Trailblazing Women Directors Season. Curated by David Stratton. National Film and Sound Archive. June 28-July 7. Tickets: $15/$13 concession. Full season pass $100/$90 concession. nfsa.gov.au.
The program of film critic David Stratton's latest film season arose out of a sudden realisation.
He's curated film seasons featuring 10 films by one filmmaker over a number of years for the Sydney Film Festival and was struck by the fact the directors were always male.
"They were all men - very good men, but I thought it was about time we focused on women."
Trailblazing Women Directors Season was well received at the Sydney Film Festival and is now coming to the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.
The challenge of finding a director who had 10 films to her credit was, unfortunately, too difficult so Stratton took a different approach. He selected 10 films from 10 different directors. The biggest challenge, he says, was whittling the list down to 10.
"Some very good women didn't get in - hopefully we can do something another time."
He tried to avoid too many familiar films like Gillian Armstrong's debut, My Brilliant Career (1979) - which he notes was the first Australian film directed by a woman in 46 years, since Paulette McDonagh's Two Minutes Silence (1933).
Stratton says he only became aware after he made the selection that there's a strong theme of family running through the films - people related by blood or families of friends - but the stories are very different.
Writer-director Paulette McDonagh worked with her sisters on films: Isabel (aka Marie Lorraine) acted and Phyllis was producer and art director. They had a substantial career in the 1920s and '30s. McDonagh is represented in the season by a restored version of The Cheaters (1930) on June 28 at 10.30am.
"It's a thriller set in Sydney," Stratton says. It deals with embezzlement, confidence tricksters and romance and was released in two versions: a silent version (the one to be screened) which Stratton says is "much better" than the later one which was re-edited and had sound sequences added as the "talkies" were taking hold ("The recording quality is not very good").
Malcolm (1986, on June 28 at 6pm), directed by Nadia Tass, is, Stratton says, "one of the most charming Australian films".
Its title character, played by Colin Friels, was based on Tass's brother. Malcolm is a socially awkward technical whiz He takes in boarders ex-con Frank (John Hargreaves) and his girlfriend Judith (Lindy Davis) and they plan a robbery, making use of Malcolm's genius with machinery. Its inventions include a car that splits in half.
Armstrong is represented by High Tide (1987, on June 29 at noon). Stratton says. "It stars Judy Davis and has a great performance by the young Claudia Karvan."
Drifter Lilli (Davis) arrives in the town where, many years ago, she entrusted the care of her daughter Allie (Karvan) to her mother-in-law, Bet (Jan Adele). When Lilli meets Allie and realises who she is, it leads to conflict. Davis and Adele won AFI Awards for their performances.
Sweetie (1989, on June 29 at 2pm) tells the story of a dysfunctional family where quiet daughter Kay (Karen Colston) has a love/hate relationship with her mentally ill sister Sweetie (Genevieve Lemon). It was the first feature film made by Jane Campion, who would go on to make The Piano (1993). Stratton says it is "a fabulous film, one of the most original films made in Australia...There's nothing quite like it."
Also focusing on two sisters is another "extraordinarily original film", Shirley Barrett's Love Serenade (June 30, 2pm) which won the Caméra d'Or at Cannes for best first feature. It's about shy waitress Dmity (Miranda Otto) and brash hairdresser Vicki-Ann (Rebecca Frith) who share a house in a small town and what happens when a DJ, Ken (George Shevtsov) moves in next door.
Waiting (1991, on July 5 at 10.30am) is a "funny and smart film" in which Clare (Noni Hazlehurst) doesn't want a child herself but is pregnant as the surrogate mother for her friend Sandy (Helen Jones) and others gather to await the birth.
Writer-director Jennifer Kent's horror movie The Babadook (2014, on July 5 at 6pm) was better received overseas than in Australia. Stratton says, It's a very spooky, surprising film."
In it, widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) is raising her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and when she reads him a pop-up book about a monster, increasingly strange and scary things happen.
Bedevil (1993, on July 6 at noon) was the first feature film directed by an Australian Aboriginal woman and the only one to date by video and photography artist Tracey Moffatt.
"It's very hard to describe," Stratton says.
"It contains three ghost stories, but it isn't a horror film."
The stories were inspired by tales Moffatt heard from her Aboriginal and Irish families.
Blessed (2009, on July 6 at 2pm), directed by Ana Kokkinos, is "a great little film" set over one day and night and presented in two sections, The Children and The Mothers, depicting both the sometimes criminal activities of several children and how their mothers react to them and deal with parenthood. Sometimes there are depictions of two versions of the same event from different points of view.
Finally, Beautiful Kate (2009. July 7, 2pm) was the directorial debut of actress Rachel Ward. It's "a very intense family drama" in which writer Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) returns to the family home on a small, isolated property after many years to say goodbye to his estranged, dying father Bruce (Bryan Brown, Ward's husband).
Stratton hopes this season will introduce audiences to the talents, and films, of a range of Australian female directors - and he is ever hopeful that Australian films will find bigger audiences.