“It’s about time”, said Barbra Streisand at the 2010 Academy Awards before announcing “…Kathryn Bigelow” as the first female winner of the prestigious best director prize for The Hurt Locker. Given the then 67-year-old multi-hyphenate’s own chequered history with gender inequality with the notoriously lady-shy director’s branch, she’s surprisingly not bitter. Her lack of a nomination for Yentl in 1984 was met with heated debate and even protest for its perceived sexism, and furthermore in 1991 when her film The Prince of Tides found itself in the unlucky position of being a best picture nominee minus its director to which host Billy Crystal famously quipped, “did this film direct itself?” Despite that, and despite her own famed vanity (lest we forget The Mirror Has Two Faces), she’s always been pro-gender equality and I adore what she said at the 65th Academy Awards in 1993 before announcing that most manly of men, Clint Eastwood, the winner:
“Tonight the Academy honours ‘Women and the Movies’. That’s very nice, but I look forward to the time when tributes like this will no longer be necessary. It won’t be necessary because women will have the same opportunities as men in all fields. And will be honoured without regard to gender, but simply for the excellence of their work. A time when there couldn’t possibly year a ‘Year of the Woman’ because there will be so many in prominent positions.”
It’s inarguable that women still face tremendous uphill battles in the “biz” of film and television, with the latter definitely showing vast improvement in recent years both here and abroad (so many fabulous women on TV that the Emmy categories are literally overflowing). Newly released data out of England states that only 7.8% of British cinema was directed by women last year. That’s a diminishing of 50% and a startling figure. Similarly in America, the oft-cited statistic is that women make up 50% of all film school graduates, and yet make up a paltry sub 20% of directing positions. Depending on where you look, the figures tossed out look at one female director for every 15 male directors, 5% of the top 250 grossers, and so on.
And not just directors, but nearly every other position of filmmaking ranging from acting to screenwriting to cinematography. The only fields in which women traditionally dominate are “crafty” fields such as costume design and make-up. The only women to win Academy awards in gender non-specific categories at this year’s Academy awards were the nominees for, lo and behold, costume (Anna Karenina‘s Jacqueline Durran), make-up and hairstyling (Les Miserables‘ Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell), original song (Adele for “Skyfall”) and Andrea Nix Fine for her documentary short. Granted, much like I have long argued with direct attention to the director category, the Academy can only reward what Hollywood gives them, but it’s interesting nonetheless and you’re free to take the information as you will.
When the issue comes to the Australian industry?
I don’t know.
I don’t claim to know.
I shouldn’t have to know because there shouldn’t be an issue. But there is. There always is.
The conversation about female representation within the film industry frequently raises its ugly head. It did so most recently upon the release of FilmInk‘s “2o Most Powerful People in Australian Film” issue and the ensuing drama it created on Twitter and beyond. I’m not here to critique the well known magazine’s standards since I understand what their intentions were, however curious it is that a man such as Justin Kurzel can make it on to the list with only one finished film credit to his name, while plenty of incredible female directors with more could not. Still, as I said, that’s not why we’re here.
I’ve long believed that my home country’s industry was a bit more progressive than America’s. For instance, our homegrown annual awards formerly known as the Australian Film Institute Awards recognised their first female director winner way back in 1979 with Gillian Armstrong for the classic My Brilliant Career (which I felt made an apt banner image up top, don’t you think?) A further seven have won in the years since from 28 nominations. While I didn’t tally the exact figures, there is a similar representation in screenwriting categories, too.
And yet still it’s an issue. There’s little denying that women’s place in the local industry is marginally better than it is in America, but there’s obviously still a ways to go. For instance, as much as I’d love to assume Elissa Down has been developing a masterpiece since her breakthrough in 2008 with The Black Balloon, two episodes of Offspring seems an awfully slim follow through for an AFI-winning director and writer. Likewise Cate Shortland who took eight years to follow up Somersault with Lore in 2012 (for which she won numerous awards around the globe and decent-sized USA box office returns). Meanwhile Jocelyn Moorhouse has been faced with development hells on projects, and the aforementioned Gillian Armstrong has reverted to predominantly documentary work. Funding and development isn’t just a female director problem, obviously, but I wonder if they’re being as encouraged as, say, Morgan O’Neill who directed Solo and Drift and has been given the reins of a $15mil production based on the life of legendary writer Banjo Paterson.
