A rant about chick flicks and a few more reviews.

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So what’s the deal with chick flicks? Not as in, why do those movies get made but WHY does that term even exist?

Firstly, I can’t really find any good definition of what a chick flick actually is, but for the most part it seems to be any movie that is about a woman, or women, and/or high school and/or romance/‘women’s issues’ such as weddings, babies and falling in love.

There doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rule to this however, Bridesmaids is a chick flick, Wedding Crashers is not, Mean Girls is a chick flick, Dazed and Confused is not,  Pearl Harbour not a chick flick, The Notebook yes a chick flick and so on and so on. What is the common denominator here? I can tell you that most ‘chick flicks’ are certainly not made by women, not at the top echelons. Of all those movies I just named, none of them were directed by a woman and on the IMDB list of top 30 chick flicks (with the highest votes) only 3 of the movies are directed by a woman and 2 of those are directed by the same woman.

I think there is a real problem in hollywood (and in many other movie industries the world over) where female stories, and female film-makers are not taken seriously. In fact, if you needed a demonstration of this attitude, this week has offered up its very own real life Hollywood example in the recent extremely white male-centric oscar nominations, including the major snub of Ava Duvernay for best director. Duvernay’s snub is not only a snub for female film-makers but also for African American film-makers too, which is a whole other major topic for discussion that I don’t have space to speak about today but if you want some good reading on the topic this is a great place to start with lots of links to other excellent pieces on the subject. 

The continued lack of funding or recognition of female directors in mainstream movie industries is a blatant demonstration of a value system where stories about women are somehow less important or less compelling. In fact, female stories have their very own specalised derogatory term to differentiate them from regular cinema: Chick Flicks.

This article has a good and quick summary of the history of chick flicks. It talks about the fact that the term and concept of ‘chick flicks’ developed out of a reactive backlash to feminist films of the 60s, and prior to that movies about women were just called ‘women’s movies’ and were marketed to both men and women.

Which for me still begs the question why did movies about women even need a special label? Mainstream movies about men get to be part of a variety of genres such as ‘action’, ‘comedy’ or ‘drama’ regardless of their quality so why do the ones that happen to be about women, or more specifically ‘women’s issues’, get lumped into one sub-genre? And what is a woman’s issue anyway?? (Just a caveat, this is all stuff that is taking place in the west – particularly in Hollywood –  I am not here speaking to the status of women on film in cultures where the history of women’s rights and representation has taken a different path, what I am talking about is mainstream western cinema and TV, especially in Hollywood)

Now obviously, there are movies that feature women in as main characters that are not classified as chick flicks, Alien and Lara Croft Tomb Radar spring to mind. Why do these movies get to be just movies when great films like Thelma and Louise get relegated to Chick Flick status? Well Kat, you might say, that’s because those movies are action movies, and as such are not technically ‘women’s movies’. And Kat, you also might say, those movies feature straight male fantasies of women rather than actual naturalistic depictions of women’s lives. 

Well dear readers, first off, I would say extremely good points. (I would also say that technically Thelma and Louise could be classified as an action movie – think about it, the plot involves assault, robbery and car chases but regardless, it’s directed by a dude and therefore has no place on this blog, for the moment) in fact I would say that actually dear readers, for the most part, you have hit the nail on the head. A chick flick, to fit the bill of a chick flick in the modern world means that a movie is somehow, strangely, according to some odd 1950s-esque definition of female taste, a movie that only a woman would want to see.  Never mind that lots of men enjoy things such as romance babies and women,  never mind that not all women want to see stories about trying to get pregnant, or identify with heterosexual love stories or care about skinny white girls being mean to each other.

And gosh isn’t it strange that we live in a culture where we collectively pretend that men do not want to see movies about romance, babies and women? And I say pretend because Judd Apatow movies are pretty damn popular across genders and they somehow don’t get classified as being chick flicks even though the subject matter is essentially the same. Hey they even invented a whole new word in order to avoid calling Judd Apatow movies chick flicks: the Bro-Mance.

