When the Camera Stopped Rolling (M, 75 minutes)
The long list of credits for this intimate, handsomely crafted documentary looks like a who's who of the local film industry. It's a tribute to the subject of the film, filmmaker Lilias Fraser, and to her cinematographer daughter, Jane Castle, who is its writer-director and narrator.
From the late 1950s until the 1970s, Fraser worked at the frontier for female filmmakers, pioneering a place for women in the industry at a time of considerable resistance to them in creative roles.
The doco opens with images of water birds from a film that Fraser made while she was pregnant with Castle, her second child. It was one of Fraser's first films, marking the beginning of a successful career at the Commonwealth Film Unit (now Film Australia), making documentaries for government agencies, like the Commonwealth dairy and wheat boards, and for commercial companies like Comalco and Hamersley Iron. She was its first female director.
By the time Castle had turned five years old, her dynamic mother had turned out more than 15 films. At the end of Castle's filmmaking career, she had notched up about 40 titles.
Though she was shooting celebratory nation-building projects, Castle was developing different political perspectives. In 1970, her film This is Their Land was released, a doco now recognised as Australia's first land rights film. Throughout her career, she remained deeply committed to Indigenous issues.
At the age of 50, in late career, Fraser was a distributor for the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op. She also taught at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, where her trailblazing career made her the perfect role model for generations of young women.
Fraser had been determined to pursue her interests from an early age. Although she wasn't allowed to finish school and had to stay at home to look after her mother, she found ways to break free. She experimented on her father's Super 8 camera and bought her own equipment when she was 25.
She studied at a prestigious London photography school. In Paris in 1959, she caught the crest of the French New Wave, and became the first Australian to enrol at France's national film school.
Among the wealth of images, still and moving, there are some stills of Fraser captured within her own films. Apparently, she often liked to step away from behind the camera and join the fun. These images capture a slim, vibrant figure with a broad smile, having a wonderful time of it.
Filmmaking suited her temperament, a person who wanted "to be free" who is remembered in obituaries by those she mentored as a vibrant woman of positivity. Fraser was suffering Alzheimer's disease when she died in in 2004, aged 74.
Castle, successful in her own right, reveals she became a cinematographer to build a closer relationship with her mercurial mother. The camera gave her the means to create beauty and order in her own young life, overcoming the turbulence experienced at home, her parents' deteriorating marriage, absences, alcoholism and abuse.
While this richly textured, revelatory film brings the legacy of a little-known, trailblazing female filmmaker to light, it reveals a dark side to the glamour and excitement of Fraser's life. With husband Norman Castle, 20 years her senior, she ran Fraser Castle film productions. The family lived in a big house near Sydney Harbour, but the couple were chronically in debt and had to seek financial help from Castle's wealthy father.
A keen surfer, Fraser never got to make the "sea symphony" she longed to make, a celebration of the ocean that she loved. At least it is conveyed to us through this brave and moving testament from her daughter.
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