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Journey Among Women, 1977 (Tom Cowan, dir. and John Weiley prod.) is currently part of a retrospective of Australian feature films, Film Continent Australia, screening at the Film Museum, ViennaApril 4 to June 4, 2019.

Nell Campbell, Robyn Moase, Theresa Jack,  Lisa Peers, Journey Among Women
A 'Complicated Legacy'?
Journey Among Women was a controversial film in its time, and it continues to provoke debate and discussion. The Vienna Film Museum's program indicates something of its 'complicated legacy', referring to the film as a 'borderline case...a wild, feminist historical piece'. SBS's film reviewer, Simon Foster (2009), also suggests the film has been difficult to categorise in his Journey Among Women Review, A brutal, lost Australian classic:
"Journey Among Women is the black sheep of the family. Insanely uninhibited, the convict survival story is too steeped in graphic nudity and violence to sit alongside critic's darlings like My Brilliant Career (1979), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) or The Getting of Wisdom (1978). But it is also too artistically and intellectually noteworthy to be embraced by the genre B-movie aficionados."
In 1976 I was one of two camera assistants on the film and I shared a desire, along with other participants, to be involved in an emancipatory film project about women and freedom. As camera assistant I saw every moment flowing into the camera; yet in the end I witnessed a film that seemed to lean more towards the 'Ozploitation' genre. This is perhaps the film’s 'complicated legacy'. Yet do the contributions of the feminist actors, the co-writer, and the director's original intention, bring an embedded layer of ‘real’ revolt and jouissance into the text, beyond any surface performativity or actual sexism?

Jeni Thornley, camera assistant, Journey Among Women, Super8 screen shot
In 1970s Australia the women's liberation movement was in full swing, and so the historically true stories of convict women of the 1820-30s, overthrowing their male captors to escape prison and seek freedom in the bush, had potent and mythic resonance. Director Tom Cowan was attuned to this zeitgeist and involved Dorothy Hewett – libertarian, feminist poet, novelist and playwright – as co-scriptwriter. Then he cast the convict women, quite intentionally, from amongst local radical feminist lesbians (some from Clitoris rock band) with professional women actors from the mainstream industry. He combined this with a 'psycho-drama' workshopping approach.

Jude Kuring, Di Fuller, Journey Among Women
Camped out in the bush, eventually this potent mix exploded when several cast members refused to perform in 'sexist' shots (being naked after the escape). The cooks downed tools, and me too. The breakdown in filming evolved into a sit-down discussion of all cast and crew. This was filmed, but not included in the final film.

Nell Campbell, Lisa Peers, Journey Among Women
Does the term, 'wild feminist historical piece' suit this film? In my view, (influenced by Claire Johnston's 1973 Notes on Women's Cinema), a feminist film is when women creatively participate in the development, production and distribution of a film, sharing authorship. In Journey Among Women, the film's gaze, its desire, was in the director and producer's hands; it was their gaze, not the women's gaze; yet, with such a complex film set, was there ever one unified group of women who could have delivered a women's gaze?

L-R Nell Campbell, Robyn Moase, Tom Cowan, Rose Lilley,
Peter Gailey, Jeni Thornley, Journey Among Women
Debates around the film reverberate into the current #metoo movement today. One of the youngest of the Journey Among Women actors, whose role involved being raped in the convict cell,  gave evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2015 (in reference to the 'Entertainment Industry'). She included her experiences and her 'partially nude (topless) appearances' as part of her evidence.

UniSA 2018

A Betraying Camera?
Film scholar, Jane Mills, in an essay for the 2009 DVD release of the film, 'Journey Among Women: Special and Electric'discusses the film through the prism of a 'betraying camera'. I find it a most thoughtful essay and was pleased that the producers had commissioned it for the DVD, as Mills' incisive analysis suggests they, too, recognise the film's complex legacy:
"Betrayal is the theme that keeps rising to the surface in this extraordinary film. Did the director, producer and cinematographer betray the women cast and crew members? Were the women divided amongst themselves, as was rumoured, with the lesbian and radical separatist and the non-separatist women each feeling themselves betrayed by the other group or by women who crossed from one group to another? If you look closely you can see all these questions as well as the answers. By placing betrayal at the centre of concern, Journey Among Women reveals the diversity of ideas and opinions among the cast and crew. What is fascinating is that these fissures can all be seen inside the film's frames."
Jeune Pritchard, Journey Among Women

Outside the film's frames – "the charge of the real"
In 2016 the National Film and Sound Archive (Canberra) acquired and digitised my personal Super8 collection (1976-2003). Of 143 rolls, about 13 rolls were filmed on Journey Among Women. Some of this footage I used in my film Maidens back in 1978 to represent my own intense experience of utopian liberatory feminism, in part catalysed on the set of Journey Among Women in 1976.


Christina Sparrow, NFSA Film Services,  2016
grading the Journey Among Women Super8
 In a recent essay (2018) I suggest that this kind of intertextuality, juxtaposing fictional excerpts into the documentary mode (or vice-versa) produces what documentary theorist Stella Bruzzi refers to as "the charge of the real" (quoting film scholar Vivian Sobchack, 1997).  Now we read fiction as documentary evidence – striking in its affect. In fact, my film practice always involves re-cycling images and scenes from my super8 collection in each film: Maidens, For Love or Money, To the Other Shore and Island Home Country. My current project memory=film, (in development) is being constructed almost entirely from my 143 rolls Super8 collection. It's interesting, too, that in all these films the journey towards liberation continues to unfold.

In the collaborative feature documentary For Love or Money (McMurchy, Nash, Oliver, Thornley 1983) we juxtaposed the Journey Among Women prison cell-escape scenes, with my Super8 of the wall of the Female Factory in Parramatta, to represent an actual revolt by convict women in 1827. Later in the film we used my Super8 footage of the 1983 ANZAC Day March, when the Sydney Women Against Rape Collective was denied the right to march under their banner, "In memory of all Women Raped in all Wars". I filmed the women marching direct into the police paddy wagons.

Sydney Women Against Rape Collective, Anzac Day March, Sydney 1983
The closing scene of For Love or Money uses a close-up of one of the protestors from this Super8 footage. She gazes direct into the camera just before she is arrested, with narration from Dorothy Hewett's 1958 novel Bobbin Up, narrated by actor Noni Hazelhurst:
"She'd seen women fight, she'd seen them unite, she'd seen them show courage and resourcefulness. Give them a clear issue and they cut right through to the bone of it and stood solid as a rock."
ANZAC Day "We Mourn all Women Raped in all Wars", Sydney 1983
Super8 screen shot
Postscript
In 2017 I went to a screening of Journey Among Women (Q/A with Tom Cowan and John Weiley) during Sydney's annual Vivid Festival. It was part of a community film event on the top floor of a well known Kings Cross pub. It was a good night and the audience appreciated the film. I felt more fondly towards the film (40 years later), being less in the feminist rage part of my mind, and more able now to see the complex multi-layers in the text.  Later I wrote:
"Let's also honour Dorothy Hewett who wrote the screenplay with Tom Cowan and John Weiley. Watching the film, I could sense Dorothy's mind at work and the women actors intense contributions; I really valued the film more than I ever have – rather more as a documentary archive, if you like, than a drama." 
Recently, while writing this essay, I read an interview with Tom Cowan on the making of the film which helped me understand his original intention more keenly:
"I was living in the bush, in Berowra Waters, and it was so powerful. I happened to read this French science-fiction story  called Les Guérillères (Monique Wittig 1969) about a future society of women - like an Amazon society - who were at war with the rest of society. Somehow in the combination of the wildness and strangeness and beauty of the bush and this story of wild women, I saw a parallel in how we perceived the bush and how the British first saw the bush as ugly. Well, we now see it as beautiful. And how the sort of excesses of radical feminism, when it began, were seen as ugly - ranting and raving and being abusive and so on. But, in fact, behind it were very beautiful things - not just the women, but the humanist ideas."

In Memoriam Rest in Peace –  cast and crew members 

Dorothy Hewett 1923-2002 Co-Writer Journey Among Women
Dorothy Hewett and Tom Cowan, on location Journey Among Women

Norma Moriceau 1944-2016 Costume Designer
  Journey Among Women
Jeune Pritchard,  Norma Moriceau, Journey Among Women    
Super8 screen shot


Michele Johnson 1952-2019 Actor, Journey Among Women
Michele Johnson, Journey Among Women
Super8 screen shot

References

Luke Buckmaster (2015), 'Journey Among Women rewatched – savagery in racy revenge drama'The Guardian, 20th December. 

Simon Foster (2009), Journey Among Women Review, A brutal, lost Australian classic, SBS Reviews, 7th December.

Jane Mills, (2009), 'Journey Among Women - Special and Electric': booklet accompanying Collectors Edition DVD, Journey Among Women, Umbrella Entertainment.

Claire Johnston (1973), Notes on Women's Cinema, London, Society for Education in Film and Television.

Benjamin Law and Beverley Wang (2019), 'Going beyond the hashtag with Me Too founder Tarana Burke', Stop Everything, ABC Radio National, 15th November 2015.




Dr. Jeni Thornley
Hon Research Associate
School of Communication
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UTS
http://www.jenithornley.com/
mb 0414 9908951

Posted: April 16, 2019, 12:49 am
Last year Margot Nash invited me to introduce her personal essay film The Silences as part of her farewell seminar program: Stepping into the Unknown - The work and legacy of Margot Nash in the School of Communication, FASS, UTS, December 6-7 2018.

