Wednesday 30 October
Documentary filmmaker, writer and film valuer Jeni Thornley’s (1948–) poetic, often essayistic documentaries are landmarks in Australian independent and feminist cinema, and provide an extraordinary record of society, politics, activism, changing perspectives and modes of filmmaking over a 50-year period, as in her hybrid documentary, To the Other Shore (1998), a diary film about motherhood. Thornley’s filmmaking is often collagist in form and nature. For example, the key film she co-directed with Megan McMurchy, Margot Nash and Margot Oliver, For Love or Money: A History of Women and Work in Australia (1983), brings together a vast arsenal of historical images and sounds to construct a women’s history against the grain of the nation’s archive. Thornley also probes her own film work – and that of others – to create new connections, suggest new absences and forge new histories. Thornley’s rising sense of awareness reframes previous artefacts within new contexts, communicating a restlessness that highlights the evolving and contested nature and power of the archive as well as the stories it can tell. For instance, in Island Home Country (2008) she uses a wide variety of sources to explore her own white heritage lived on the stolen Aboriginal lands of Tasmania: “It’s as if we grew up behind a hedge, keeping history out.” This program brings together several of Thornley’s key works and reflects a deeply thoughtful and often painstaking process of exploring the ethics of image making, place and identity, as well as making work on stolen land. It includes her first solo work as a filmmaker, the multigenerational Maidens (1978), a landmark in feminist filmmaking, Island Home Country, and her beautiful, farewell “poem”, Memory Film: A Filmmaker’s Diary (2023).
7:00pm MEMORY FILM: A FILMMAKER’S DIARY
Jeni Thornley (2023) 85 mins – Unclassified 15+
Thornley’s latest – which had its world premiere at the 2023 edition of the Melbourne International Film Festival – is a hypnotic diary film composed solely of the filmmaker’s silent Super 8 archive shot between 1974 and 2003, featuring an immersive score composed by Egyptian-Australian oud maestro, Joseph Tawadros. Exploring concerns as wide-ranging as radical feminism, gender fluidity, Aboriginal land rights and sovereignty, psychotherapy and Eastern spirituality, this intimate summary work is inspired by the jisei, a form of Japanese poetry written as a “farewell poem to life”, often considering the future death of the author and offered as a gift for one’s family and society.
8:45pm ISLAND HOME COUNTRY
Jeni Thornley (2008) 52 mins – Unclassified 15+
Thornley’s deeply personal and unsettling essay film is a profound meditation on what it means to live on stolen Aboriginal lands. Drawing together personal reflections on her Tasmanian upbringing, historical footage, photographs and newly shot material, Thornley’s thought-provoking documentary – made in consultation with Aboriginal community members and her own family – moves across time to explore the ongoing impact and legacy of colonisation.
Preceded by Film for Discussion Martha Ansara (1973) 24 mins – Unclassified 15+. A hybrid documentary featuring Thornley as lead actress and made by the Sydney Women’s Film Group that questions the social roles assigned to women. And Maidens Jeni Thornley (1978) 28 mins – Unclassified 15+. An essayistic exploration of the cycles of decay and growth in four generations of Thornley’s maternal family that has become a landmark in Australian feminist cinema.
16mm prints of Film for Discussion and Maidens courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
Program to be introduced by the filmmaker.