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“You’re just visiting the way I live,” Cay tells Vivian, the woman she loves, in Donna Deitch’s luminous debut film. It’s 1959, and conservative English professor Vivian has come to Reno to get a divorce. When she meets free-spirited Cay, she discovers a side of herself she never knew existed.

But Deitch’s breakthrough film is more than a tender love story. It’s one of the first films to explore the resistance of American small-town mores to untraditional lifestyles, even in a place that seems as wide open as Reno. In this town that thrives on gambling, these very different women take a chance on each other.

Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau couldn’t be better as Vivian and Cay, and Deitch surrounds them with colorful characters and an exuberant soundtrack of country western songs.

Desert Hearts won a Special Jury Prize at the 1986 Sundance Film Festival. We’re proud to premiere a new digitally restored version by the Criterion Collection and UCLA Film & Television Archive in conjunction with Sundance Institute and Outfest UCLA Legacy Project.

YEAR 1986

SECTION Collection


RUN TIME 96 min


Production Designer

Artist Bio

Donna Deitch

Donna segued from documentaries to features with 1986’s landmark lesbian love story, Desert Hearts. Her TV career launched when Oprah hired her to direct The Women Of Brewster Place. Other TV credits include Prison Stories: Women on the Inside (1991 Sundance Film Festival), Sexual Advances, Common Ground, and the Emmy Award–winning The Devil’s Arithmetic. Currently Donna is working on a sequel to Desert Hearts and an adaptation of Terri Jentz’s memoir, Strange Piece of Paradise.