Still from The Silences
I was happy to participate as a colleague and friend of Margot's and also because The Silences is a very special and tender film. Margot has given much in her teaching at UTS over many decades, so it meant a lot to be part of this significant moment in her life's journey. As well, I am a practitioner of the personal essay film and love this form of film-making. Autobiographical and essay filmmaking were so much part of Issues in Documentary, (a post-graduate unit I taught at UTS during 2002-2013), so I like to keep connected to the genre. Personal documentaries have really flourished in the last few decades with the impact of digital technologies and social media; there is now a significant corpus of texts.

Here are the edited notes to my talk:
"Firstly I am going to contextualise The Silences in its genre or mode and then talk a little about the film itself. The Silences takes it place in the rich and diverse genre of the essay film, the autobiographical film and the personal film. As well, we can place it in the dynamic tradition of women’s and feminist filmmaking which erupted during the 1970s women’s liberation movement – which Margot and I were both so strongly involved.

International filmmakers working in these modes were influential on our own filmmaking, too. From the 1950s-1960s French New Wave, with master essayists Agnes Varda and Chris Marker; the New German filmmakers, Helma Sanders-Brahms and her film Germany, Pale Mother and Jutta Bruckner’s film on her mother, Do Right and Fear No-oneto name just a few. 


Margot Nash, Jeni Thornley with Agnes Varda
 Creteil Women's Film Festival, Paris 1999
The development of such personal films was extensive over subsequent decades with American filmmakers like Michelle Citron and her film Daughter Rite,  Canadian filmmakers, Anne Claire Poirier with Tu as Crie and Sarah Polley and her film documentary The stories we tell – influencing Margot's thinking around the The Silences.

Still from Tu as Crie
In Australia, many  women filmmakers have been increasingly drawn to this expressive mode of autobiography – its subjective and personal style allowing for deep introspection, often crossing the borders between fiction and nonfiction, public and private, by using  an array of self- reflexive techniques. These films include my own 1978 film Maidens, along with many other local films.

Still from Maidens
Essie Coffey’s My Survival as an Aboriginal, Corinne Cantrill’s In this Life’s Body, Mitzi Goldman’s HatredTracy Moffat’s auto-ethnographic Night Cries, Gill Leahy’s My Life without Steve. More recently we have Sophia Turkiewicz’s Once My Mother, Su Goldfish’s  The Last Goldfish, and Jane Castle’s documentary (currently in post production) about her filmmaker mother Lilias Fraser, When the Cameras Stopped Rolling; and not to forget, William Yang’s unique autobiographical performance and film works, Sadness, in particular.


The Silences enters this corpus of innovative films and shares, too, many of their textual strategies–piercing into the heart of repression – the filmmaker peeling back layers one by one – to gaze directly into the mirror of self, family and society.  Frequently, in these films, there is a personal, subjective narration – the “I” voice. And often they are inter-textual, drawing on film and photographic sources from the filmmaker’s personal archive and film work.

Agnes Varda’s Beaches of Agnes and Sophia Turkiewicz’s Once my Mother are distinctive inter-textual films, as is The Silences. In The Silences Margot draws on her own family photographs and skilfully weaves scenes from her previous films, such as Vacant Possession, and takes, if you like, a second look at these texts, in the context of her family and its secrets.


We, the viewers, might now experience the original text on a deeper layer, looking back along with the filmmaker’s probing, self reflexive, gaze. This inter-textuality reveals, as Margot writes (quote) “the psychological context in which the earlier films were produced, allowing the viewer to understand the relationship of creativity to experience”. 

I also suggest that this intertextuality – because it involves juxtaposing excerpts from fictional films into the documentary mode – produces what documentary theorist Stella Bruzzi refers to (quoting Vivian Sobchack) as “the charge of the real”. Now we read fiction as documentary evidence of family trauma – such fleshy bodies – viewer, filmmaker and persons filmed – all joined together; this affect is striking in its intensity.

Sophia Turkiewicz (R) and her mother (L)
Susan Sontag, when writing about Hans Syberberg’s monumental film, Our Hitler, a Film from Germanyrefers to Syberberg’s process as undertaking “the work of mourning”, after Freud’s famous essay Mourning and Melancholia (1917).

Still Our Hitler
Here Syberberg develops an aesthetics of repetition and recycling. It takes timeto work through grief, argues Sontag – a process of remembering, repeating and working through (Freud, 1914)

In The Silences we sense this aesthetics at work too; certain key images in family photographs are examined and re-examined for clues – the clues reverberating into the excerpts from Margot’s archive of constructed dramatic films.

Still The Silences
Sontag’s reflection on duration is also relevant to Margot’s way of working. The Silences was self financed and produced over some years, outside any traditional film financing organisations and linked creatively alongside Margot’s UTS affiliation and several artist/filmmaker residencies, both local and international. The film is really made in the spirit of independence – free from the so often formulaic expectations that the state financing bureaucracies and broadcasters impose. As well, it requires a lot of trust and stamina to work in this way; and so often films produced like this really do have a unique quality.

The introspective autobiographical essay form, which women filmmakers seem particularly drawn to, also offers what scholar Frances Lionnet calls a ‘space of possibility’:  a space to reflect, to consider anew. Here the filmmaker sees her own personal history implicated in larger social processes – marking a dynamic shift where she becomes the agent of transformation.


Still Beaches of Agnes
 The intention and capacity to look directly into the trauma of the family is served well by the personal essay form, too. The very definition of essay is “to try”, to weigh up, and in a film like The Silences this reflective and reflexive process forms Margot’s inner landscape. This is an intimate journey into Margot’s family history and we move with her to a deeper understanding of the silences buried deep beneath the surfaces of family life. 

Documentary film theorist, Bill Nichols, in dialogue with the home movie essayist Peter Forgács said,  "I experience your films as a gift, an unexpected act of generosity or love..." And I feel that too about The Silences. We are really privileged tonight to join with Margot on this journey and to watch the film with her here! Thankyou."

Still The Silences
Ronin Films  is the distributor. You can stream the film via their site or buy the DVD from them.  https://www.roninfilms.com.au/feature/13428/silences.html

Dr. Jeni Thornley
Hon Research Associate
School of Communication
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
University of Technology, Sydney
http://www.jenithornley.com/

11 March 2019








Posted: March 12, 2019, 3:14 am

memory = film
a film poem about time passing

memory=film, my current digital film project, is created from my Super8 film archive (1976-2003) and is currently in development. The film is an experiment; what it is about is still forming as it will take shape in editing. Perhaps it is like the mercury I once held in the palm of my hand at the 1950s dentist – moving, glistening, shining – with form, yet formless.

The impulse for this film comes from the Japanese death poets. In Japan elders and (Buddhist monks) write poems to express their feelings about the transience of life and the inevitable passing of all things (jisei: “farewell poem to life”). Householders write poems as a gift to their children – a legacy of beauty and insight gathered over years. I like this idea– the contemplation of ageing and approaching death, 

yet brimming with the lightness and beauty of life. 

I borrow moonlight
for this journey of a
million miles
(Saikaku 1730)

 A friend gave me Yoel Hoffman's book Japanese Death Poems years ago and I always carry it around -  thinking, ruminating, writing - gradually realising that I could make a film in the spirit of this poetic tradition.  Then, only a few weeks later I discovered that the video artist Bill Viola has done just this!  So then, everything is perhaps borrowed! The other filmmaker I return to in the vein of death poetry film-making (and the use of the home movie archive) is Derek Jarman and his innovative film Blue that he made when he was in hospital dying (1994)Yet, ultimately as Thacker in his essay Black Illumination: Zen and the poetry of death writes, quoting death poet Toko:
Death poems
are mere delusion
death is death
(Toko 1795)



What I know about the content of the film –  it is composed of my Super8, filmed between 1976-2003. As well, a layer of the film may reflect films I have made and the politics of each era; so there may be sequences from Maidens (1978), For Love or Money (1983), To the Other Shore (1996) and Island Home Country (2008). Other films and TV programs that reference my film-work may also be part of it - like Quite a Long Development  (1979) on making Maidens; my interview about For Love or Money on The Mike Walsh Show (1983); The Journey, ABC (1985) a short film about filmmaking and motherhood; an ABC broadcast about To The Other Shore and psychoanalysis (1996); current presentations such as Maestros of the Archive: The Art of Archival Documentary, OzDox (2014), Women's Gaze and the Feminist Film Archive, AGNSW (2015), may be included.

The production contextfor the film is the School of Communication, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at UTS, where I am an Honorary Research Associate. Toula Anastas, (ex) FASS MediaLab, is the Creative-Technical consultant. The National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA Canberra), acquired and digitized the super8 collection during 2016-2017.

 
I am now shot listing the Super8 (on MacOS Mojave on Avid MC 2019.6). Next I will edit a rough assembly in a free form way, developing a sense of the film’s main theme, shape and form. I will then crowd source to raise the post production budget - and work with an editor and sound designer-composer. The film will have a multi-platform release of film festivals, broadcast television, galleries and online.

Why the title: “memory = film”? Film, unlike creative forms like painting, sculpture or writing, is ephemeral. Like theatre and music it, too, is passing by. The movement of film through the gate of the camera, through the projector, (both film and digital), parallels the movement of life – its transience, its flow; watching film we experience time passing, and like the mercury of old we cannot really hold it still. Also some of the Super8 is degraded with time; the colour might have faded, mould has eaten away at the celluloid; the body of the film is ageing, as is mine. I will not hide it. These fragments of life on my 137 rolls and 9 composite reels of Super8 trigger my memory as it fades with age. 