The only difference that I can see between a chick flick and a Bro-Mance is that chick flicks are usually from the point of view of the female characters. A viewpoint that in our hyper-masculine society is apparently an anathema to male movie-goers. Which is weird because male viewers are seemingly quite happy to watch movies about women if they are kicking the shit out of aliens, terminators or tomb raiders but somehow if they’re just talking or walking or living lives or having feelings it becomes a no deal situation?

And let’s not even get into the fact that ‘the male viewer’ is somehow the holy grail of demographic that movies must attract in order to make money, despite the fact that Titanic and Twilight are two of the highest grossing movies of all time and are unashamedly, pointedly, deliberately aimed at a female audience, despite the fact that movies about women consistently perform well at the box office, often outlasting their ‘male’ skewing counterparts for weeks or sometimes months at a time.

AND let’s not even talk about the situation we’ve created that there’s no room anywhere in these definitions for people who don’t sit comfortably within the binary gender system, and that if you are trans, or queer, or butch or anything slightly outside the hetero-norm you get relegated to obscure indie status, or movie of the week human rights specials or you get mimicked, parodied, tokenised and trotted out by more ‘acceptable’ straight actors to play you in an oscar-baiting auteur drama (which by the way, is not unlike the way that mainstream hollywood portrays people of colour, or people with disabilities or any other kind of ‘other’ that doesn’t fit the white, heterosexual, western male ideal)

And let’s also not mention the fact that there’s a plethora of lists out there called things like ’10 surprising movies directed by women’ and that when people find out that movies like American Psycho and Wayne’s World were directed by women there’s a collective gasp of surprise, as if women couldn’t possibly make great movies about men. As if female film-makers can only ever make ‘female films’ that are somehow less than, somehow more mediocre, somehow always about women and need to be labelled as such as a kind of excuse or a warning. And that there are lists out there like ‘Top Ten Chick Flicks For Guys’ with special instructions for men whose only marker for determining a good movie seems to be: Are there hot girls, is there a car chase and/or a people being killed?   

With that in mind, here are three reviews of movies that may happen to be about some women, and directed by some women, but are just damn good movies okay? No chick flick label warning necessary.

Persepolis

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, which also happens to be the true story of co-writer and co-director Marjane Satrapi’s own life, this is a considered and poignant portrayal of life in Iran before and after the Islamic revolution. Seen through the eyes of Marjane as a child, where she is blissfully unaware of the rising political tensions around her, the story takes the viewer on a journey with the character, as she is sent into exile and comes of age in an alien land.

Marjane’s traumas as a refugee in France, and her subesequent psychological unravelling serve as a beautifully delicate counterpoint to the Iranian revolution itself, and Marjane’s experiences and her sense of loss and isolation are all the more devastating when she returns to find a changed Iran which is as ravaged as she is.

Particularly topical in Australia (and globally) right now with our terrible refugee policies, ultimately, this is a movie about the tragedy of losing your home country to war, and what happens when you are a refugee without support in a strange land. The animation is stark – the whole movie is in black and white – but in a way this stylisation helps you to engage with the intricacy of the story. I found this contrast especially nice in the early part of the movie when all around child-like Marjane there are rumblings of revolution that she is entirely innocent too, later in the movie it serves to emphasise the older Marjane’s sense of isolation and disconnection. I found the ending a little clunky but I understand that it’s based on real life and sometimes real life doesn’t have neat and tidy ending so I’m willing to overlook that because the rest of the movie was just so compelling.

An Education

Also based on a true story (the memoir of journalist Lynn Barber), this whole movie had me squirming and simultaneously mesmerised by the relationship between precocious teenage girl Jenny (played by the delightful Carey Mulligan) and much older man-about-town David. The quality of the acting is what makes this movie, Mulligan taking you on a journey with every subtle sigh of ennui she feels in stifling 1950s England and Peter Sarsgaard hitting the balance between absolutely sincere and completely inappropriate with ease.  Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour also hit the notes excellently playing her buttoned down social climber parents with delicious subtle flare.

