be co-producing and acting in Sundance fellow Florez’ upcoming project Welcome to Roswell, a film about a trans filmmaker whose plans to come out to his family are interrupted by his partner’s fixation on the 1947 UFO incident. She is also in early development for a feature film on Duane Fitzpatrick, her hometown neighbor who was sentenced to 27-years-to-life in prison in 1987 and maintains his innocence.
“Art has always been healing and transformative. And at their heart, art and activism are acts of love. So, at the most basic level, I hope we see more love in the world. I’d love to see more kindness. There are so many pointed fingers,” Breaux says. “It’d be really great to see more empathy, and more attempts at understanding and finding common ground.”