All this happened. Yes, I was in the women’s liberation movement; I had a share in women’s land; I marched against the war in Vietnam; I filmed Super8 on the set of Journey Among Women, on Anzac Day, Australia Day and the Aboriginal Awakening ceremonies;I loved women and men; I have a husband, children and grand children and I had a therapist; I bow to my yoga and meditation teachers; and yes I made these films. Here is the evidence, it was real, I filmed it. memory = film. And so, I share this “farewell film poem to life” (jisei), tenderly with you.

Clear sky
The way I came by once
I now go back by
(Gitoku 1754)

Posted: October 20, 2018, 5:55 am
Dear Reader, I wrote this blog for Anzac Day in  2014. I re-post it as it is as relevant today as then. To work towards peace is for me the path. I honour our Grandpa who fought in France; he was no lover of war- and his letters home to our beloved Nana are testament of that. So, rather than a photo of him in war uniform I post this photo of him diving from the bridge at the Gorge, Launceston (he is 3rd from our left).

Freud wrote his essay 'Remembering, 'Repeating and Working Through' (1914) on the eve of World War 1. Although not addressing the specific politics of war and Europe, in the essay he suggests that what is repressed will repeat endlessly and project itself onto other places, people and things, unless one undertakes 'the work of mourning'.




During World War 2 in 1938 Freud and family members escaped the Nazis by re-settling in London; four of his sisters died in Nazi Germany's concentration camps (see The Nazi Who Saved Sigmund Freud).


German psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarethe Mitschterlich subsequently applied Freud's insights to Germany in their book The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour (1967). Here they discuss why the Holocaust, the war crimes, and national guilt was not dealt with adequately in post-war German society: 'The Mitscherlichs confronted Germany with a bitter testimonial that many found difficult to bear: Germans, they wrote, are indifferent and lethargic; they lack empathy for the victims of the Nazi genocide and are caught up in "nationalist self-centeredness.' 

 'Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes'
 (Brecht, Life of Galileo, 1943)
As the war drums beat all around and on this Anzac Day 2017, I sense the need for caution; we need analytic thinking around war and violence (in all its forms) at this time; our mainstream media and government offer little deep analytic thinking. Lest we forget all who suffer in war – the victims and the perpetrators on all sides. Let us not go down the path of an uncritical patriotism. Let us not forget that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British, from 1788 on - and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged officially by Australia or the Australian War Memorial.

To our dear Pa
I honour and remember our Pa (Mum's dad) who was a Digger in World War 1. He wrote many letters home with details of the war and how it affected him and others - fellow soldiers, nurses, civilians. Perhaps his story has contributed to me becoming a pacifist.



Our Pa, (Tom William Butcher) and his postcard sent to our Nan
in Tasmania (Wynne Ila Lette), from France 10th Dec.,1917 
I have never marched formally on Anzac Day (one day I will before I die to honour Pa). But I do feel strange about it. I don't relate to nationalism, patriotism or war; and the fact that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British from 1788 on-and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged on this day. Why? Some of these difficult issues have been addressed by journalist Michael Green in an essay 'Lest We Remember: the Australian War Memorial and the Frontier Wars'. 'It follows an ongoing argument concerning Aboriginal Warriors who lost their lives in the wars against colonial forces'.

'no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob,
we had to fight you'. 
Jim Everett, pura-lia meenamatta
'Near the end of his latest book, Forgotten War Henry Reynolds makes a demand: the Australian War Memorial must commemorate the frontier wars. The book examines Australia’s violent colonial history, and reaches into some of our most challenging public debates – about land rights, sovereignty, and reconciliation...I also spoke to playwright Jim Everett, a Plangerrmairreenner man, of the Ben Lomond people in northern Tasmania. ‘If they asked me, I’d say “no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob – we had to fight you”. If we want to remember our heroes, then we should be doing it ourselves,’ he says. ‘We should be dedicating a part of country to our fallen heroes – perhaps we could mark it with a rock. I don’t like the idea of statues.’
Jim Everett (arrested) while protecting the kutalayna site, April 2011

"In memory of all women of all countries, 
raped in all wars" 

The only time I ever went to an Anzac Day March was when women marched under a banner: "In memory of all women of all countries, raped in all wars" c1981. I filmed it on super 8: the women's faces with gravitas and dignity marching straight into the waiting police paddy wagons, as the Anzac Day organisors wouldn't give permission for us to march with that banner. The great unspoken of war.

 Canberra 1981 (?) (re the red circled person in the pic- I have no idea who it is!). 
For further discussion see Catriona Elder's essay, ' "I Spit on Your Stone": National Identity, Women Against Rape and the Cult of Anzac' ;  it is also in Maja Mikula's book (ed), Women, Activism and Social Change, Routledge, London, 2005, pp. 71-81.
Posted: April 24, 2018, 6:13 am
 In To the Other Shore (1996), an intimate meditation about motherhood, psychotherapy, family and society, I used my Super8 home movies to express the fragility of a mother's mind with a new baby, juxtaposed with excerpts from feature films and documentaries, including Eva Braun's Home Movies, Woman of the Dunes, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and The Letters of Sylvia Plath. 


Anne Tenney as The Mother in To The Other Shore; pic Sandy Edwards
In Island Home Country (2008) I use my super8 footage intertextually to tell a post-colonising story of white settler instability in Tasmania in the face of Aboriginal sovereignty and their deep history on the island. Super8 footage of significant sites such as  Cape Barren Island, The Freud Museum (London), Anzac Day and the Port Arthur Historic Convict Site are interwoven with stories from community members and family. 

Port Arthur Historic Convict Site, Tasmania, Super8 screen shot
Posted: February 11, 2018, 10:52 pm

This is a still of me and screen mother Jovana Janson from Film for Discussion a film Sydney Women's Flm Group made in the early 1970s. I play a young woman in a crisis about work, life and identity- triggered by her encounter with feminism. The film was nominated for Best Documentary, Greater Union Awards, Sydney Film Festival 1974. SWFG was one of the first Australian groups to establish itself in the name of 'Women’s Liberation'. Film For Discussion is a docu-drama shot in 1970 and completed until 1973. The film sought to encapsulate in an experimental form issues that were under discussion within the Women’s Liberation Movement and so contribute to action for change. The link is to Ballad Films the website of Martha Ansara, my friend and colleague. Martha was a key person in my becoming a filmmaker, alongside my Dad who was a film exhibitor. It was Martha who introduced me to the actual possibility of women making their own films. It doesn't seem that radical in 2017, but in 1969 it was! Go on this site and order a copy of the film and also see other films to purchase by Ansara. Film For Discussion screened this year (2017) in Feminism and Film: Sydney Women Filmmakers, 1970s-1980s at Sydney International Film Festival.
Posted: September 14, 2017, 7:56 am
Sydney Film Festival Retrospective June 2017
Feminism and Film Sydney Women Filmmakers, 1970s-1980s 
L-R filmmakers Jeni Thornley, Megan McMurchy, Susan Charlton (curator),
Margot Nash,  Martha Ansara

'From archive into the future' 
 A great review in this latest issue of RealTime by Lauren Carroll Harris. She writes about 'For Love or Money'  (McMurchy, Nash, Oliver & Thornley 1983) and the recent Sydney Film Festival's Retrospective Feminism & Film: Sydney Women Filmmakers, 1970s & 1980s 

"For Love or Money stands today as a major work of historical research,  a masterclass of montage editing and a classic essay film". 
still from For Love or Money: Barmaids Strike, Newcastle c 1962
(Tribune Archives, thanks Martha Ansara)
Harris also writes about We Aim to Please, My Survival as an Aboriginal and Two Laws - as well as taking on the whole dilemma of archiving and distributing classic films, what she calls the Lost Found Paradox. She also writes about the demise of film making collectives and the slow moving pace of real gender equality both in our so called film industry and in society generally. A really insightful essay! A tribute to our era of filmmaking and also to this recent Sydney Film Festival curatorship by Susan Charlton. Congrats all!

Digging around in this past (and also our present) collective memories are faded for exact dates and the narrative around these early filmmaking days. After all I was 21 when, with Martha Ansara and the Sydney Women's Film Group, we started workshopping Film For Discussion (1974), and now 44 years has passed!



In a previous blog post "The archive of the self and deconstructing the national archive"  (2014) I wrote that this mirror shot was emotionally too much for me to deal with at the time, yet it became foundational in my subsequent turn to a kind of poetic, found-footage, autobiographical film-making style in Maidens, and subsequent films, developing an ‘archive of the self’. This is what I mean by duration – how long it takes to gain insight into one’s intention with a piece of archival footage – as an internal process of the psyche.

Back to gathering the threads of what happened back then....what follows for now are a few rough notes on early women's filmmaking groups back in the 1970s (and thanks Carole Kostanich for your recent email).

We all see and experience this early history from our own perspective and involvement- so the dates and details will naturally differ.  I remember being part of the  SWFG formation,  The Sydney Filmmaker's Co-op, Women Vision, The Women's Film Workshop 74; the lobby for 50% female intake into AFTRS in IWYear 1975, the International Women's Film Festival 1975, the Women's Film Fund (I became Manager in 1984-85); and later the Women's Film Units, FFW formation 1978; Film Action formation, and all the inter-related women's groups (like Women and Labour etc) and the many political organisations all connected.