This movie sparked some excellently intense debate as we watched it, we just couldn’t decide whether it was okay for this young teenager to be having this affair with this older man, with half of the room coming down on the ‘oh it’s real love, let it be’ and the other half firmly on the route of ‘no, he’s too old, he’s taking advantage’. I won’t tell you how the movie ends and whether it was in fact romance or something else, but the fact that it sparked debate says so much about how were drawn into the story and cared for the characters.

It’s very nicely shot, with muted colour tones and pale filters that make the sky seem wintery even in the summer, giving the whole movie that special grey 1960s English feel that instantly evokes the sense of bread-and-butter pudding, middle class post-war conservatism and the slow gathering wave of the rock and roll revolution just around the corner.

Finsterworld

I got to see this at the German film festival last year and the festival curator stood up at the start and said “I’ll watch anything, I love movies, and I really like this film, but it’s really edgy and dark, so be warned”. Which I thought was a really strange introduction from a film festival curator. But…. I am going to say the exact same thing. I really liked this film. I really did. But goodness…. It draws you in with sweetness and then smacks you over the head with darkness. Repeatedly.

The debut drama feature from documentary maker Frauke Finsterwalder meanders through several storylines following disparate characters  – students on a trip to a concentration camp, a wealthy couple travelling through the country in a bubble of money and opulence, a foot masseur who visits an elderly lady with sweet treats, a policeman who has a ‘furry’ fetish, and a documentary maker herself, self-absorbed, desperately middle class and trying to reject it, wanting to make films about something serious but never quite succeeding.  My German friend who accompanied me said that “Finsterworld’ does not mean anything in German so I am assuming that Finsterwalder deliberately intended this to be her take on the world, and she doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to examining that space where comedy, tragedy and just actually gross things often exist side by side.

As the film develops you see how the many characters are loosely connected, but rather than being a celebration of those uniting moments (a la films like Crash or 21 grams) the film takes you to places of disconnection, where the characters ultimately deliberately disconnect from each other but in doing so develop new connections which are just as dysfunctional if not more so.  This film examines the dark places you go to when you’re lonely and lustful, but wraps it up in a deceptively sweet indie-film bow complete with lens flares, bright colours and idyllic woodland forests. There are no film-noir shadows in this film, despite the fact that the characters are firmly placed in the grey moral landscape of selfishness, disconnection and downright bad behavior.

Ultimately, this is a film about people trapped in fractured relationships (the motif of capturing and releasing is used throughout the film), and the only person who manages to escape her relationships is the documentary maker herself. At the end of the movie she says to the only black person in the film “wouldn’t the world be better if there were no people in it?’ But you get the feeling she doesn’t mean it and that in fact she still craves human approval and compassion. Instead the film-maker is left alone, bereft and in a strange land.

Alright, that’s my piece over for this month. Those movies are great, the movies on those lists I pointed fun at are actually great. Go watch and have fun! Or don’t, get out in the sun, or the snow, or the great outdoors or whatever, just have fun.

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The indie/mainstream divergence or: Babes Directing Blockbusters

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Right so I was going to write this post about how female directors seem to make in the indendent sphere but somehow can’t quite make that leap to mainstream tentpole blockbusters.

But then… this month they announced that Michele Maclaren has been slated to direct Wonder Woman, and I just discovered that Sam Taylor-Johnson is directing the 50 Shades of Grey movie. Which… gosh, well, has just made both those movies about 50 times more interesting than they were about 5 minutes ago.

For those of you who don’t keep up to date with HBO TV series, comic book movies, trends in erotic fan fiction or British art darlings from the 1990s, you may not be entirely excited or surprised by this news but I promise you, it is both exciting and surprising.

