During the 1970s and early 80s, women filmmakers won new opportunities to tell stories which, until then, had gone largely untold.
The films produced as part of the Experimental Film Fund, and by film co-operatives such as the Sydney Women’s Film Group and Reel Women in Melbourne, examined the role of women within society and explored consciousness-raising ideas. Subjects ranged from the role of women in the workforce and at home to social reform and the objectification of the female body by the media.
The live theatre background of many of the women helped infuse their work with a verve that was missing from the more sombre feminist fare offered by their British and American contemporaries. Australian women adopted the collective or cooperative model of film production so they could share creative and technical roles, instead of the hierarchical structure common to other parts of the film industry.
In this collection we see excerpts of documentaries and experimental short films made by influential filmmakers including: Jeni Thornley, Martha Ansara, Margot Nash, Megan McMurchy, Mitzi Goldman, Sarah Gibson, Susan Lambert and Janet Merewether, ranging from the 1970s to the 90s.
Read more about the history of feminist filmmaking in Australia.
Jean Curthoys, Anne Summers, Edna Ryan and Marjory Thomas talk about feminism and their quests for a better education. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
This clip looks at how women were brought back into the paid workforce to fill the lower paid positions as the economy boomed in the 1960s. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
The filmmakers draw the title of the film on their naked bodies. By throwing a tomato on the lens, they remind the viewer that all images are constructed. Taking control of their own image, they begin a wild ride into unexplored territory. Summary by Susan Lambert.
This clip examines the situation for women in the 1930s Depression when many were forced to work as the men in their families were unemployed. Denied equal pay and still being paid piece-rate wages, women were then vilified and unfairly blamed for causing unemployment. The clip finishes with a segment from the feature film Caddie. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
The song ‘Size 10’, written and sung by Robyn Archer, plays while women look into distorting mirrors, seeing themselves first as fat and then as skinny. Naked women jump into a swimming pool and play while one of the women in voice-over tells a story about a group of young ‘size 10’ women shivering miserably on a cold beach waiting for their boyfriends to finish surfing. She then goes on to say that not having physical strength makes you feel powerless. Summary by Pat Fiske.
This experimental film rearranges the same sentence 22 times: ‘A famous filmmaker said: “Cinema is the history of men filming women”’, while deconstructing the video image of a woman bathing in a waterfall.
You can watch Cheap Blonde here in its entirety. Director, writer, producer – Janet Merewether © 1998 Janet Merewether / Go Girl Productions.
Summary by Kate Matthews.
Various media from 1942 – posters, newsreels and promotional films – show the recruiting campaign for the Women’s Land Army. In interview, Tige Hunter explains why she joined up. Summary by Susan Lambert.
In a montage of footage from 1970s feminist films, interlaced by narration and music, the clip proposes the notion of a new sisterhood. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
This clip juxtaposes the sounds of heavy breathing, a party with male voices and wolf whistling against the images of women’s faces, a bedroom with a woman in bed, and the ground outside, setting up a tension that leads to a beer bottle violently smashing a fleshy watermelon. Summary by Susan Lambert.
Young office worker Jeni (Jeni Thornley) is having a conversation with her mother in the kitchen while they wash the dishes together. Summary by Pat Fiske.
Women, both old and young, attending the International Women’s Day (IWD) march in Sydney in 1980, talk about how they feel about getting old. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
A Film for Discussion opens with a montage of still images and live action footage of women working, followed by ad images and clips from old movies, and women yelling and screaming at a concert. Summary by Pat Fiske.
In Pussy Pumps Up, which can be viewed here in full, a feline female figure assumes more masculine characteristics.
Summary by Dr Marian Quigley.
Three elderly women residents of the Kurmala Nursing Home, in Sydney, read poetry which they have written about their experiences of old age. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
Two women describe the hard physical work of the Women’s Land Army and express their pride in their achievements. Black-and-white stills and colour footage show the women at work. Summary by Susan Lambert.
This clip talks about the conditions that led to the Melbourne Tailoresses Strike of 1882 to 1883. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
Sophia Whist (Robin Laurie) opens the pages of her evidence book and imparts the story of women’s historical exclusion from medical practice. Marjory Thomas talks about the difficulties faced by Jessie Freeman, one of the first women to study medicine at Sydney University. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
Faith Bandler, an Indigenous woman, tells of her experience of the Women’s Land Army. Summary by Susan Lambert.
A man and a woman in a car are having a conversation. Jeni (Jeni Thornley), the young office worker, is troubled by what one of her co-workers has discussed with her that day. In the conversation with her boyfriend (John Brotherton) in the car, she exhibits an awakening to the dilemmas of being a woman in Australia in the early 1970s. Summary by Pat Fiske.
Using still photographs, personal narration, quoted correspondence and music, the early 20th century history of the maternal side of the filmmaker’s family is detailed. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
Four women, born in the first half of the 20th century, talk about the expectations they had, as girls, for their own educations. The clip concludes with a montage of historical Education Department films promoting home science schools. Summary by Adrienne Parr.
Using still photographs, personal narration, quoted correspondence and music, the mid-20th century history of the maternal side of the filmmaker’s family is detailed. Summary by Adrienne Parr.