‘In Australian independent cinema over the last three decades, Jeni Thornley is the filmmaker whose autobiographical project has been to articulate feminism as a historical crisis of female subjectivity.
As a founding member of the Sydney Women’s Film Group and Feminist Film Workers, and as the daughter of a film exhibitor, Thornley’s exploration of this crisis has been intimately bound up with cinema and the problems that the cinematic apparatus poses for women as spectators and as filmmakers. As an actor, filmmaker, distributor and critic (as well as a founding member of the Balmain Women’s Liberation Group in 1969) Thornley has alternated between social action documentaries and personal filmmaking. Between 1970 and 1996 Thornley has been involved in the production of four key films which can be read not only in autobiographical terms but also as a body of work which constructs second wave feminism as a ‘crisis’ of female subjectivity. A film for discussion (Australia 1970-73) ends with a shot of Thornley contemplating her mirror reflection in a state of existential crisis. In Maidens (Australia 1975-78) feminism itself is perceived as a crisis which ruptures the continuity of matrilineal history. For love or money (Australia 1978-83) draws on the national film archive to produce a feminist history of Australian women at work, drawing conflicting experiences of race, class and ethnicity into an apocalyptic ending. To the other shore (Australia 1986- 1996) is an autobiographical, compilation film which draws on archival footage, documentaries, feature films, independent feminist films, home movies and family photographs to construct a public, autobiographical memory of the female self as both mother and daughter, as Kleinian analysand and as autobiographical filmmaker’. Felicity Collins, Memory in Ruins: The Woman Filmmaker in Her Father’s Cinema, Screening the Past. No. 13, 2001. Collins also wrote an earlier essay: The experimental practice of history in the filmwork of Jeni Thornley in Screening the Past, 1998.