One of Australia’s most successful directors, Gillian Armstrong (1950–) has built a significant profile as a filmmaker in her home country, in addition to maintaining a career internationally.
Entering the industry in the 1970s, Armstrong was more than just an important part of the Australian cinema revival – with My Brilliant Career in 1979 she was the first woman to direct a 35mm feature film in Australia for over four decades, going on to contribute significantly to the national landscape with some of its most impressive, brilliantly modern films. Spread across the realms of commercial and independent cinema, fiction and documentary, Armstrong’s films exercise a consistently sensitive sympathy with women and issues that affect them. It is this emotional and feminist trajectory, continued throughout her career, that reflects the importance of her own role as a filmmaker. However, with work that spans a number of genres, it is not only Armstrong’s thematic insight that should be celebrated but also her outstanding aesthetic skills as a director – she has a sharp sense of story, design, acting, music and rhythm. As Felicity Collins writes, her work “participates fully in the aesthetic force-field of Australian naturalism and arthouse realism”.
This season of mostly celluloid prints endeavours to pay tribute to the extraordinary breadth and longevity of Armstrong’s career, and includes early shorts made while still a student, famous and underseen features, and a selection of documentaries.
NOTE: Owing to the Victorian Government’s circuit-breaker COVID restrictions, next week’s Wednesday 2 June screening will be postponed. This affects My Brilliant Career (1979) and the Certain Women program (1973–1980), part of the season Wildflowers: Dancing, Desire and Freedom in the Films of Gillian Armstrong.
Members with current mini memberships will have their memberships extended by one week, and we’re currently working through our options to reschedule the screening. We’ll know more once the restrictions end, and will do our best to inform members as soon as possible. Until then, stay safe.
7:00pm MY BRILLIANT CAREER
Gillian Armstrong (1979) 100 mins – G
Based on Miles Franklin’s semi-autobiographical 1901 novel, Armstrong’s first feature is a milestone in Australian feminist cinema. A virtual unknown at the time, Judy Davis won a BAFTA Award for her portrayal of a headstrong, free-spirited girl who refuses to follow convention and dreams of a better life amongst the farmlands of sun-baked rural Australia. Also features Sam Neill and Wendy Hughes.
A cinema of resistance: My Brilliant Career by Gabrielle O’Brien
The Roof Needs Mowing
Gillian Armstrong (1971) 8 mins – G
Armstrong’s breakthrough student film is a whimsical, surreal vision of everyday life and suburban boredom.
Both films courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
9:00pm CERTAIN WOMEN: THREE FILMS BY GILLIAN ARMSTRONG
Gillian Armstrong (1973-1980) 107 mins – Unclassified 15 +
A program of three key early Armstrong documentaries and short fictions.
The Singer and the Dancer (1977) is Armstrong’s first long-form narrative and stars Ruth Cracknell as a lonely older woman estranged from her daughter, finally able to find communion through a chance encounter in the countryside. In her student film One Hundred a Day (1973), a young labourer in the 1930s finds herself in a practical quandary after discovering she is pregnant. 14’s Good 18’s Better (1980) is a sequel to Smokes & Lollies, a landmark documentary about three young girls from Adelaide. Armstrong revisits them four years later as they reach the cusp of adulthood.
Prints of all three films courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better by Ben Kooyman.
NOTE: With the extension of Victoria’s circuit-breaker coronavirus restrictions, we will unfortunately be postponing Wednesday 9 June’s screening of High Tide (1987) and Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst (2006) from our Gillian Armstrong season.
7:00pm HIGH TIDE
Gillian Armstrong (1987) 101 mins – M
Eight years after the trailblazing My Brilliant Career, Armstrong and Judy Davis collaborated once more on this emotionally rich multi-generational drama. Davis plays a back-up singer who, when left stranded in a seaside village on the NSW coast, re-encounters the daughter she abandoned years earlier. Skirting clear of any hint of cheap sentimentality, care of Laura Jones’ (An Angel at My Table) penetrating script, this raw and affective film evocatively expresses the painful reality of fractured relationships. Davis and co-star Jan Adele won AFI Awards.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia. Rights courtesy of Anthony I. Ginnane © 1987 SJL Productions Pty Ltd.
Gillian Armstrong’s High Tide – A reworking of the Maternal Melodrama by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster.
8:50pm UNFOLDING FLORENCE: THE MANY LIVES OF FLORENCE BROADHURST
Gillian Armstrong (2006) 82 mins – PG
Armstrong’s playful documentary-drama about the larger-than-life and truly mercurial Sydney-based artist, raconteur, socialite and – most famously – wallpaper designer Florence Broadhurst. Along with writer Katherine Thomson, Armstrong fashions a visually flamboyant portrait of an impossible to pin down personality, as well as an account of her lurid life and unsolved violent death.
Unfolding Florence – The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst by Jytte Holmqvist.
Gillian Armstrong (1973) 27 mins – G
This contemporary work, based on a story by Hal Porter, is the last of the three films Armstrong made at AFTS, which kickstarted her career.
Courtesy of AFTRS.
Gillian Armstrong (1982) 105 mins – PG
Jo Kennedy’s debut role as an energetic singer who spends her days working behind a bar, entertaining dreams of becoming a big star. Fully embracing the category of Australian rock musicals inspired by the fantasies of classical Hollywood – with a kitschy punk twist – Armstrong’s sophomore feature remains one of her most undervalued films. Armstrong embraces the spectacle of the genre, with dazzling choreography, location cinematography around Sydney Harbour, and a soundtrack by The Swingers and Tim Finn of Split Enz.
Courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
Starstruck by Ben Kooyman
8:55pm LITTLE WOMEN
Gillian Armstrong (1994) 115 mins – G
Armstrong’s third American feature is the most successful filmic adaptation of the classic 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott. With meticulous direction and magnetic performances from the ensemble cast including Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, and Winona Ryder as Jo, the film is a moving interpretation of a timeless classic; its subtle charms, intelligence and warmth remaining true to the story’s heart.
Creating light, sharing concern: Little Women by Kristi McKim
Gillian Armstrong (1973) 17 mins – Unclassified 15+
Armstrong’s observational short follows the mundane life of a man who gets lost in the rush of Sydney’s Saturday nightlife.
Prints of both films courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.