First, lets talk about Michele Maclaren. Michele Maclaren is only the second female director ever to direct a super hero movie in Hollywood. Which considering how many super hero movies Hollywood releases is a kind of sad statistic. The first female directed superhero movie (according to wikipedia) was Tank Girl and was made 20 years ago. So essentially there have been no female-directed super hero movies in the last 20 years, and in fact, very few super hero movies about female super heroes in the last 20 years. There has, in this time been about 50,000 Spider-man movies, nah just jokes, there’s only been 5 that’s only one every 4 years, not many at all. By contrast there have been 5 movies in total in the last 20 years that starred and headlined a female super-hero. (That’s not counting team superhero films like the Avengers which may include female superheroes but they still often don’t get the main storyline or get much character development)

Maclaren is mostly a TV director and has developed a fan base mostly as a result of her work on shows such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is a TV series that is a slick and seriously excellent exploration of humanity, the anti-hero, and the nature of evil. These are criteria that most superhero movies aspire to but never quite achieve; they get hemmed in by their own blockbuster-y-ness and are too afraid to really take the audience to dark places because at the end of the day they have to pull in those box office dollars. It will be entirely fascinating to see whether Maclaren can lift Wonder Woman out of the doldrums of mainstream comic book broad strokes and into something that inspires and challenges its audiences.

Now I am going to confess that I am one of those people who couldn’t quite handle Breaking Bad. But it’s not because it was badly made, it’s just that I got up to season 4 and realised that I didn’t want to stay on this journey with those characters. In fact, would argue that one of the reasons I stopped watching was because it was too good, and I cared about the characters too much. However… the other reason I stopped watching was because I felt constantly frustrated that the female characters were so one-dimensional. I have been told by ardent fans that they do get developed a little bit in future series, and I also know that TV directors have very little say over creative character development so I don’t really attribute this lack of depth to Maclaren in general, but it was one of my main bugbears with the show as a whole and it will be interesting to see whether its a problem with Wonder Woman as well.

And… Sam Taylor-Johnson… Sam Taylor Johnson is the lady who made: Brontosaurus (NSFW) and David which are, on the one hand, kind of art-wank and on the other hand, utterley mesmerising, confronting and difficult to forget.

She is most well known for her striking morpheus-crying-12photography series such as ‘Crying Men’, which disrupt and explore pop culture and gender roles, particularly masculinity.

Taylor-Johnson’s art is thought provoking and has recurring themes of vulnerability, gender, voyeurism and the fragile body.

However, her foray into mainstream feature films with ‘Nowhere Boy’ well personally I found it kind of bland. Nowhere Boy is a bio-pic of the early life of John Lennon, and it was not really a bad film as such, it was eminently watch-able and very well shot. It’s just that it had absolutely none of the disruptive exuberence that comes through in Taylor-Johnson art films. It was very buttoned-down and didn’t take any risks. Maybe that’s just because she wanted a blockbuster audience, or maybe she was swept up in the very conservative mechanism that is studio film-making. Regardless, what you got was a solid, slightly unimaginative film with some great cinematography and of course a great soundtrack.

All of which makes Sam Taylor-Johnson an incredibly interesting choice for 50 Shades of Grey. I haven’t read the book but from all the critiques I’ve read it’s a pretty misogynistic (and yes books by women about women can still be misogynistic) and reductionist view of s&m relationships, with one dimensional characters and a lack of understanding of consent and what constitutes abuse.

So can Sam Taylor-Johnson lift 50 Shades of Grey out of its rigid gender stereotypes and into an exploration of all the things that make her art films great? Things like vulnerability, gender and voyeurism? Or will she just play it safe and make another bland blockbuster that doesn’t disrupt anything?

The movie comes out in February, I’m undecided as to whether I’ll go and see it, but here’s the trailer so you can form an opinion of your own.

