Round up of Melbourne Women in Film Festival

By Liza Dezfouli

Besides the learning component, being part of this year’s MWFF Critics Lab also meant getting to see many excellent films and attending two terrific panels. The first panel was Leading the Way: Empowering Women’s Leadership in the Screen Industries. Busy female powerhouses like Sue Maslin and Leanne Tonkes talked about how to ensure women in film are not backwards in coming forward. The conversation came round to the subject of mentorship, a topic thoroughly unpacked during Friday’s panel, The Ins and Outs of Mentoring, co-hosted with WIFT (Women in Film and Television) Victoria. The importance of having ongoing mentorship throughout your career, not only in the early stages, is clear. Women in the industry who are themselves authorities still reach out to others, men and women, for advice. Generosity abounds in this most competitive of arenas. Make connections. Follow up. Ask for what you need.  

When I talked to producer Leanne Tonkes and director Mairi Cameron about The Second, their film about a female friendship, made on a shoestring budget (it doesn’t look it), the subject of mentorship came up. They both mentioned support, from and for each other and those around them. You can’t do it alone and you shouldn’t try. Nobody’s saying it’s easy to get a feature film on its feet. It isn’t. These days, however, there are fewer gate-keepers at the early stages. You can make short works, put them up on YouTube and nobody can stop you.

Except, maybe, yourself … The much-discussed classic feminine lack of confidence is experienced even at times by someone like Samantha Lang whose astonishing 1997 The Well was lauded and awarded at Cannes, no less, leading to a dream career; even she had moments of not knowing where to go or what to do with herself, as she revealed in the Q&A after a rare screening of her film. One big take-out from MWFF overall is that under-confidence is best dealt with by just effing doing it and by women helping each other where we can. And by making good use of support systems already in place, be it WIFT or the smaller networks you create yourself by meeting and keeping in touch with like-minded creatives.

Opening night of MWFF at ACMI saw enthusiastic responses to Margaret Dodd’s 1979 surreal feminist film This Woman Is Not a Car. Some things haven’t changed. Dodd was in attendance and lionised afterwards at the after party at the ACMI cafe. We also saw the very indie On Guard, Susan Lambert’s bio-tech-sabotage story from 1984. How things have changed!

On opening night one had the disconcerting experience of meeting in person a filmmaker whose first feature one reviewed with regrettable lack of insight. Said filmmaker was completely fabulous about it. One, however, then proceeded to get drunk.

Sunday’s screening of Mairi Cameron’s Australian Gothic feature The Second and episode one of the webseries Jade of Death was a joy since one had only viewed these on one’s tiny laptop. The three GORGEOUS leads of The Second, Rachael Blake, Susie Porter and Vince Colosimo, talked about the film afterwards in the Q&A. Rachael Blake’s writing a novel herself: did playing such an unscrupulous writer have an inhibiting effect on her own literary practice? It did. Someone noted that The Second, although set in a singularly Australian landscape, could be situated nearly anywhere; the film might be European. You could say the same thing about the True Bloodish Jade of Death, whose creator Erin Good was also on the panel. Jade of Death stars charismatic new-comer Bernie Van Tiel as Jade, and Aussie veteran Nicholas Hope as Wilkins (surely inspired sartorially by the late Leonard Cohen).

On Saturday I took part in a workshop led by Kylie Eddy of Lean Filmmaking. Get started, is the message, and create your work in iterations, refining as you go. We got started immediately by teaming up and making short then slightly longer videos on our phones, to ludicrously tight deadlines. Nine minutes was the max. A heap of fun which quickly got everyone over any nerves.

Being discerning film lovers, we all agree that cheese belongs on the plate, not on the screen. The closing night after party involved some of the finest cheese with which I’ve ever stuffed my face, bypassing pieces of bread altogether. (From Yarra Valley Dairy). Closing night also naturally included awards. The Critics Lab had spent most of the previous Tuesday watching 22 short films to decide on the Critics Choice, which turned out to be a tie between An Act of Love and Blood Sisters. One poignant and one (bloody) funny.

The need for women to tell women’s stories goes without saying. What is clear from the variety of films screened at MWFF is that women have always told all kinds of stories, from interior stories of identity and close relationships to broad issues-based documentaries. On closing night we watched a couple of the top picks of the festival: The Island and We Vanish, both films addressing political issues (Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and the widespread murder of women in Mexico, respectively), through the lens of individual experience.

Next year the Melbourne Women in Film Festival turns four. Four is the age at which kids start to question everything. Endlessly. Why? Why is the sky blue? Why is cicadas? Why, Mum, why?

Why do I have to put myself through this when it’s so goddamn hard to get into the screen industry, anyway?

If you’re starting to ask yourself questions like the last one, your creative voice will answer: Because I bloody well said so! That’s why!

Whitney Monaghan