Melbourne International Film Festival 2017′s PIONEERING WOMEN Program — Jennifer Merin reports

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miff logo 1The success of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) focused international attention on Australian women filmmakers. Australia’s film feminism is being celebrated this year in special programming at the country’s two major film festivals — in the upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival’s (MIFF, August 3-30, 2017) focus on female-directed films from the 1980s and 90s, and with the just finishing Sydney Film Festival’s (June 7-18, 2017) roster of femme-helmed films from the 1960s and 70s. Continue reading

The big names still remain Jane Campion, Gillian Armstrong and Jocelyn Moorhouse, but emerging directors like Claire McCarthy appear primed for similar success.

Co-curated by AWFJ member Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, MIFF’s PIONEERING WOMEN program highlights feature films made by Australian women during the period between the phenomenal international acclaim received by Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career (1979), and before the sweeping success of Emma-Kate Croghan’s Love and Other Catastrophes (1996) opened the floodgates for women directors in the late 1990s.

While Australian women directors still have some distance to go before attaining parity with their male counterparts – as demonstrated by Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative, launched in 2015 – the 1980s and 1990s were a hugely fertile period for the women filmmakers who are being celebrated in MIFF’S retrospective.

The PIONEERING WOMEN program includes Tracey Moffatt’s Bedevil (1993), Nadia Tass’s The Big Steal (1990), Laurie McInnes’s Broken Highway (1993), Ann Turner’s Celia (1989), Clara Law’s Floating Life (1996), Gillian Armstrong’s High Tide (1987), Ana Kokkinos’s Only the Brave (1993), Susan Lambert’s On Guard (1984), Gillian Armstrong’s Starstruck (1982), and the late Mary Callaghan’s Tender Hooks (1989).

The program coincides with an upcoming retrospective on the career of New Zealand-born, Australian-based director Jane Campion at the Melbourne Cinematheque this September (Campion is also a guest at MIFF this year, premiering Top of the Lake: China Girl). Jocelyn Moorhouse’s iconic Proof is another key film from this era, which received a National Film and Sound Archive restoration screening at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival.

While Gillian Armstrong might be the most immediately recognisable name in the PIONEERING WOMEN program, the other films equally illustrate a diverse, thriving period of filmmaking for women directors in Australia, and include comedies, musicals, horror films and film noir made by artists from a range of cultural contexts. Both Armstrong’s Starstruck and Turner’s Celia are presented by the National Film and Sound Archive’s digital restoration program “NFSA Restores”, but while Armstrong’s reputation precedes her, less is known about work of Turner.

The PIONEERING WOMEN program also includes an “In Conversation” event on 12 August including directors Gillian Armstrong, Nadia Tass, Ana Kokkinos, Clara Law and stalwart Australian actor Claudia Karvan (who has three films appearing in the program). Alexandra Heller-Nicolas’ report on the “In Conversation” panel will be forthcoming.

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