Summary
  •   Feminist Film Workers formed in 1978 (as a splinter group of the Sydney Women’s Film Group). The membership of this seven member group was:  L-R Beth McRae, Carole Kostanich, Sarah Gibson, Jeni Thornley, Martha Ansara, Margot Oliver, Susan Lambert
  •  With a Women's Film Fund Grant,  FFW set up at the Women's Warehouse, Ultimo (Sarah Gibson became the full time distribution worker). The Women and Work Film's (later FLOM's ) first office was in WWH (me, Margot Oliver and Megan). Later we moved to edit the film with our editor Margot Nash at 'Lorraine', Redfern.

For Love or Money team: L-R Margot Nash, Megan McMurchy, Jeni Thornley, Margot Oliver.
photo: Sandy Edwards 1983

 In Film News (vol 8, No 12, Dec 1978, p.7)  the FFW "announced" their rationale. Also see Jeni Thornley and Sarah Gibson "Making Ends Meet- Theory and Practice: the Development of the Feminist Film Workers", Scarlet Woman, No.9. (nd., c1978 or 1979).

Also Don't Shoot Darling : Womens Independent Filmmaking in Australia (ed Blonski 1987) has several articles on women and film groups (by Jenni Stott and Jeni Thornley) incl photographs connected to the FFW (by Sandy Edwards).

"In 1979 the Minto Discussion Weekend was held where women filmmakers and theorists came together to debate film, politics and theory.  It was an initiative of the Feminist Film Workers who formed in 1978 as a splinter group of the Sydney Women’s Film Group to focus specifically on education, distribution and exhibition of feminist films."

"In 1979 the Catalogue of Independent Women's Films was published by the SWFG (ed B.Allysen). Early in 1979, a full-time position in distribution at the Coop was secured for a women's filmworker, after the FFW were able to show that the rental of women's films accounted for 50% of the total rental income at the Co-op. In the same year, the FFW secured a grant of $20,000 from the Women's Film Fund to operate an office away from the Co-op and pay a full-time worker who would who would engage in the promotion of the feminist films in its collection, to increase print sales...The Co-op continued to handle the rental of FFW's films, however" (Stott in Blonski (ed) 1987: 120).

 With the Women's Film Fund Grant, and with Sarah Gibson as full time distribution worker, some of the events and activities of FFW included:
  • The Film/Theory practice weekend, Minto, Nov 1978 (Martha Ansara wrote a Film News essay
  • "Women propose a New Feminist Cinema", Season Sydney Film-Co-op, Dec 1978
  • "The Image of Women in Australian Feature Films" Forum, Sydney Film Festival June 1979 (Carolyn Strachan presenter).
  • Publication of FFW Discussion Papers No.1, 1979) (Thornley in Blonski (ed) 1987: 89-92).
Scarlet Woman holdings (Trove NLA search)
 A note: the 2017 Melbourne Women in Film Festival (MIFF http://www.mwff.org.au) tributed our 1975 International Women's Film Festival that toured all Australian capital cities. There were collectives in all states. I was involved as one of several National Co-odinators - the list of International films and Australian films we curated for the Festival is impressive. This Festival was a significant introduction to the history of international women's filmmaking which we had been so little exposed to in Australia.  For many of the international films we negotiated distribution contracts with Sydney Filmmakers Co-op (Sian Mitchell MIFF Co-ordinator) and I  are currently trying to locate the whereabouts of these prints).

The MIFF 2017 program included a program which revisited the aims of our original Festival (this meant a lot to me, as I spent more than a year working on this Festival).  Also MIFF screened my first film (with Dasha Ross) Still Life 1974 and linked the festival to peephole online film journal, which in March 2017 published several essays on the 1975 festival and women's filmmaking.

"This edition of Peephole Journal looks to commemorate not only the launch of the Melbourne Women in Film Festival, but to give some attention to the diversity of women's filmmaking, the multitude of women's perspectives evident in its storytelling, and the place of women in criticism.

I wrote this  essay, Looking at Women and Festival Director Sian Mitchell writes about the 75 Festival and MIFF  in her editorial;and Loma Bridge writes about Anne Severson's Near the Big Chakra (1975) and Sharon Hennessey's What I Want (1971):  Statu[t]es of Liberties...

More to follow!









Posted: August 5, 2017, 2:43 am
Listen in to this audio conversation with Gayle Austin (2SER's Curved Radio, July 2016) and Jeni Thornley on the making of  'Island Home Country'. Gayle is interested in the use of music in the film; Jeni also discusses Sharon Jakovsky's work as composer and sound designer on the film.

This poetic 52min cine-essay, about race and Australia's colonised history and how it impacts into the present, is screening online  Monday 25 July 10am - Tuesday 26 July 10am (AEST) anytime in that 24hours, and then weekly until December on the Culture Unplugged Film Festival site here:

 
Posted: July 22, 2016, 9:29 am

'Remembrance, in the wake of suicide'

If you haven't read any Deborah Bird Rose (anthropologist, eco-philosopher in environmental humanities) – her recent blog: "Remembrance, in the wake of suicide" is a confronting beginning: she offers her very thoughtful reflections on the disturbances in the ongoing colonising nation called Australia: "Gerry Georgatos, a specialist on Indigenous suicide, describes the problem as a ‘humanitarian crisis’. Also read Bird Rose's ground breaking 2004 book: "Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation"

'Discovery, settlement or invasion?'

One might hope that the tired old (fundamentally racist) 'history wars' argument was a thing of the past, but no! Sydney's 'Daily Telegraph' front page (March 30) headlined: "WHITEWASH: UNSW rewrites the history books to state Cook ‘invaded' Australia...Nutty professors want to Cook the record books".  In another thoughtful essay in The Conversation: "Discovery, settlement or invasion?" Peter Kilroy (Postdoctoral Fellow, King's College London) argues for critical thinking around language: "there is a link between the language you use, the recognition of Indigenous peoples today and the redistribution of wealth, property and power to those peoples. It is not merely about being “politically correct” nor is it restricted to the past".









'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'.


The other day I read of a new light show art installation by British artist Bruce Munro at Uluru: "Field of Light": the tourist mecca – canapés and champagne while gazing at the wonders of the Red Centre at sunset...meanwhile Rosalie Kunoth-Monks (OAM, 2015 NT person of the year and Arrernte-Alyawarra Elder) says that Aboriginal people living in remote outstation Utopia are starving:
"Utopia represents sixteen remote outstations 260 kms north east of Alice Springs. Rosalie lives in one of the outstations with her daughter Ngarla and grandchildren. Rosalie and Ngarla have reported that the elderly in the communities have not been receiving their regular daily meals as expected through the current aged care program. When meals have arrived they have not been nutritious".
















Posted: April 10, 2016, 3:40 am

Militarism, Projection and Anzac Day - a few reflections.

Dear Reader, I wrote this blog for Anzac Day in  2014. I re-post it as it is as relevant today as then. To work towards peace is for me the path. I honour our Grandpa who fought in France; he was no lover of war- and his letters home to our beloved Nana are testament of that. So, rather than a photo of him in war uniform I post this photo of him diving from the bridge at the Gorge, Launceston (he is 3rd from our left).


Freud wrote his essay 'Remembering, 'Repeating and Working Through' (1914) on the eve of World War 1. Although not addressing the specific politics of war and Europe, in the essay he suggests that what is repressed will repeat endlessly and project itself onto other places, people and things, unless one undertakes 'the work of mourning'.




During World War 2 in 1938 Freud and family members escaped the Nazis by re-settling in London; four of his sisters died in Nazi Germany's concentration camps (see The Nazi Who Saved Sigmund Freud).




German psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarethe Mitschterlich subsequently applied Freud's insights to Germany in their book The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour (1967). Here they discuss why the Holocaust, the war crimes, and national guilt was not dealt with adequately in post-war German society: 'The Mitscherlichs confronted Germany with a bitter testimonial that many found difficult to bear: Germans, they wrote, are indifferent and lethargic; they lack empathy for the victims of the Nazi genocide and are caught up in "nationalist self-centeredness.' 

 'Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes'
 (Brecht, Life of Galileo, 1943)
As the war drums beat all around and on this Anzac Day 2017, I sense the need for caution; we need analytic thinking around war and violence (in all its forms) at this time; our mainstream media and government offer little deep analytic thinking. Lest we forget all who suffer in war – the victims and the perpetrators on all sides. Let us not go down the path of an uncritical patriotism. Let us not forget that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British, from 1788 on - and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged officially by Australia or the Australian War Memorial.

To our dear Pa
I honour and remember our Pa (Mum's dad) who was a Digger in World War 1. He wrote many letters home with details of the war and how it affected him and others - fellow soldiers, nurses, civilians. Perhaps his story has contributed to me becoming a pacifist.


Our Pa, (Tom William Butcher) and his postcard sent to our Nan
in Tasmania (Wynne Ila Lette), from France 10th Dec.,1917 

I have never marched formally on Anzac Day (one day I will before I die to honour Pa). But I do feel strange about it. I don't relate to nationalism, patriotism or war; and the fact that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British from 1788 on-and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged on this day. Why? Some of these difficult issues have been addressed by journalist Michael Green in an essay 'Lest We Remember: the Australian War Memorial and the Frontier Wars'. 'It follows an ongoing argument concerning Aboriginal Warriors who lost their lives in the wars against colonial forces'.

