Essential Australian Women Directors: 10 Trailblazers Selected by David Stratton

Sydney Film Festival retrospectives have usually focused on the work of one significant filmmaker, and so far, those filmmakers have all been men. In 2019, rather than highlighting the work of one director, the retrospective focussed on the work of ten remarkable women.

The key woman director of the late silent and early sound period in Australia was Paulette McDonagh (1901-1978) who made four features between 1926 and 1933, one of which, The Cheaters (1930), is included in this retrospective.

After Two Minutes Silence (1933), the last of McDonagh’s films, we had to wait 46 years for another feature to be directed by a woman in this country – the film was My Brilliant Career (1979), and the director was Gillian Armstrong. Armstrong has gone on to a brilliant career, and this retrospective includes High Tide (1987), the film that reunited her with Judy Davis.

In the years since Armstrong’s trailblazing debut, a great many very talented women have directed important and enduring films in this country. This retrospective is a tribute to all of them, and not just to the ten women represented here.

The recurring theme of the 10 films in this retrospective is that of family. Mother and daughter are reunited in High Tide, sisters feature in both Sweetie (1989) and Love Serenade (1996), mothers and children of both sexes in Blessed, mother and son in The Babadook (2014). Beautiful Kate (2009) is about a family reunion, Waiting (1991) is a film in which close friends become surrogates for family, and in Malcolm (1986), two very different men form an almost fraternal relationship.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, the barriers that once faced women filmmakers are perhaps crumbling at a quicker pace.  Hopefully it won’t be long before the annual film production in this country is truly representative of its population. In the meantime, let’s celebrate this tribute to some of our great women filmmakers.

David Stratton
Guest Programmer

Film critic, lecturer and author David Stratton AM is a former director of the Sydney Film Festival and former host of ABC TV’s At the Movies. He is a recipient of the Raymond Longford Award and was named Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has served on the juries in Venice and Berlin and as a President of the FIPRESCI (International Film Critics) jury in Cannes. He recently published his fourth book 101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed (2018).

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