This November, Shorts on Screen spotlights some of Australia's finest female talent.
2 Nov 2011 - 2:53 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:09 PM

Long before the likes of Samantha Lang, Shirley Barrett, Sarah Watt, Jocelyn Moorhouse or Nadia Tass took to filmmaking, and indeed, well before the New Wave trailblazer Gillian Armstrong, female filmmakers were always active in the Australian film industry. Lottie Lyell, muse and collaborator to Raymond Longford, co-directed The Blue Mountains Mystery in 1921, and one of our first international stars, Louise Lovely (a stage name she hated but which she persisted with; she was born Nellie Louise Corbasse) returned to Australia in the mid-1920s to create her own production company, ultimately directing the hit Jewelled Nights (1925). They did it tough, fighting financial hardship and prejudice in a male-centric world, but these pioneers were fundamental in creating an archetypal film industry professional – determined, passionate, artistic, individualistic.

Of the four shorts programmed in SOS' 'Directed by Women' season, audiences will witness the emergence of two new, vibrant talents, as well as the debut efforts of two of our more established female directors. Their works differ in style, content and themes, but they honour the memory of Lyell and Lovely by forging new voices in our nation's film language.

SOS Australian Shorts Directed By Women
SBS ONE, Saturday November 5, Midnight
(All films will be available for catch-up viewing at SBS On Demand for seven days after broadcast)

The Kiss (2000, 15 mins, pictured)
Director: Ashlee Page

Though it begins as a innocently precocious end to a debauched night for two tipsy teens, Ashlee Page's AFI-award winning single-set two-hander shifts gears compellingly, from a stark examination of temptation, indulgence and consequence into a survival story, steeped in core existential conundrums. Fearless performances by Nicole Gulasekharam and Briony Kent (as ill-at-ease friends treading water to stay alive in a remote concrete water tank) highlight this adaptation of Peter Goldsworthy's short story. The result is a complex tale of teen isolation and examination of the concept of mateship. With sexuality, jealousy and, ultimately, one's own mortality to ponder, Page's study of girls on the cusp of womanhood plays as both a vivid exercise in metaphorical storytelling and as the basis for a unique psychological thriller.

When the Wind Changes (2010, 17 mins)
Director: Alethea Jones

Three imbecilic mates running a struggling charter boat company from the shores of a dry river bed have their lives turned upside-down when a supernatural confluence results in two of the three speaking precisely in tandem. They blow a bank loan interview when one indulges in morning sex at exactly the wrong time, yet turn things in their favour when they exploit the curse for game-show gain. Alethea Jones' inventive, bare bones premise asks a lot of her actors, who have to recite long passages of dialogue in perfect unison, and they step up to the task wonderfully well. Jones has nothing profound to offer in her charming, Three Stooges-esque extended skit, but this winner of the Best Comedy award at the 2011 St Kilda Short Film Festival builds to some major laughs and a bittersweet, feel-good climax that pinpoints her as a director with a natural flair for fine comic timing.

(2000, 9 mins)
Director: Cate Shortland

Honoured at MIFF 2000 with the Best Student Film award, this sad examination of a teenage girl drowning out the white-noise in her life with alcohol, random violence and cheap-thrill sex blueprints the themes and aesthetics that director Cate Shortland expanded upon to considerable acclaim with her debut feature, Somersault (2004). Painting the vast suburban landscape as a predatory, eat-or-be-eaten environment, Shortland's Joy (played by a compelling Deborah Clay) adopts a tough-girl posture to survive the shopping mall world she inhabits, yet reveals herself to be a conflicted little girl in a body that is hurrying her to grow up. Bold red text superimposed on the screen at key moments reflects the impact of negative reinforcement – the only communication Joy has with her parents. Her subsequent actions are at first confronting yet become heart-breaking in the context of her home life.

Peel (1986, 8 mins)
Director: Jane Campion

Foreshadowing the eccentricities of borderline familial dysfunctionality that was central to her breakthrough feature Sweetie seven years later, Jane Campion's debut short film Peel (aka An Exercise in Discipline) explores the dynamics of a family road-trip that has reached breaking point. Authority figure #1 (maybe dad, or brother, or uncle) chastises the bratty pre-teen for launching orange peels out of the car window, finally demanding he retrieve every last one; sister/mother/aunt, meanwhile, is growing increasingly impatient as her favourite TV show is about to begin (“You said we'd be home by 5!”). Deceptively simple yet at times disturbingly surreal, Campion's characters (all redheads) and disorienting camerawork capture the dark absurdity of family life with the assured eye of a far more experienced filmmaker. This 1986 work began her love affair with the Cannes Festival jurors, who awarded her that year's Palme d'Or for Best Short Film.