Here’s to the film-makers and photographers and all that take and make pictures to tell us stories about ourselves, our world and what we can be, what we have lost, who we are. This week it is the Adelaide Film Festival and no one has stayed away. I have only managed one film (Brazen Hussies) and this season is a reminder of the power of screen to provide an opportunity for a shared experience as potent as any rally on the streets. to gather our collective thoughts and hear what others need to tell us. As always the Film Festival is a cornucopia of ideas and images, sounds and stories and I am propelled into remembering the visuals that have activated hearts, heads and hands. Who can forget the 9 year old girl running from the Vietnam jungle bathed in napalm? The image of Gough Whitlam pouring sand through Vincent Lingiari’s hands in 1975 is one of my all time favourites and I have a copy of it in my office. In one frame, the past, present and future are frozen and speak. At the other end of the visual spectrum is the film that takes its time to unfold and unravel. Going to a movie theatre deepens the experience of the tale being told, all other stimulation is blocked out and you can focus completely, be immersed, be held by the screen and accept the invitation of the film maker to be intimate your eyes meeting theirs.
Being able to just receive, is a kind of deep listening and uninterrupted attention that brings us into the meditative state where we can embrace and be embraced by the narrative. This is the quest of every activist, to be able to invite into something bigger than yourself, a story that can fill all our senses and transcend the frames we hold in our heads to bring new visions, a new slant and perhaps a new response. The film I saw this week was a documentary tracing the steps of the Women’s Liberation Movement and Women’s Electoral Lobby and its influence on public policy including the first appointment of a women’s advisor to the Federal Government in the 1970s in Australia. It was mostly white, mostly east coast, mostly university educated voices that were heard. There were plenty of firsts like equal pay, childcare, domestic violence shelters, access to contraception, state support for single mothers and I am deeply grateful for these women who paved the way. I shed a few tears, then I shed a few more for all that is still to do – still no equal pay in some industries, we have one of the most gendered workforces on the planet and women’s work is mostly in underpaid and undervalued industries (eg caring industries); domestic violence hasn’t gone away and women are still fleeing their homes and for their lives, making women and children homeless rather than men being removed from homes and due to separation and economic injustice women over 50 are the highest rising group of homeless right now; then there is the economic inequity of female founders missing out ( 4% of venture capital goes to women). Indigenous women and women of colour are still largely absent from the decision making and shaping of policies and practices to end these injustices and intersectionality is not routinely applied. While women will often cry ” where are the men?”, we are less likely to hear: “Where are our Aboriginal sisters, and migrant and refugee voices, and women of colour who have been here for generations?” My high school principal was a fifth generation Australian Chinese woman and would often comment on her universal Asian features being invisible when she travelled and when at home in her own country being the cause for racism. This experience was eloquently examined by Stan Grant in his 2015 speech Racism and the Australian Dream. And for me it was the photos of the Tasmanian wilderness taken by Olegas Truchanas that united a nation and was part of the arsenal of the environment movement to elect a government that would preserve ancient and irreplaceable landscape.
The filmmaker is our friend. They take the liberty to build a friendship with us and work on the assumption that once you have stepped into view their work you are now in entering into an intimacy to look through their eyes and while they can’t gaze back into yours, they are working on an assumption you want to see what they can see, you want to know what they want to tell you, they understand you have some kind of longing they might be able to fulfil. They can find spaces and make spaces in your psyche for memories and your imagination to be evoked, for your longing to be stroked and your fragility or sacred joy expressed in the dark. The shared experience builds a bridge to conversation.
Thank you to all the activists behind lens’ that bring us images that hold us and move us and bring us into intimacy for it is from the heart we can bring our heads and hands to action.