Reading List: things from the internet that might explode your world

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  • Let’s start with an advertisement for Goldieblox. What dogoldieblox you guys think of Goldieblox? On the one hand hooray for a company making toys for girls that challenge gender boundaries, on the other hand, it bothers me a little that the girl at the centre of this narrative is still white, blonde and thin (although at least not hyper-sexualised like most Disney Princesses)
  • Which leads into  this excellent article  which bemoans the fact that the face of modern feminism often ends up being white, thin and desperately middle class. One of many excellent quotes: “…the torment of the middle-class housewife longing for an office job – has been allowed to define the popular understanding of what feminism is for, and what women really want, for two generations. The fact that outside white suburbia women have always had to work for money does not factor into this convenient fiction…‘Having it all’ now means having a career, kids, a husband, a decent blow-dry – and that’s it.”
  • Which also leads into this  dissemination of race and representation of women’s bodies and motherhood, and who is ‘allowed’ to breastfeed in public and who is not. And also this delicious critique: Professor Edward Rhymes points out that in films featuring the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (think: Pretty Woman and Mighty Aphrodite), the character is invariably played by a white woman: “There has yet to be a critically-acclaimed or commercially successful film, where a central character was a Black prostitute. So even when the “textbook” requirements of what constitutes being promiscuous is met, her whiteness saves the day. Even at her most licentious, she is made to appear innocent, wholesome and strangely virginal.” 

Girl 6which had me racking my brains for movies that star black prostitutes in a positive light, or even movies that star black prostitutes at all. The only one I could think of was Girl 6 although technically the character is a phone sex worker not a prostitute so it’s not quite the same. I’m sure there are others but I’m having a mind blank. Any suggestions? 

  • Annie HallNext up, also related why Woody Allen won’t be hiring a black actor any time soon. Because, as with so many movies set in New York, he writes for a world where the population is exclusively white and where white is the norm. Black people in New York (or Paris, Barcelona and Rome) obviously could not be anxious or nerdy or intellectual or even Jewish, or any of those things that Woody Allen has somehow incorporated into his own unique genre. Ugh.
  • And following on from that, why is Shonda Rhimes (Scandal_Season_3creator of iconic shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal) always being called an ‘angry black woman’: “But here’s the thing: After you write about that, write about something else. Wgreys-anatomyrite about her vision, write about her courage, write about her talent, write about the fact that she’s been able to achieve something that very few people have been able to achieve. Write about that.”  

Obvious Child

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So Obvious Child, if you haven’t heard of it already, is a comedy about a woman who gets an abortion. It’s smart and funny and it got a lot of publicity around its realistic treatment of abortion, and it has been heralded by many as a feminist masterpiece for this reason. The film’s portrayal of abortion as a complicated real life experience rather than a hysterical political football is commendable and nuanced, and there have been some excellent pieces written here and here and in many other places about how important it is to have a movie like this in the public sphere. In fact I don’t know if I have seen any other movies where a character actually goes ahead with an abortion and isn’t punished for it in some way, and it certainly isn’t a common subject in comedy.

Let’s be real here, abortion is a hot button issue. And it’s hot for all sorts of reasons depending on where you sit on the political spectrum. But it is also a daily reality for many. And the reasons that people get abortions are varied and complex and uniquely personal and I love that Obvious Child takes care to tells this story in a gentle and sympathetic style that neither belittles or over-dramatises the situation.

I would also like to add that I kind of liked this movie for lots of other reasons as well. The primary one being that it’s funny, and smart, and actually kind of romantic. In fact, I might posit that this movie is a small flicker of hope in the otherwise arid landscape that has been romantic comedies of late. The women are layered, and intelligent! They get to tell jokes about the female experience (like yeasty panties and farts) rather than female performance (like fat-shaming jokes or waiting for a guy to call you). Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre originally made this as a short film and has now expanded it into a feature, she has said that she wanted to give the rom-com ‘best friend’ character a chance at the front (that’s the smart one who gets all the best lines but never any real story).