Nevertheless, I didn’t want to write this piece to add another 1000 empty words of woe onto an industry that has seemingly seen the roof cave in these past six months (2013 will not go down as a great year for Australian film, but 2014 is looking up, up, up!) Instead, I wanted to highlight some names within the Australian film and television industry who have not only “made a name for themselves” (a silly term, but we’ll run with it), but who also have a very proven history of getting. shit. done. I doubt if you combined one of the producers below with one of the directors that a funding body would reject it, but I guess you never know. Getting greenlit is tricky business.
It was all relatively simple, actually. All I did was peruse the last few years of AFI/AACTA nominees (and added a few extras that I thought deserved mention) and came up with these 25 women who are shining examples of what can be achieved by women. I think it’s important to know names like these because oh so often I read an article bemoaning the lack of women in the industry without having taken the time to give prominent praise to those that are there doing their job day in day out. By all means, I don’t mean this to sweep the issue under the rug, but instead I mean it to be a positive beacon, a shining of lights onto people who get easily forgotten in the rush to be as negative as possible (as well as some very famous ones). These names are in alphabetical order and we’re not looking at people involved in organisations like Screen Australia or Film Victoria. Just producers, directors, actors, and writers who work hard to get their product on the screen and with the diminishing of quality between cinema and television, is there any shame in working in one medium over the other any longer? I don’t think so!
Imogen Banks (producer, writer)
Imogen Banks only has four series to her credit, but they are Dangerous, Tangle, Offspring, and Puberty Blues. She is very clearly a name to watch. She also wrote episodes of the latter three, and the acclaimed Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo.
Cate Blanchett (actor)
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish Cate Blanchett would make a film back home again – her last was Little Fish in 2005 for which she won an AFI Award – and, hey, maybe there’s an adaptation or two to be made from her years behind the Sydney Theatre Company. Still, she routinely flies the banner for Australia, returning frequently to present at local award shows and to help open events. Her Oscar (for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator), just by the way, is able to be seen at the permanent “Screen Worlds” exhibit at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.
Rosemary Blight (producer)
FilmInk’s piece saw fit to include Rosemary Blight at no. 16 based on her heading of Goalpost Pictures. They were the primary producers behind hit The Sapphires, as well as Clubland, and she was also involved in Teesh & Trude, Panic and Rock Island, the Lockie Leonard television adaptation, and Matthew Saville’s upcoming Felony, perhaps my most anticipated Aussie film on the schedule.
Mimi Butler (producer)
Blue Water High, Rush, Howzat!: Kerry Packer’s War, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars. Yeah, I’d say Mimi Butler is on a role in bringing successful projects to the screen.
Jane Campion (director, writer, producer)
An international career that hops between Australia (she brought Bright Star to local shores as a co-production with many locals on board), New Zealand (recent miniseries Top of the Lake was originally an Australian production until ABC backed out due to creative differences), the USA, and the UK. Apart from her high-profile works she was also a part of Soft Fruit, worked on the Aurora screenwriting committee that helped bring Somersault to the screen, and helped push Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty to Cannes and beyond.
Michelle Carey (festival director)
As the artistic director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Michelle Carey is responsible for the biggest and the oldest film festival in Australia. Pretty impressive, no? Also impressive is that MIFF, now over 60 years old and currently on right as I type, also features a film development fund, a female CEO and board chairperson not to mention a staff roster with many other female positions including operations, programming, marketing, publicity, and industry.
Jan Chapman (producer)
Jan Chapman has long been associated with Jane Campion on The Piano and Bright Star, and Cate Shortland with Somersault and The Silence. Has also helped produce Lantana, Suburban Mayhem, Griff the Invisible, and has the upcoming The Babadook, which is (ding ding ding) directed by a woman, Jennifer Kent.
Penny Chapman (producer)
Penny Chapman is not only associated with Blue Murder and Police Rescue, but has also worked on The Slap (which sold big internationally, I believe), The Straits, and My Place.
Kirsty Fisher (writer)
Kirsty Fisher has written for Dance Academy, H20: Just Add Water, House Husbands, Winners and Losers, and Laid, for which she is also a producer.
Emma Freeman (director)
One of the most acclaimed and respected directors, Emma Freeman has steered clear of feature films, but made a name for herself on series The Secret Life of Us, Puberty Blues, Tangle, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Rush, Love My Way, and Hawke, for which she won an AFI Award.
