“The very first year for the second time”

A year to the day after first being postponed Festival Directors Tahyna MacManus and Kelly Tomasich launched the inaugural Australian Womens Film Festival into action. Filling Bondi’s Event Cinemas largest theatre with finalists and fans, 9 flicks competed in a competition overseen by, among several Judges, Rachel Griffiths and Teresa Palmer.

Aiming to “support, encourage, and celebrate female storytellers by giving them a platform to showcase their talent, both in front of and behind the camera,” to qualify for the Festival at least three of the five key creatives (Writer, Director, Producer, DOP and Editor) must be female and the short has to pass the Bechdel test. Men can participate in the Festival however, as noted by Host Megan Wilding, they simply need “to be willing to work with women.”

Taking out Best Dramatic Film, Sophie O’Connor’s ‘Clap,’ a highlight of the night, depicted a young woman in a challenging school and social environment encountering a classmate she barely knew navigating how to help her. A well-staged and memorably empathetic drama, lead performer Molly Broadstock’s acting win was too well deserved.

Rachel Mackey’s comedy ‘The Granny Flat’ was too a stand-out, chronicling childrens’ encounters with a busload of grannies. Using increasingly imaginative and hilarious animation to outline some very relatable and extremely Australian doting, Sophie Ash’s animation ‘Start Gate’ too featured some exceptional visuals; most powerful among them a visor reflection as a skier stares down a treacherous slope.

Franziska Link’s stunningly shot ‘Me and the Sea’ outlined the filmmaker’s very engaging free diving interactions with extremely remote ocean banks and much unseen beneath the waves, while Best Cinematography, Audience Choice & ‘One to Watch’ Awards winner Vivienne Smith utilised ‘Treasure’ to convey some very raw approaches to grief.

“Filmmaking is the hardest, longest and most expensive way to tell a story and for so many years the gatekeepers to that money and screen time has been men,” said Vivienne following the Awards win. “Being a finalist in the Australian Womens Film Festival was incredible because it signified the changing of the guard; for a whole night we watched exclusively female made content and were supported by those in the industry who are actively fighting for other stories to be told.”

An Adventure filmmaker, Vivienne shot key scenes from ‘Treasure’ throughout New South Wales.

“I’m setting my sights on my original passion telling scripted narrative but looking to leverage my work in grand, landscape cinematography; having put a camera on all 7 continents (I’m ironically more comfortable in harsh environments) ‘Treasure’ was the first opportunity to start telling those stories,” said Vivienne. “Female filmmakers rarely get access to big budgets which typically means our stories are told in smaller environments and easier locations… men dominate the outside, adventure world and I’d love to find ways to bring women into that space.”

“We shot in the middle of winter on Lake Jindabyne; everyone was freezing but it’s a landscape and light that just begs to have a lens on it. Chris the Producer and I are extremely proud of the film and the cast and crew who made this with us; the recognition at the AWFF has put a huge smile on our faces and given me the confidence to keep making movies!”

But for an unexpected moment the night would have been confined to all female presenters, speakers and recipients. Following an AWFF panel a man got up, ever stark in contrast and unwelcome; marched himself up to the podium and indicated he wanted to say something. Taking the mike from the Host after a brief pause and direct no, he proceeded to explain how happy he was that two recent high grossing cinema releases, Nomadland and Promising Young Woman, had been directed by women; Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell respectively.

Met with a mix of bewilderment and shock from the audience, the man, waxing lyrical in his personal validation of how far he thought society has come on gender equality, proceeded to hand the mike back before the Host’s tonally measured ‘thank you’ brought some of the biggest applause of the night. An action that in both its nature and reception reminded us of why the AWFF are so important, everyone left on a high from a night that was well worth the wait.

The Australian Womens Film Festival finalists are now streaming on Femflix

Glen Falkenstein

on FalkenScreen