Rom-coms for the most part totally suck when it comes to women’s representation. Which is hilarious because they are movies that are deliberately marketed to women as ‘chick-flicks’, yet they are uninterested in actual lived female (or male really!) experiences, preferring to fall back on lazy one-dimensional gender roles and the ever-present fear of dying single and alone with 1000 cats for company. Thankfully, the character of Donna in Obvious Child tells not one single fat joke, never worries if the dude is going to call her and not once bemoans the fact that she might ‘die alone’. She is simply a real person, she gets her heart broken, loses her job, and drinks her way through her broken heart during which she has an ill-timed drunken one night stand resulting in a pregnancy that she is neither ready or able to provide for.

The male characters in this movie also get to break out of the usual rom-com rules for behaviour. With Max being just a genuinely nice guy, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes insensitive, but never behaving as if it is his right to have sex with or date Donna, and always respecting her choices. He also works in business rather than in advertising or on TV (which recently seem to be the only two choices for male leads in rom-coms).

I really was starting to think that the rom-com as a genre had become so conservative and restricted that they were just basically long marketing schemes for furniture and clothing labels disguised as movies. In fact, I watched ‘Friends with Kids’ as part of this project a few months ago and I was so disillusioned I couldn’t even muster up the energy to write about it on this blog. I think it was supposed to be sort of snarky new york humour, but mostly it felt like they were trying to sell me on a lifestyle i just don’t want and don’t understand. Having a child is hard – having a child with someone who doesn’t want to be with you is also hard! Why is this funny! Why would deliberately choose to do this! And all the long-term couples in that movie hated each other! What exactly is romantic or comedic about that? Gah. Anyway, Obvious Child is none of those things. It gets that life is complicated and sometimes romantic things are mundane little moments rather than giant running-through-airport, public-declarations-in-courtrooms type things.

However, a few caveats.

This is still a very middle class, privileged movie. Even though Donna loses her job in the film, has no insurance and an abortion costs $500.00, she spends about 12 seconds worrying about money, and never looks for another job, which is a little unrealistic. She also has incredibly supportive and functional parents, and caring and wise friends. These are resources which many women faced with the need to get an abortion, simply do not have. I know that is partly the point, it is supposed to be a movie where no one judges you for your choices, but maybe there could have been even just a little more discussion around the financial reality of getting an abortion, or having a job where you can get time off work to go to a clinic, or even just living in a place where you have access to a clinic.

There is also, not one person of colour featured in the entire cast. Which for me was a major letdown and the biggest flaw in the movie. Not one person of colour in Donna’s life? In New York? Come on now. Donna’s character is Jewish, so it can be argued that she herself represents a minority and therefore that box has been ‘ticked’, however, it would still have been nice to see a little more diversity in the cast. There were enough supporting characters that you could have had at least one other person from a non-western culture as a player and it feels a little bit lazy that the film did not manage to achieve this (I am not counting background actors here, I am looking for characters that are named and participate in the story in some way).

And, of course, all the characters are thin, able-bodied and good looking. They don’t wear fancy clothes or layers of make up so they do at least look fairly normal and not rom-com glamorous but again, this feels like basically just lazy casting. If you’re making a movie where one of the central themes is the representation of women, and you are unable to represent some kind of diversity in shapes, sizes and appearances in your cast then that is a real pity.

There is a character who is openly gay and he gets some great lines, although he also gets a little sidelined into the ‘gay-BFF’ box which is a wee bit stereotypical.

Despite these criticisms, for the most part Obvious Child is still a lovely movie. It’s got some excellent acerbic stand up comedy, along with many other funny moments and some sad moments too.  It handles its controversial subject matter by removing the controversy in a deft and intelligent manner, and it delivers a pretty sweet romance too. For a debut feature it’s very masterful and I would say Gillian Robespierre is definitely one to watch.

Bran Nue Dae

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Bran Nue Dae is an exuberant film adaptation of the iconic Australian stage musical of the same name. Directed by the versatile and intelligent Rachel Perkins it manages to be both a charming and weird celebration of Australian culture, while simultaneously challenging and critiquing the status of Australian aboriginal people.

