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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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).