Claire Henderson (producer)
As executive producer on The Saddle Club, Claire Henderson helped produce a show that sold big time (TV and DVD) to basically any continent that has horses. So that’d be… all of them? At the ABC she’s also responsible for Blue Water High, Round the Twist, and The Ferals at one time or another.
Anita Jacoby (producer)
The ABC’s Wednesday night line up was enviable for a while to even the three big networks. Anita Jacoby worked on several of them including the Gruen franchise and Hungry Beast. Has predominantly worked for Andrew Denton’s former company, I believe, on projects like Can of Worms, God On My Side, and one of the world’s first crowd-funded films, The Tunnel.
Claudia Karvan (actor, producer, writer)
Predominantly known as an actress – she’s my personal favourite local TV actor – on such seminal programs as The Secret Life of Us, and Love My Way, Claudia Karvan also spearheaded the latter as a writer and producer as well as Spirited on which she also wrote and produced. A highly respected actor, she’s currently appearing in Puberty Blues and The Time of Our Lives.
Asher Keddie (actor)
A fellow film critic friend has said that he reckons Asher Keddie is the only Australian actor who could get people to go and see a local film purely on their selling power. And, yes, she has the Gold Logie to prove it. Given the giant success of Offspring and Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo it’s hard not to agree. She’s also been on Love My Way, Rush, Hawke, Curtin, and even smuggled out a role in Wolverine.
Robyn Kershaw (producer)
Originally a casting director on Children of the Revolution and Looking for Alibrandi, producer Robyn Kershaw’s work as producer straddles film and television. She has been involved with Kath & Kim and The Shark Net on TV and Bran Nue Dae, Looking for Alibrandi (as a producer alongside casting), and Save Your Legs! on the big screen.
Nicole Kidman (actor)
Much like Cate Blanchett, yes Nicole Kidman is seen predominantly as an American star now, but lest we forget she does show support for the industry and made Australia even in the face of that screenplay to prove it. I would love to see her use her production house, Blossom Films, which produced Rabbit Hole, maybe make a film to two in Australia. Maybe if she reads this (nudge wink, you’re a goddess) she might she inspired. She returns with The Railway Man this year, an Australian-UK co-production, which has been given a plum spot on the release schedule.
Deborah Mailman (actor)
Australian acting royalty, and perhaps the most popular and respected indigenous actor (give or take a David Gulpilil) of all time. Seems to win award nominations for everything she does - The Secret Life of Us (who didn’t fall in love with her as Kelly Lewis on that groundbreaking series?) Radiance, Bran Nue Dae, The Sapphires (currently an arthouse hit in America), Offspring, Mabo, Mental and so on – and with a staunch desire to tell indigenous tales on screen like Rabbit-Proof Fence, Redfern Now, and Black Chicks Talking. She’s a force in the industry without a doubt. I’d be curious to find out if she has ever been offered the solo lead in a series. I think she’s popular enough to make it a hit, but I also like having her in films so maybe not.
Natalie Miller (distributor, exhibitor)
A fixture of the Melbourne cinema scene, Natalie Miller is the originator and leader of Sharmill Films (a company that most recently released Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing) and was first the first independent female distributor in Australia. She is also the co-founder of Cinema Nova in Carlton, arguably the premiere destination for exclusive arthouse releases in the state. For what it’s worth, the Cinema Nova were the only cinema to play Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring.
Cherie Nowlan (director)
After breaking out with the Brenda Blethyn-starring Clubland (aka Introducing the Dwights in America), Cherie Nowlan moved predominantly into TV in Australia and then America. All Saints, Packed to the Rafters, Dance Academy, and Underbelly are the biggies, and then Gossip Girl, 90210, and new 2013 series Mistresses in the Hollywood. Now there’s a name that many wouldn’t know about and yet should have a photo up in filmmaking school around the country. What Aussie director wouldn’t want those gigs? If they say “no” then they’re probably in it for the wrong reasons.
Jacqueline Perske (producer, writer)
Having developed a strong working relationship with previously mentioned Claudia Karvan, Jacqueline Perske has worked on Love My Way and Spirited as a writer and producer, The Secret Life of Us as a writer, and even received AFI, IF, and Film Critics Circle nominations for her screenplay to Little Fish, which starred Cate Blanchett.