The story goes like this: It’s the 1960s and teenage Willie is in love with a girl from his home-town in Broome but can’t quite get up the courage to tell her, he gets sent to boarding school with a strict german headmaster (played with ridiculous zeal by the lovely Geoffrey Rush) who tells Willie if he works hard he can leave his aboriginal heritage behind. But, as always, things get complicated and Willie decides to run away, resulting in an adventurous road trip with an ever increasing cast of characters including Ernie Dingo as an alcoholic drifter, Missy Higgens as one of a pair of hippies in a clapped out Kombi Van, and Deborah Mailman as a drunken pub hook up under a tree decorated in condoms.

The colour palette of the film is bright, supernaturally bright in some places, adding to the surreality of the film, and acting as a visual metaphore for the characters displacement in society. The artificial lighting and colours are exacerbated by sets like the school, the city, the bar and the ridiculous hippie kombi van, but seem almost to fade into the background when confronted with natural settings like the beach at Broome and the delicious reds of the outback itself.

I feel like it is a common trope to set stories like these in the 1960s because they distance the audience from the very contemporary topics that are discussing. Bran Nue Dae uses this deflection to great effect, utilising humour, song and dance, and over-the-top characters to tackle issues that are still prevalent in modern discussions around indigenous status, such as racism, homelessness, alcohol abuse, and the casual and condescending dismissal of aboriginal identity by mainstream Australian culture.

Look, as an outsider to Australian culture, I don’t know if I can really participate much in discussions around indigenous status in this country. I can only compare it to NZ, which has its own set of problems and assumptions about indigenous rights and identity, and like any colonial nation, has a significant amount of marginalisation, racism and a history of abuse and institutionalised subjugation towards indigenous cultures. And as someone of European descent, I also know that my experiences of Maori culture in NZ, and indigenous culture around the world are going to be seen through the unique lens of my own privilege and assumptions. I can’t speak for Indigenous people in NZ or Australia. But I can still educate myself and engage with indigenous stories, and challenge the media-makers in these countries to bring these stories into the mainstream.

That is precisely the reason why the work of someone like Rachel Perkins is so extraordinary and important. Her films, like Bran Nue Dae, Radiance and One Night The Moon (which is sorrowful, sparse and almost entirely without dialogue – pretty much the polar opposite to Bran Nue Dae!) and TV like First Australians and Redfern Now are box office and ratings successes that garner awards and capture the public imagination. I recently was lucky enough to hear Rachel Perkins speak at an event on aboriginal storytelling (It was actually at the book launch for this book by Jenny Green, about central australian traditional storytelling techniques which I would totally recommend if you’re into linguistics and narrative semiotics) and she talked about how important it was to document and share aboriginal stories and storytelling methods so that they don’t get lost or worse, become extinct entirely. Perkins uses modern methods such as film and TV to tell stories about one of the most ancient cultures in the world.  In doing so, she tells stories about indigenous people using her own indigenous voice, and forces western hegemonic Australia to examine itself and the way it treats those who are ‘othered’ and on the margins simply because of their race or cultural heritage. Her gentle insistence on equality, and her beautiful visualisations of outback and urban Australia are a significant contribution to Australian media and identity.

I totally enjoyed Bran Nue Dae, I thought it was funny, and strange and vibrant. It entertained me and got me thinking. I would highly recommend it. I would highly recommend anything by Rachel Perkins actually, and I’m going to finish with a clip from One Night The Moon just to give you a taste of Rachel Perkins’ talent and versatility.

Once My Mother

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Once My Mother is an extraordinary documentary by Australian film-maker Sophia Turkiewicz. Turkiewicz explains at the start of the film that she has always had a difficult relationship with her mother, Helen, who is now suffering from dementia. The film presents her mother’s story in parallel with her own story, in an attempt to create peace and closure as her mother nears the end of her life.