'no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob,
we had to fight you'. 
Jim Everett, pura-lia meenamatta
'Near the end of his latest book, Forgotten War Henry Reynolds makes a demand: the Australian War Memorial must commemorate the frontier wars. The book examines Australia’s violent colonial history, and reaches into some of our most challenging public debates – about land rights, sovereignty, and reconciliation...I also spoke to playwright Jim Everett, a Plangerrmairreenner man, of the Ben Lomond people in northern Tasmania. ‘If they asked me, I’d say “no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob – we had to fight you”. If we want to remember our heroes, then we should be doing it ourselves,’ he says. ‘We should be dedicating a part of country to our fallen heroes – perhaps we could mark it with a rock. I don’t like the idea of statues.’
Jim Everett (arrested) while protecting the kutalayna site, April 2011

"In memory of all women of all countries, 
raped in all wars" 


The only time I ever went to an Anzac Day March was when women marched under a banner: "In memory of all women of all countries, raped in all wars" c1981. I filmed it on super 8: the women's faces with gravitas and dignity marching straight into the waiting police paddy wagons, as the Anzac Day organisors wouldn't give permission for us to march with that banner. The great unspoken of war.

 Canberra 1981 (?) (re the red circled person in the pic- I have no idea who it is!). 
For further discussion see Catriona Elder's essay, ' "I Spit on Your Stone": National Identity, Women Against Rape and the Cult of Anzac' ;  it is also in Maja Mikula's book (ed), Women, Activism and Social Change, Routledge, London, 2005, pp. 71-81.
Posted: April 24, 2015, 10:01 pm
A few years ago I was at a Conference and Michael Renov gave a paper where he spoke about his notion of the 'four fundamental tendencies of documentary' : 
1. To record, reveal, or preserve 
2. To persuade or promote
3. To analyze or interrogate 
4. To express
He then named a 5th tendency - which he called 'the ethical'. I have been searching for further writing by him on this - in order to extend documentary theory into thinking around the site of the web 2 environment and to extend, Adrian Miles essay, 'Blogs: Distributed Documentaries of the Everyday' Metro.143 (2005): 66-70: a conversation with Renov and André Bonotto and Gabriel de Barcelos Sotomaior, in São Paulo, April 2nd and 8th 2008: What’s at stake for the documentary enterprise? Conversation with Michael Renov.
Also my documentary  Island Home Country (2008), was deeply engaged in a process around ethics, memory and  history and Tasmanian Aboriginal protocols - Renov's conversation around ethics and documentary is relevant to my process with the film. See my doctorate (UTS 2010) Island home country : subversive mourning : working with Aboriginal protocols in a documentary film about colonisation and growing up white in Tasmania: a cine-essay and exegesis. 


Posted: November 12, 2014, 11:19 pm
My talk, 'the archive of the self and deconstructing the national archive' – was part of  "Maestros of the Archive: The Art of Archival Documentary", Ozdox Forum, August, 2014: "Gathering, manipulating and presenting archival material is an art form, one that is sometimes overlooked. Through archival film making, a seasoned story teller can tap into our nostalgic tendencies, our memories and collective subconscious with precision and eloquence"In this Ozdox Forum I presented along with Paul Clarke, Shane McNeil and Nicole O’Donohue.  Curator was Brendan Palmer, with moderator Ruth Hessey.

The focus of my talk is: what image do you choose to represent or communicate an idea, or a feeling; how do you work with your own subjective memory…and how might your own personal archive link to public history - the historical record of a nation; and where does your intention and ethics play out in all of this?  

Also I want to note the difference between approaching the archive as a source of shots for a film, in contrast to thinking about the archive as metaphor: that is, reading the grain of the archive, AND reading against the grain of the archive – to hear the whispers in the archive, to see the problem of the archive and what’s not there; and to think about the nature of power in the production of the archive itself. For instance filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, with his 1985 10 hour documentary on the Holocaust, Shoah – refutes the archive. 

Lanzmann reads the grain of the Holocaust archive (which is vast) and he rejects it. No archival footage of the camps. Nothing. For him it is an ethical decision. Lanzmann knew his intention so well ...he honed it over the 11 years of production – to create Shoah as its own unique archive, with a completely different way of representing and understanding history and what happened on the killing fields.


So back to intention– that is, trying to understand your intention with each film, sequence or image; I want to unpack my intention in several films I have made since the 1970s till now. Some colleagues who worked on these films are here tonight and I would like to acknowledge them - Megan McMurchy: co director and co producer For Love or Money, Karen Pearlman, editor Island Home Country, Erika Addis cinematographer on For Love or Money and To the Other Shore and Jane Castle additional camera on To the Other Shore; and in absentia Martha Ansara for Film For Discussion and co-filmmakers on For Love or Money: Margot Nash and Margot Oliver.

I want to start with Sophia Turkiewicz’s recent film Once My Mother – 

surely a case study in the Art of the Archival Documentary. In it we see a lucid example of intention, and the relevance of duration to a filmmaker’s internal process and filmmaking method. I refer here to the b&w 16mm footage Sophia filmed of her mother while at film school in 1976 – the film she couldn’t make then – and the crucial, integrative moment of her return decades later for a 2nd look. Sophia says: “Looking back, I lacked the skill, the maturity and the perspective to do my mother’s story justice. The rushes lay in film cans in my hot attic cupboard for over thirty years… waiting until I was ready…”


I want to link Sophia’s ‘found footage’ to Film For Discussion, by the Sydney Women’s Film Group, a film we completed in 1974, with Ansara directing and me co-scripting and performing. It’s an improvisational drama documentary about a young woman in a crisis of identity around family, boyfriend and work – it shows the contradictions around the position of women at the time. I play the girl. Or am I playing myself? Martha composed several shots in mirrors. This clip is a 1 minute extract from the excruciatingly long 3minute mirror shot of the girl – just after a horrible family argument at dinner, with an aggressive drunken father and a submissive mother, and a boyfriend who just doesn't get it.


(BTW most of my clips tonight are from films made on 16mm 4;3 not HD – ripped from DVDs – and I am no maestro of ripping; and remember Film For Discussion was made over 43 years ago…almost half a century!)



CLIP 1 FILM FOR DISCUSSION: 0:58

 Like Sophia's footage of her mother, this mirror shot was emotionally too much for me to deal with at the time, yet it became foundational in my subsequent turn to a kind of poetic, found-footage, autobiographical film-making style – developing an ‘archive of the self’; Sophia buries her footage in an attic, but my family crisis plays out on the massive screen in the State Theatre during the documentary finals at the 1974 Sydney Film Festival. This moment is a site of instability – where, as the film’s subject, my intention is not yet realized. This is what I mean by duration – how long it takes to gain insight into one’s intention with a piece of archival footage – as an internal process of the psyche.


My next project began after Film For Discussion in 1975 as a drama script on illegal abortion – about a confused pregnant girl, her broken love affair and the police raids on the abortion clinics of the late 60s; I got a grant from the Experimental Film Fundfor this project but was unable to make that film as a drama – instead I worked instinctively gathering sequences from films I had acted in, or worked on, weaving them together with my home movies and photographs – into a story of four generations of an Australian family. This became my documentary film Maidens,completed in 1978. Little did I realise the repercussions of using women’s naked bodies to represent the emancipatory, utopian impulse-of women’s liberation.


CLIP 2 MAIDENS a: 1:14 (this is not the clip I screened...)


In fact, my intention was not at all clear to me at the time – apart from the filmmaking method being some attempt to mend or reflect on the broken parts of my life. It was a time of intense personal crisis and huge social change: ‘free love’, the Vietnam war, conscription and my brother’s death in a head on car crash. Maidens was explosive – bearing family secrets in public…partly triggered by the psycho-drama of Film For Discussion, and the impact of feminism’s notion that the personal is political


Feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham writes of : “the contradiction …between private and public, personal and impersonal as the fissure in women’s consciousness through which revolt erupts”. My subsequent film-making method unfolded from inside the split-self of the Film For Discussionmirror shot – perhaps as a way of navigating self and society – unravelling hidden secrets and finding footage that viscerally expresses breakdown, revolt and transformation.


Also, being exposed to a range of international women’s films we screened at the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op Cinema and Women’s Film Festivals around the country…where we programmed the early films of great women filmmakers like Agnes Varda, Maya Deren, Su Freidrich, and Helma Sanders Brahms – many of them re-configuring their archives to make films with an intense female subjectivity.


Like Turkiewicz was drawn back to the footage she filmed of her mother, I was drawn back to that footage of the girl in Film For Discussion to take a 2nd look and re-use the footage in Maidens. From a film-making craft perspective I was developing a remix or inter-textual film practice – marking a dynamic shift from being passive subject to becoming the agent of transformation.

Here’s the mirror shot remix from Film For Discussion to Maidens offering what writer Frances Lionnet calls “a space of possibility”…where the filmmaker sees her own personal history implicated in larger social processes.


CLIP 3 MAIDENS b: 1.26
              For Love or Money, our feature documentary about the history of women and work in Australia, begun in 1979 and completed in 1983 – reflects an organic shift to link the personal to larger social processes – by doing extensive oral histories and research combing archives across the nation. In all the archives we researched, as in society at large, women were stereotyped in fixed roles – in the family and in the workforce; but how to represent the known documented stories of revolt, like the struggle for the vote and equal pay, or the hidden work of women’s unpaid work in the home as wives and mothers – in images – when so few existed in the archive? In For love or money’s closing sequence you might get a sense of the visual, poetic metaphors we developed to read against the grain of the national archive. Here we re-pose the film’s main thesis – still relevant to now – 3 decades later:  


CLIP 4 FOR LOVE OR MONEY: 2:49 (this is not the clip I screened; it's coming!)


