Must-See: Indigenous Women Filmmakers
Opinions May 31 2019 by Jenny Neighbour
Head of Programs and Documentary Programmer Jenny Neighbour on Merata Mita and Freda Glynn

This year Sydney Film Festival signed up to the 5050×2020 pledge, an initiative that commits film festivals around the world to take action to end gender inequality in the film industry. So, it’s fitting that two documentaries in the Festival celebrate the work of trailblazing women in indigenous filmmaking: the stories of Australia’s Freda Glynn (She Who Must be Loved directed by her daughter Erica Glynn and produced by granddaughter Tanith Glynn-Maloney) and New Zealand’s Merata Mita (Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, directed by her son Heperi Mita). Two fabulous women fighting discrimination, breaking boundaries and inspiring (and giving birth to!) the next generation of filmmakers.

She Who Must Be Loved tells the epic life story of Freda Glynn, Aboriginal woman, and co-founder of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), and Imparja TV. She was born on a remote cattle station north of Alice Springs, grew up in the era of the Aboriginal Protection policies, and started a career as a stills photographer at the same time as raising five children. The film also follows Freda’s attempts to uncover the mystery of a story she was told as a young woman, about her grandmother being killed in a massacre around the time Central Australia was first being colonised.

Merata Mita broke through barriers of race, class and gender, and with the 1988 release of her film Mauri, became the first Māori woman to write and direct a feature film. Tackling controversial issues of indigenous social justice in both documentaries and fiction, the pioneering activist-filmmaker faced harassment and violence. Persevering, she emerged as one of New Zealand’s best-known filmmakers and a powerful voice for indigenous peoples around the world. Drawing on footage from Merata’s own work, as well as from interviews with her from before she picked up a camera, Hepi (her youngest son) captures Merata as a filmmaker, mother, wife, and mentor. Reflections from his siblings and those she influenced, such as Taika Waititi, underscore the overriding importance Merata placed on family and reveal the personal sacrifices she made to actively create a better future for her children and her people.

I invented a method a few years back to try and encourage awareness around the lack of films by female filmmakers on our cinema screens. I used to randomly walk into a Sydney cinema and ask the box office staff, “are you screening any films by women directors?” I usually received blank or bewildered looks, they either didn’t know, or there weren’t any.  My one-woman campaign didn’t really catch on, but perhaps now the time is ripe!

Start with your Festival viewing – 43% of the films in this year’s Festival are directed or co-directed by women – go see these two fine documentaries, attend the free talk and the next time you’re at the cinema, vote with your purse and go to a film directed by a woman!

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