From the Director of the Melbourne Women in Film Festival, March 2017
Once again, like many times before, we are hearing about the lack of representation of women in the screen industry. This is not just locally in Australia, but across the Western world.
In recent years, film festivals have entered the discussion through their specialist programming of films directed by women. The Sundance Institute, for instance, have the "Women at Sundance" initiative with the aim of researching and disseminating information on the lack of women represented in the screen industries, alongside providing support to women through fellowships, financial and educational assistance. Closer to home, both the 2016 Melbourne and Sydney International Film Festivals screened programs on women filmmakers – the former programming Gaining Ground, a focus on New York women filmmakers from the 1970s and 1980s, and the latter having two dedicated sections entitled European Cinema: 10 Women Filmmakers to Watch and Women in Film at SFF.
The implementation/existence/presence of all of these initiatives and programs aimed at highlighting women in screen is not a new phenomenon, yet it still needs to happen. As a result, it begs the question, why do we [women] still need to agitate for recognition in this way? I'm afraid there's not enough room here in one editorial to list the many reasons as to why (and there are many); however, the notion of visibility is beginning to be addressed in festivals like those mentioned above, in other festivals like Sydney's World of Women Festival, now rebranded as For Film's Sake (run through WIFT NSW), and hopefully through the newly formed Melbourne Women in Film Festival.
The Melbourne Women in Film Festival (MWFF) is a festival focused on celebrating the achievements of women working in the Australian screen industries and aims to provide some kind of reassurance that there are women out there making movies including in those areas not always considered in the paradigm of women's filmmaking, such as cinematography, editing, sound. In its first year, MWFF brings together the past and present of women's filmmaking through its programming of films originally screened at the 1975 International Women's Film Festival in conjunction with contemporary art and experimental works. What becomes apparent in the selection of these films is the similarity of issues and concerns raised with regard to the underrepresentation of women in the screen industries, alongside the interest of interrogating the representation of the female body on screen.
Whitney Monaghan's exploration of Clare Ferra's Love Oscillation (2012), screening at MWFF this year, investigates the somewhat paradoxical nature of the female body being both absent and present at once on screen – a similar notion to women's place behind the camera as well. Ferra's film finds its predecessor in Jeni Thornley and Dasha Ross' Still Life (1974), also screening at MWFF. Thornley writes of the film in her fascinating essay included in this volume. She revisits the film looking at her and Ross's original intentions of challenging the male gaze. Criticised at the time for perpetuating the sexual objectification of the female body, Thornley counters this now, in 2017, by arguing for the film's "collaborative gaze," one that is shared by the women behind and in front of the camera. Both Monaghan with Ferra's work and Thornley with her own illustrate the complex relationship that the female body has with its on-screen depiction.
It's not just a matter of acknowledging that we need to see more stories created by women on our screens, this is perhaps obvious, but we need to see a diverse representation of all the different voices that women have – multicultural, Indigenous, queer, straight, trans, older and younger voices all contributing to women's screen storytelling. The essays in this issue reflect this diversity. Poet Loma Bridge waxes lyrical on Sharon Hennessey's What I Want (1971), a film that screened at the 1975 International Women's Film Festival. Connie De Silva explores Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty (2011) and its experimental visual treatment of its main protagonist, Lucy's (Emily Browning), sexuality. Angus Attwood concentrates on the depiction of motherhood in Jennifer Kent's horror film The Babadook (2014), suggesting that Kent has eschewed an overly romanticised portrayal of the single mother for one that emphasises "a mother's flaws and darker impulses." Ruth Richards' analysis of Rachel Perkins' One Night the Moon (2001) provides a clever reading around the subversion of Australian culture's fascination with the lost [white] child mythology, as well as the musical genre. Rather than depict Emily's (Memphis Kelly) disappearance as menacing, pre-empted by a kind of mystical foreboding Australian landscape like in Picnic at Hanging Rock, it is portrayed as tragic. Isabella McNeill and Kate Warren similarly muse on the Australian landscape. Their articles within this issue draw attention to women's perspectives of Australian iconography: blue skies, red land and the dreamy shimmer of heat. McNeill emphasises the three women at the heart of John Curran's Tracks (2013) while Warren revisits Tracey Moffatt's Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989) to highlight the cultural and personal influence of Moffatt's work.
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.