My next documentary To the Other Shore began as a diary film about motherhood, filming on super 8 starting in 1986 – and taking 10 years – collecting images from a range of archives, local and international, and editing them with my home movies and dramatized sequences. The method and structure of the film was drawn from Freud’s ideas around the ‘work of mourning – remembering, repeating and working through’. I wanted to suggest the dark side of motherhood, with its irruptions from the unconscious and the way the external world of war and violence, could penetrate the fragile membrane of a mother’s mind – especially a breast-feeding mother.  




Anne Tenney in To The Other Shore 1996 (pic: Sandy Edwards)

CLIP 5 TO THE OTHER SHORE: 2:33
A key question about intention when working with intimate family footage like this is ethics  – who might this footage harm? When you film a baby, a toddler…they can’t give permission. But what about when they become adults…do they feel violated by the footage? How do they relate to their image being appropriated for the filmmaker’s tale?  Consider the beautiful footage of my baby daughter, filmed in the golden light of afternoon while I prepare the evening meal…with its voice over about suicide and maternal ambivalence.  How does this affect her, or others in the family – then, and now?

And finally to my film Island Home Country, completed in 2008, where the ethical question on the use of the archive and working with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and their protocols becomes the very foundation of that film’s process. This film is about my memories, growing up in Tasmania, and knowing no Aboriginal history or culture. Here is an island where the violent race war, (some call it attempted genocide, others ethnic cleansing) has been so repressed that approaching this terrain is a mine-field – whichever way you turn; the existing archive of documents, photos and film has been produced by the victors of that war. The present day Tasmanian Aboriginal community do not welcome ‘outsiders’ using that material about them.  How to proceed? The film takes 5 years of negotiation, of edits and re-filming. The Aboriginal community are crystal clear: don’t make a film about us, make a film about you, your mob. It’s here I became “the other” and experienced “instability’ around being white. For this internal feeling I created a visual metaphor – "the white ghost of Australian history"  with a remix sequence from another film I had acted in earlier.


CLIP 6 ISLAND HOME COUNTRY: 2:04




 So gaining insight into intention, timing and the ethical frame is a process and I think it’s fundamental to the art of the archival documentary.


Finally a few closing words by Sophia Turkiewicz. She is truly a maestro of the ‘archive of the self’ and its intricate linkages to international archives of memory and history.


Thinking back, it was fortunate that “Once My Mother” took so long to make. If I’d told this story when I was younger, I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice…. As I say in the film, I had ‘plundered’ my mother’s life to make various fictional films in my career as a drama director. Now that I was making my first documentary about the ‘truth’ of my mother’s life, I realized I had to be as honest with myself…. through tracking my own journey towards ‘forgiveness’.



Thankyou

Posted: October 9, 2014, 9:09 pm
Freud wrote his essay 'Remembering, 'Repeating and Working Through' (1914) on the eve of World War 1. Although not addressing the specific politics of war and Europe, in the essay he suggests that what is repressed will repeat endlessly and project itself onto other places, people and things, unless one undertakes 'the work of mourning'.




During World War 2 in 1938 Freud and family members escaped the Nazis by re-settling in London; four of his sisters died in Nazi Germany's concentration camps (see The Nazi Who Saved Sigmund Freud).




German psychoanalysts Alexander and Margarethe Mitschterlich subsequently applied Freud's insights to Germany in their book The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour (1967). Here they discuss why the Holocaust, the war crimes, and national guilt was not dealt with adequately in post-war German society: 'The Mitscherlichs confronted Germany with a bitter testimonial that many found difficult to bear: Germans, they wrote, are indifferent and lethargic; they lack empathy for the victims of the Nazi genocide and are caught up in "nationalist self-centeredness.' 

 'Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes'
 (Brecht, Life of Galileo, 1943)
As the Centenary of Gallipoli approaches in 2015, and on this Anzac Day today, I sense the need for caution; we need careful analytic thinking around war and violence (in all its forms) at this time; our mainstream media and government offer little deep analytic thinking. Lest we forget all who suffer in war – the victims and the perpetrators on all sides. Let us not go down the path of an uncritical patriotism. Let us not forget that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British, from 1788 on - and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged officially by Australia or the Australian War Memorial.

To our dear Pa
I honour and remember our Pa (Mum's dad) who was a Digger in World War 1. He wrote many letters home with details of the war and how it affected him and others - fellow soldiers, nurses, civilians. Perhaps his story has contributed to me becoming a pacifist.


Our Pa, (Tom William Butcher) and his postcard sent to our Nan
in Tasmania (Wynne Ila Lette), from France 10th Dec.,1917 

I have never marched formally on Anzac Day (one day I will before I die to honour Pa). But I do feel strange about it. I don't relate to nationalism, patriotism or war; and the fact that the military take-over of Aboriginal lands by the British from 1788 on-and the war waged by Aboriginal warriors - is not acknowledged on this day. Why? Some of these difficult issues have been addressed by journalist Michael Green in an essay 'Lest We Remember: the Australian War Memorial and the Frontier Wars'. 'It follows an ongoing argument concerning Aboriginal Warriors who lost their lives in the wars against colonial forces'.

'no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob,
we had to fight you'. 
Jim Everett, pura-lia meenamatta
'Near the end of his latest book, Forgotten War Henry Reynolds makes a demand: the Australian War Memorial must commemorate the frontier wars. The book examines Australia’s violent colonial history, and reaches into some of our most challenging public debates – about land rights, sovereignty, and reconciliation...I also spoke to playwright Jim Everett, a Plangerrmairreenner man, of the Ben Lomond people in northern Tasmania. ‘If they asked me, I’d say “no we don’t want to be stuck alongside you mob – we had to fight you”. If we want to remember our heroes, then we should be doing it ourselves,’ he says. ‘We should be dedicating a part of country to our fallen heroes – perhaps we could mark it with a rock. I don’t like the idea of statues.’
Jim Everett (arrested) while protecting the kutalayna site, April 2011

"In memory of all women of all countries, 
raped in all wars" 
The only time I ever went to an Anzac Day March was when women marched under a banner: "In memory of all women of all countries, raped in all wars" c1981. I filmed it on super 8: the women's faces with gravitas and dignity marching straight into the waiting police paddy wagons, as the Anzac Day organisors wouldn't give permission for us to march with that banner. The great unspoken of war.

 Canberra 1981 (?) (re the red circled person in the pic- I have no idea who it is!). 
For further discussion see Catriona Elder's essay, ' "I Spit on Your Stone": National Identity, Women Against Rape and the Cult of Anzac' ;  it is also in Maja Mikula's book (ed), Women, Activism and Social Change, Routledge, London, 2005, pp. 71-81.


Posted: April 24, 2014, 11:40 pm
Hetti Perkins' article, Patterns of attachment to the land (The Australian May 30, 2013)  is worth reading. It is an edited extract  from the publication accompanying My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.
Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori's Dibirdibi Country (2008)
The sentient power of country and the spirits who reside within it is not to be underestimated. Still today, trespassing on another's country is a reckless and dangerous act. It is customary in many parts of Australia to be formally "introduced" to country by traditional custodians, which can take the form of an exchange of sweat or a baptismal dousing so the land will accept or sense one as a countryman or woman and not make the newcomer sick. Almost invariably, senior community members will walk ahead at a special site, calling to their ancestral spirits so they will recognise and not harm the visitors.

It is in this context that the "welcome to country" has evolved; and it is a culturally appropriate means of brokering a social engagement with another community by formally recognising their ties to their homelands in the contemporary world.

It is a matter of no small concern that there has been the inevitable invasion of anti-political correctness creeping into this profoundly symbolic gesture of respect, particularly in areas where the Western legal criteria used to determine native title rights dispossess the traditional custodians from any other form of public recognition. The criticism of federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that the protocol is merely a "genuflection to political correctness" could be applied equally to singing the national anthem. How many Australians know all the words of the anthem, and how many really believe that we are a nation "young and free"? 
The welcome is an appropriate way of reiterating the message that Australia is home to the oldest continuous cultural tradition in the world, as a counterpoint to the endless parade of men on horses immortalised in bronze that line our city streets.


Posted: May 31, 2013, 12:42 pm
Here is our, Pa Tom,  mum's dad. He was a gunner in World War 1. Here he is, so young. I am remembering him this Anzac Day- and all he went through. His asthma was really bad when he came back from the Front. Some said it was the mustard gas. He died of an asthma attack early one morning in Invermay, Launceston Tasmania, in 1956. When we were little kids he used to whisper , "run up to the shops and buy a packet of fags for your poor old Pa, but don't tell Nan". He would press the coins into my hand, and off we would trot; how  strange I felt - on  this secret mission.


Our Pa

I never march on Anzac Day. I feel so strange about it all. I just can't relate to nationalism, patriotism or war. The only time I ever went to an Anzac Day March was when we women marched under a banner: "In memory of all women of all countries, raped in all wars."   I think it was around 1981. I filmed it on super 8 – the women's faces – such gravitas and dignity. They-we marched straight into the waiting police paddy wagons;  the organisors wouldn't give permission to the women to march under that banner. The great unspoken of war. 



Ps This photo is not the Sydney 1981 Anzac Day March....and I have no idea who the red circled person is!
Posted: April 25, 2013, 4:26 am
Today someone called ("unknown") commented on a 2011 post I wrote: "save the mumirimina-kutalayna heritage" along the Jordan River, Tasmania. I find it very moving and would like to share it. We can also "remember them" and acknowledge that their descendants "walk where they once walked" and it is their country.

ya pulingina milaythina mana mapalitu
mumirimina laykara milaythina mulaka tara
raytji mulaka mumirimina
mumirimina mapali krakapaka laykara
krakapaka milaythina nika ta
waranta takara milaythina nara takara
waranta putiya nayri
nara laymi krakapaka waranta tu manta waranta tunapri nara.

Greetings to all of you here on our land
It was here that the Mumirimina people hunted kangaroo all over their lands
It was that the white men hunted the Mumirimina
Many Mumirimina died as they ran
Died here on their lands
We walk where they once walked
And their absence saddens us
But they will never be dead for us as long as we remember them.

This is the eulogy of the Risdon Cove Massacre of 1804 where Tasmanian Aborigines were killed in an encounter with British soldiers. Greg Lehman says, "Regardless of the debate over how many were killed, it certainly constitutes Tasmania’s first massacre. But was it simply a regrettable over-reaction to the accidental appearance of a hunting party? Or was it something much more tragic?" His (2006) article is entitled,  Two Thousand Generations of Place-making.
Posted: March 21, 2013, 12:03 am
Putuparri Tom Lawford by Nicole Ma

This film Putuparri  is in process and raising money via crowd source funding site  Pozible.
Support this film now; you can  make a donation and receive a DVD of the finished film.
 But hurry....52 hours only left on pozible!

"Ten years in the making, Putuparri is a compelling feature length documentary about an extraordinary 42 year old Wangakjunga man living in Fitzroy Crossing. Located in the remote Kimberley region of north western Australia, Putuparri Tom Lawford lives a two way life - traditional and contemporary".



Posted: March 10, 2013, 9:00 pm
"Thank you it is a real pleasure to be here and introduce For Love or Money. 



I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land, the Darkinjung, their Elders past and present on which this special Avoca Cinema IWD event is taking place.

Lyndall Ryan  asked if I could say a few words about the making of the film, its purpose as a feminist film and how it stands today... and I hope Lyndall will also say a few words to on how the film fares today!

So firstly I would like to acknowledge my collaborators – Megan McMurchy, Margot Nash, Margot Oliver and Lyndall (who was the historical consultant on the Penguin tie in book); and also Lyndall’s mother Edna Ryan – feminist activist and labour historian who is interviewed in the film, and whose analysis contributes much to the film’s economic analysis of women’s position.

Really, the purpose of the film was to create a visual, moving story about Australian women’s campaigns for wage justice and gender equality – campaigns for a just society, a civil society.


And we also wanted to make a film that interrogated and subverted the representation of women in Australian cinema; in the 70s there were few female film directors. The depiction of women tended to place women in passive, subservient roles. The daily experiences of ‘real women’ in the work place or at home were ignored.


Making the film
Ours was a spirited and long collaborative 7 year process- beginning with the 1978 Women and Labour Conference; the groundbreaking work of feminist historians was tumbling out in print form: books, articles – but there was no film that documented Australian women and work with any historical perspective or economic analysis, or that documented women’s radical activism to achieve, the vote, equal pay, property rights, legal abortion and child care.

We began our work in the archives - National Film and Sound Archive,  and Megan and I saw almost every Australian documentary and feature film produced - and we analysed every film from the perspective of how it represented women- selecting sequences to create the film. Meanwhile Margot Oliver joined us, and with a socialist feminist labour history perspective, starting recording interviews with women across Australia. The impulse was to seek out activist women – like Zelda D’Aprano, Edna Ryan; and many others, like the great Aboriginal activist Pearl Gibbs.



Margot Nash joined us as the film's editor and Elizabeth Drake came on board as composer.

We recorded over 35 interviews, printed off footage from our selected archival film and photographic collections, did extensive manuscript research and wrote many versions of the script! Through all this was raising the budget to make the film. See the end credits and you will get a sense of scale.

How is the film relevant to today?
Well, firstly let’s consider local IWD’s 2013 demands.
stop violence against women
end breastfeeding discrimination
affordable childcare
ratify the migrant workers' convention

And from one spectrum to the other:  In the board room: 5% of CEO’s are women – and in many Aboriginal communities the position of women is totally vulnerable due to both endemic historical racism – white privilege creating exclusionary work place practices; add to that the complexities of domestic violence, poverty – these are basic human rights issues needing urgent attention.

For Love or Money, provides a broad historical and economic analysis, still relevant today – especially our analysis of ‘the double day’ and women’s unpaid work in the home – which we name "the work of loving" in the film.


We analyse step by step – the way gender inequality is almost structured into the economic system: psychologically laid down in the family…where violence against women  is born…and we are witnessing this today on an horrific global scale.

I think the film is important, too, because it reminds us that advances we make as women can be fragile. Currently we have a female PM and some terrific women cabinet members.


But a change of government will unfold a different map. Quite a worrying map, in fact- if it happens!

In my view For Love or Money could have a new chapter:  Chapter 5 – to bring it up to the present; I see it as an online collaborative documentary that is open for all women to contribute to – for all of us to tell stories that are relevant today – and to be able to network with each other around our concerns. I see our For Love or Money  facebook page as a stepping stone to this kind of  interactive website; we can all make it relevant to now!"

 For Love or Money is available online (pay per view) at Beamafilm and DVD's can be purchased via Ronin Films. Ronin also has a few copies of the For Love or Money Penguin  tie-in book for sale- but hurry!




Posted: March 9, 2013, 2:14 am
I am only beginning to get to know something of Barry Barclay's significant contribution to documentary film in New Zealand and his notion of 'Fourth Cinema', described by Stuart Murray in his book: Images of Dignity: Barry Barclay and Fourth Cinema as:
"An umbrella term referring to the multiple forms of Indigenous cinemas that operate at local, national and international levels, Fourth Cinema is primarily guided by the desire to provide the conditions for the expression of Indigenous voices and ways of seeing... Barclay's mode of practice insists upon the importance of linking cultural production to the community from which it emerges.



I am currently reading Barclay's book Mana Tuturu: Maori Treasures and Intellectual Property Rights (Auckland University Press, 2005). Part One, 'Before the Beginning' takes an extraordinary perspective –  Barclay imagines 'what if' Lieutenant James Cook and his Endeavour crew arrived with a film camera and started 'shooting' documentary footage on the west side of the Turanga River that October day in 1769 on Rongowhakata lands. Barclay's way of thinking about The British Crown's assumption that all land belonged to the Crown (for its taking), turns the whole story of colonial possession around and makes us think deeply about the way any of us might use 'camera' - in any situation. It accords with my view that the the kind of deep philosophical thinking by Indigenous filmmakers around 'filming people' has something very profound to teach all of us.
Posted: March 2, 2013, 9:20 pm
Recently I went to Vietnam to  the inaugural International Anthropological Film Festival in Ho Chi Minh City. Realtime (Issue 13, 2013) has just published my review of that Festival: The Ethnography of Compassion

The drawing is from We Want (U) to Know (2011) by Ella Pugliese (Italy) and Nou Va (Cambodia). This participatory documentary was created with survivors of the Khmer Rouge period. The intended audience is Cambodian, and the film has been used over the last couple of years by NGO's and outreach programs to teach villagers about the Khmer Rouge regime and about the country's ongoing Khmer Rouge tribunal. 



Produced around the time of the Tribunal, amidst the painful process of remembering, the film reveals its own methods of storytelling and re-enactment, along with the potency of the children filming their elders. These participatory methods become part of a restorative justice process. The film develops as a work of mourning—a catalyst to transformative emotional change. Drawing, painting and working through trauma with re-enactments were part of the filmmakers process with the villagers.




The energy of cultural exchange and shared consciousness is a significant quality that visual ethnography offers the documentary tradition. It is also a mode of filmmaking with a strong foundation in Vietnam and in its tertiary education. Vietnamese visual ethnographers are making films from perspectives within their own culture, not as observers representing ‘the other’ —perhaps as a consequence of having achieved liberation from French and American colonisation. Also, it is not surprising that many of the films are working through complex issues around tradition and modernity given the largely agrarian population and its multi-ethnicity—with over 50 distinct groups, each with its own language and cultural heritage. I appreciated many of the films and the engaged discussions that took place around them. 

Filmmaker Tu Thi Thu Hang participated in many of the discussions and she often shared deeply about Vietnamese history and events that had affected her family in the immediate post war period. Tu Thi Thu Hang  structures her recent film, The Old Man Who Sells Bananas (2012), so that the audience starts out with ‘her’ mis-perception of the Old Man. 


We see him as a victim too—he seems poor, elderly and abandoned. Skillfully filming with him over one and a half years Hang draws us closer into this man’s life, step by step—from lone individual to family man, to respected wise elder of the village with his Confucian ethics and responsibilities. In discussion the filmmaker describes her process: “Now I have a completely different way of looking at him.” (And so do we). “He is the ‘last man’ who lived in a previous epoch. In his 84 years he has lived through the French and American occupation, and liberation. He has passed through the main eras of Vietnamese history. He has applied traditional wisdom to develop what is an ethical way to live.” 

Michael Renov, documentary film scholar, refers to the '5th tendency' of documentary as 'the ethical', in "What’s at stake for the documentary enterprise? 
I think that the ethical in itself. . . has a sort of functioning dimension, and it is also glued to this notion of a common desire or impulse: an ethical impulse, that one can see as an underlying and consistent theme that cross the history of documentary. How do I. . . what is my relationship with this other? What do I mean to that person, what does that person mean to me, what’s at stake in representing others?
So I think Renov's finely tuned insight that 'the ethical' is fundamental to documentary is so relevant - not only to today- but to the whole history of documentary. The 'ethical'  is the frame by which we both make and study documentary.
Posted: March 2, 2013, 9:13 pm


On a visit to Broome (and south of Broome) I witnessed first hand the kinds of inequities that Marcia Langton discusses in her Griffith review essay The Resource Curse (Edition 28, Still the Lucky Country). I was shocked to see the rapacious 'resort tourist' development in Broome, the fast escalating rents and house prices and the seeming marginalisation of many Aboriginal people from access to any social or economic benefits from the 'boom'. The issues are systemic and huge. I don't always agree with what I perceive as Langton's sometimes 'pro-mining' stance, but in this essay she gets to the heart of the many contradictions in the continuing colonisation of Aboriginal lands.

"The effects of the current resource curse in the Pilbara are reminiscent of the mining boom in the 1960s. Aborigines were the intended losers then; now all locals, regardless of background, are losers if they do not work in the industry. My question is this: are there any policies to counter the growing disparities in income, living conditions and opportunity in the mining provinces?....The mining regions are the source of enormous revenue, yet their residents are disadvantaged and deprived of services...the traditional owners of the land are the most disadvantaged living upon it....many Aboriginal groups were not opposed to mining but concerned about racist and inequitable practices being replicated in new ventures. What the groups wanted was guaranteed recognition of their inherent rights and interests, and acceptable terms for cultural, social and economic futures".
Posted: February 2, 2013, 10:55 pm
Dear Martha

How great to see Essie Coffey's  film  My Survival as an Aboriginal  (1978) last night on NITV (and all the other great films screening on NITV on Survival Day yesterday! 



And good on you Martha (Ansara...and others) for making this film with Essie back then! Thirty- five years ago! I think I appreciate the film much more now, in 2013,  than when I first saw it in 1978.  I love the pace of the film and Essie's narration. I love the fridge sequence. I always did! And I love the sequence where Essie introduces all her family to us....and the way you film them as they come out the front door of the house and each person says hello. Essie's love of country and family is strong- as is her sadness....
The ongoing issues of colonialism and dispossession raised by Coffey continue to affect Indigenous peoples today. 'My Survival as an Aboriginal', though a call to justice, is also tempered with beauty, and the audience is allowed to glimpse the private world of Essie Coffey and the people of Brewarrina. Coffey is very strong in her fight for justice, and equally committed to ensuring that the next generation are taught cultural knowledge as a means of ensuring an identity invested in the ongoing relationship to land Romaine Moreton, Curator's Notes, Australian Screen

So I am encouraging any reader of this blog to watch this film. It is as relevant to day as when it was made. Purchase a DVD of My Survival at Ballad Films and visit Australian Screen, which, along with Moreton's curator's notes on My Survival  also has a good essay called :  A Short History of Indigenous Filmmaking.
Posted: January 27, 2013, 6:42 am
 Visible Evidence Conference,  ANU (December 2012) –  my presentation: Documentary, the database and the global archive of the internet: implications for teaching documentary film history.

This paper is exploratory – a map to something I am working on in more depth. The converging digital and online media era provokes questions on how to approach the study and teaching of documentary history. How do we contextualize such rapidly evolving media–within or alongside the field of documentary?  Perhaps the case for a digitally based – experimental practice of documentary making, writing and critical thinking – exemplified by Chris Marker, indicates a way through this era; so acknowledging Marker’s passing: ‘Cat – wherever you are – peace be with you'.


My paper at the Film and History ConferenceThe politics and poetics of subversion: documentary film-making and the decolonization of Tasmanian historyIn this paper I discuss several films (and images) that have been produced amidst the turbulent site of Tasmania’s past and present: The Last Tasmanian (1978) Blackman’s Houses (1993), First Australians, Portrait of a Distant Land, and my own documentary Island Home Country – all produced in 2008. These films work intertextually and with social and political consequences. I look at the textual strategies the filmmakers and artists have used – their politics and poetics, and my own – to explore how filmmaking and art practice can make potent contributions to processes of decolonization.

Here is my review of the recent book on Hungarian filmmaker Peter Forgacs; its in the latest issue of 'Screening the Past': Cinema’s Alchemist: The Films of Péter ForgácsIn this rich and detailed book various contributors call him by different names: artist-archivist, scribe, witness, poet, cinema alchemist. His body of work is so extensive, innovating across a diversity of mediums and forms, that the term filmmaker only partly suits him. Given the unstable and rapidly changing landscape of digital-documentary filmmaking, this latest Visible Evidence Series (#25) on Forgács and his work is very timely.


Another recent review  I have done is this book Australian Documentary: History, Practices and Genres by Trish FitzSimons, Pat Laughren and Dugald Williamson Cambridge UP, 2011). It's in Metro Magazine, Issue 173,  2012  (PDF at this link).

Australian Documentary is an insightful and generous book. It offers back to the community of practitioners and broader audiences a text rich with scholarship, reflecting on ‘more than a century of practice’.  Readers can engage with an Australian documentary tradition in local, national and international contexts. We can connect with the lineage of films and the negotiated labour of producing them, and gain a strong sense of the capacity of documentary to be transformed and renewed. There is much pleasure in sensing this regenerative process.
Posted: January 5, 2013, 7:20 pm

I am back from the International Anthropological Film Festival in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – organised by VICAS: Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies). Screening in four venues across Ho Chi Minh City (two universities) this was an amazing event! 

Ho Chi Minh City University of Culture

It was a really great cross-cultural experience and I learnt so much about Vietnam (and visual ethnography).  It would be great to see some of the films in this program in Australia. Here is the Festival's trailer which gives something of a feel for the festival films (although censorship in Vietnam is a real issue –  some local and international films were banned and/or cut–sometimes at the very last moment- so the program shifted here and there).

The discussions (formal and informal) were so thorough. Some-times 2 hours on one film! Incredible detail - so that more social, political, philosophical and historical issues were discussed, than film-making practice. You know, I liked this Festival so much more than the 'standard' film festival where the market place dominates - or when there are so many films (back to back) that there is no time for in-depth discussion - or discussion feel hurried.  Here at the Anthrop Film Festival the discussions were an intrinsic part of the screening – and were in depth, insightful and penetrating. At Ho Chi Minh City's University of Culture I was taken by the intense engagement of the students with the ideas presented in each film. This was no ordinary film festival, but something unique. I asked a colleague if he thought this quality was the "anthropological"  nature of the event or some quality in Vietnamese culture and-or their education system? We reckoned it was probably both!

Ho Chi Minh City University of Culture


Actually, I have never really located myself within this field of visual ethnography - perhaps because anthropological films in Australia have mostly been made from within the vexed site of colonising. I have preferred to make films  as a 'documentary maker'. Also my own film-making began as part of a political process - making feminist films for social change. But this Festival has stimulated me to review various positions I have held over the years.  All orthodoxies need to be challenged! And anthropology, too is going through its own transformations - and a genuine 'participatory',  ethical and de-colonising film-making is very much part of current practice: "The remarkable novelty comes when a Maori becomes an anthropologist and she practices anthropology as a Maori rather than studying the Maori as an anthropologist". Walter Mingolo, ('Decolonizing Western Epistemology, Building Decolonial Epistemologies') . Mingolo's essay refers to Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith and her great book: "Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples" (1998) whch has just been released in its 2nd edition (2012). The book "has been substantially revised, with new case-studies and examples and important additions on new indigenous literature, the role of research in indigenous struggles for social justice, which brings this essential volume urgently up-to-date". 
I will be writing an article about the AnthroFestival for Realtime (Feb 2013). 

Posted: November 21, 2012, 9:03 pm
Agnès Varda is a Paris-based photographer and film director and a key figure in modern film history. She is much revered across the globe for her deconstruction of the documentary form and her boundary-pushing work. In a career spanning 57 years, Agnès Varda, is one of the most original and renowned of the French ‘New Wave’ directors; in fact she is the only female director associated with it – her early films anticipating the work of Godard and Truffaut.

Beaches of Agnes 2008
Antenna Documentary Festival, in collaboration with the Alliance Francaise, the French Embassy and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, presented a tribute to this legendary French filmmaker on October 13th.  The films screened in 35mm (what a treat!). A special  thanks to AGNSW Curator and projectionist Robert Herbert ; and thanks to Antenna for inviting me to introduce the films: Beaches of Agnes
Here's an extract from my intro:  In The Beaches of Agnes we are in the mind of an Elder who is ‘essaying’: she weighs up her own life, pays tribute to her lovers, friends, family and colleagues. She time travels back into her own films – and into Demy’s films. It is a tribute to cinema – to the nouvelle vaugue, to documentary, to fiction, to imagination, to creativity. There is a great freedom in this film – everything is possible – as in a Melies film. It is magic, the stuff of dreams.
and an extract from my introduction to The Gleaners and I:

Varda plays with representation – from Millet’s painting – which serves as visual metaphor and foundation text – and she transforms it into her own film text of gleaning. She pushes beyond the surfaces of Millet’s three gleaners and his framing – to blow open the edge of frame and ‘essay’ into her film’s themes; and she gives us herself and her gleaners in fleshy reality.


The people actually filmed in The Gleaners – and the way she films with them – is worth thinking about.  How does Varda achieve such a special quality in her interviews? – a feeling of compassion and intimacy – a sense of shared humanity. Varda says this: 

“The people I have filmed tell us a great deal about our society and ourselves.  I myself learned a lot as I was making this film.  It confirmed my idea that documentaries are a discipline that teach modesty”. 




Posted: October 21, 2012, 4:20 am