Daina Reid (director, actor)
This lady right here seems to have a monopoly on all the really big TV series, movies and miniseries, doesn’t she? The Secret Life of Us, MDA, All Saints, Satisfaction, Very Small Business, City Homicide, Bed of Roses, both Paper Giants films, Offspring, Rush, Howzat!: Kerry Packer’s War, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and upcoming Nowhere Boys. Not to mention feature film I Love You Too, and a very accomplished career as a comedian and actress on Full Frontal, Jimoin, The Micallef Program, Kath & Kim, and Welcher and Welcher. Yeah, I’d say Daina Reid’s going pretty darn well and shouldn’t be in any danger of losing out on jobs any time soon.
Julie Ryan (producer)
While Julie Ryan’s credits on Red Dog and 100 Bloody Acres (already on screen and VOD in America) are keeping her going at the moment, what I find most impressive is her roster of Rolf de Heer films. Having worked as producer on most of his titles since The Old Man Who Read Love Stories in 2001 (arguably his hardest production) and an ability to pluck funds out of thin air for Dr Plonk and Ten Canoes shows determination and skill. I’d want her on my team. Plus, she has Tracks premiering at the upcoming Venice Film Festival with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver (Girls).
Liz Watts (producer)
She could argue her position on any list such as this (or FilmInk’s on which she was ranked no. 15) based on one film: Animal Kingdom. She steered that film to instant Aussie classic status, which spun into an unlikely but well-deserved Oscar nomination for star Jacki Weaver. Other than that, she has TV series Laid, and other features Lore, The Hunter, Walking on Water (a very touching AIDS drama), The Home Song Stories, and David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom follow-up, The Rover starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Yes, yes. Deserves big thumbs up for getting Michôd to stay in Australia for his sophomore effort.
Joanna Werner (producer)
As a producer on H2O: Just Add Water and Dance Academy (on which she’s also a writer and co-creator), Joanna Werner has been involved in two programs that have found sales and cult followings in America, which is money. There was talk of a H2O movie, but I haven’t heard anything about that in quite some time, sadly.
Kate Woods (director)
See also Cherie Nowlan. After winning an AFI Award for directing Looking for Alibrandi one could mistake Woods for having fallen out of the industry. She actually went into television, directing the Changi miniseries in 2001 and moving to America to director episodes of Without a Trace, Law & Order: SVU, and Private Practice. Lately she’s working more than ever on NCIS: Los Angeles, House, Bones, Castle, Hawaii Five-O, Suits, and was most recently given the big honour of directing an NBC pilot (Aussie-made, US-set Camp with another big Aussie female name, Rachel Griffiths).
And then there are people like Catherine Martin, Mandy Walker, Jill Billcock, Cappi Ireland, Melinda Doring, Veronika Jenet, Sarah Bortignon, and so many, many more who work in fields like sound and design that have no problems getting work. Although Walker does work in a field that’s notoriously man-centric (that’d be cinematography). Martin has the potential to become Australia’s most successful Oscar winner with her work on husband Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.
So, there you go. 25 names (and then some) of Australian women in the film and television business that deserve not just credit for their achievements, but actual prominent recognition. We’ll never get anywhere if those who are out there making the stuff we watch aren’t celebrated and cheered on. Not in a patronising “you go, girl!” kind of way, but in a professional, respectful way. I so frequently hear that women tend to give up ambitions of working in this industry because they so rarely see role models, but maybe lists like this and any others people would care to write can show that it’s very much possible to work in this industry and be a woman and do it successfully, too. Otherwise we’ll just keep getting op-eds about what a “cockforest” (term courtesy of one of this list’s inspirations, critic friend Mel Campbell, via Ben Law at the ABC) it all is and it’ll be little more than a vicious circle of sexism.
And if you’re also interested in female film critics? Again, they aren’t as many as there are male critics, but there are many great ones. How about the aforementioned Mel Campbell (The Thousands), Tara Judah (The Saturday Magazine, Plato’s Cave), Cerise Howard (Smart Arts, Senses of Cinema), Lesley Chow (Bright Lights), Jess Lomas (Quickflix), Alice Tynan (all sorts), Philippa Hawker (The Age), Rebecca Harkins-Cross (The Big Issue), and so on.
I know I and many others would appreciate your assistance in spreading this list around and, by all means, adding to it. These were just 25 I found; I know there are more.
And, yes, I do hope you’re singing the title of this blog to the song from The Sound of Music. Even if I’m not a fan of the movie.