For one thing, Helen’s story is incredibly powerful in and of itself, she has slept on the streets of Poland, was a prisoner of war in Siberia, a refugee in Rhodesia and then finally a lonely single mum in 1940s Australia, Helen’s experiences have universal elements that mirror the stories of women from poverty stricken and war torn countries the world over. It is a story of poverty, the atrocities of war, and the stifling social conservatism of mid-20th century Australia. It is also the story of Poland during World War Two and the forgotten citizens turned prisoners, and then soldiers, who became cogs in a machine of a war they did not start and did not understand.

This is also a story about dementia, and Turkiewicz skilfully weaves archival footage, re-enactments and present day interviews to create a sense of change in both rhythm and personality, where once her mother cared for her and worried about her, now she is the one caring for her mother.

Turkiewicz’s documentary is also a testament to the force of narrative in our lives. We can see through the films that Turkiewicz made throughout her career that this theme of the tension between her and her mother, and her mother’s story, is a theme that she returned to again and again, in an attempt to find understanding and common ground. Her mother connected with her as a child by telling her stories, and her mother’s identity and the key to their relationship lies in the unravelling of these stories.

The re-enactments in particular were very well shot and did not feel jarring or melodramatic as many re-enactments often do. Even the extensive use of voice-over (which can often feel a little intrusive) worked very well here, this is in part due to the framing of the film as two parallel stories with Sophia as the narrator/seeker but also as one of the characters so she could blend voiceover and reality quite easily.

In short, I really have nothing but good things to say about this film. It’s a beautiful story, that confronts lots of complex questions around relationships, illness and war, and is particularly relevant today as Australia (and the world actually) grapples with issues around the acceptance of refugees and their place in our society.

If I gave stars i would give it a 5.

Reading List: Delights from around the interwebs to intrigue and inspire you

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  • 25-feminist-science-fiction.w529.h352The 25 Most Feminist Moments in Sci-Fi History (according to New York Magazine) including seminal movies like Alien and Star Wars as well as comic book heroines, sci-fi novelists and ground breaking tv shows like Star Trek and The Bionic Woman (she was so cool).

 

  • MV5BMTI2NDI5ODk4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMTI3NTE3._V1_SX214_AL_and another list The 25 Best Films Directed By Female Directors there were a few directors left off which I was a wee bit surprised about (no Catherine Breillat, Deepa Mehta, Sally Potter, to name a few) but also still many excellent directors are in there and it must be hard to narrow the list down to 25 (hooray for the plethora of female directors out there!) AND it’s still a list of must see movies so if you’ve got time to spare go seek some of these out at the dvd store or however you access movies nowadays.

 

  • This bloggers statement on video games and equality is excellent, including this quote: “Literally the worst possible thing that can happen here is equality”.
  • This is an interesting excerpt from recent ‘state-of-the-film-industry’ book ‘Hope for Film’. It doesn’t go into too much detail (probably because he wants you to buy the book) but it did get me thinking about how most of the opportunities out there for women in film are in independent cinema since the big studios are too afraid to take ‘risks’. And what does that mean exactly in terms of the compromises you make, and how hard you have to work to get a film made, or even just funded (answer very very hard) and does that actually further disadvantage women film-makers because you have to be producers and financiers and directors as well as mothers and partners and caregivers because that’s what society expects you to be. ALL THE THINGS.

 

  • hoays_uk_pbAnd following on from that, it’s not just movie studios that are afraid to take risks, book publishers are too. On the one hand it’s super exciting that so many African writers are having their talents recognised on a global scale, on the other hand…oh yikes just so many things that are unsettling about western publishing and this habit of using races as literary trends (Indian writers were trendy, then it was Latino writers, now it’s African writers), or having only a set number of slots for writers of colour… how do walk the line between tokenism, fad-ism and actual celebrations of diversity?

 

 

And here’s some Janelle Monae to play you out: