memory film

 memory film: a filmmakers diary  In production 2020.

 A film poem about time passing, composed of images only from my Super8 archive filmed during 1976-2003; acquired and digitised by the NFSA during 2016-2017.

                                      Digitising the Super8, Christina Sparrow, NFSA

I am making the film as part of my Hon Associate Research position at UTS, School of Communication, in FASS.  Marcus Eckermann is my Technical Consultant (Media Lab).  Toula Anastas is Creative Consultant.  I have recently edited a First Assembly (3.5hrs) and am currently seeking an editor. 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.

                                             My sister’s garden, Blackheath NSW

I like this idea– the contemplation of ageing and approaching death, yet brimming with the lightness and beauty of life.  A friend gave me Yoel Hoffman’s book Japanese Death Poems years ago and I always carry it around – thinking, reflecting, writing – gradually realising that I could make a film in the spirit of this poetic tradition. 

Death poems
are mere delusion
death is death
(Toko 1795)




‘Maestros of the Archive’ (video), OzDox Forum, AFTRS, August 1 2014

“The archive of the self and deconstructing the national archive,” OzDox Forum, August 1 2014 [Jeni Thornley, Panelist.]

“…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.”



‘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.’ Felicity Collins.

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, Martha Ansara (dir) with SWFG) ends with a shot of Thornley contemplating her mirror reflection in a state of existential crisis.



                                           Jeni Thornley in ‘Film For Discussion’ 1973 

In Maidens (Australia 1975-78) feminism itself is perceived as a crisis which ruptures the continuity of matrilineal history.

                                   The Lette Family, Willow Glen, Tasmania c1916 (my mum’s family)


For love or money (Australia 1978-83 McMurchy, Nash, Oliver, Thornley) 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.

Hard Labour


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’. 

Anne Tenney as 'The Woman' in To the Other Shore

                               Anne Tenney as ‘The Woman’ in To the Other Shore

Felicity Collins, Memory in Ruins: The Woman Filmmaker in Her Father’s Cinema, Screening the Past. No. 13, 2001.  Felicity Collins,  The experimental practice of history in the filmwork of Jeni Thornley in Screening the Past, 1998.



Island Home Country (2008)

“The colonial layer feels like skin. What if I shed it and see with different eyes?”

In this film 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.

                           White ghost of Australian History, Island Home Country 2008