Part of the new generation of directors that put Australia on the world stage in the 1970s and ’80s, Gillian Armstrong burst onto the scene with My Brilliant Career and has not looked back since, directing films such as Mrs Soffel, High Tide, Last Days of Chez Nous, Little Women, Charlotte Gray, Oscar and Lucinda and Death Defying Acts.
Armstrong is also an accomplished documentary director, having directed the seminal longitudinal series of films starting with Smoke and Lollies, as well as recent docos, Women He’s Undressed and Unfolding Florence.
Gillian, like the rest of us, is self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic, so we asked her what she's been watching at SBS On Demand.
Tell us a little about your films at SBS On Demand
My Brilliant Career
My very first feature film produced by Margaret Fink 40 years ago. It was based on clever, feisty 16-year-old Miles Franklin’s novel written in the Aussie bush in the 1890s. We shot at Camden House, Brindabella and Hay, NSW. We hoped it would just succeed locally, but it was selected for competition in Cannes which helped here with the Aussie cringe factor, and then it became a worldwide hit.
Considered a brave and unusual story as it had a woman lead! We proudly launched the careers of the young Ms Judy Davis, Mr Sam Neill and youngish cinematographer, Donald McAlpine. Oh, and the director!
Watch My Brilliant Career now at SBS On Demand.
Death Defying Acts
A fantastic cast who were such fun to work with. Catherine Zeta Jones, Guy Pearce, Tim Spall and Saoirse Ronan. A Houdini story with a twist. We discovered audiences were conditioned to expect Catherine to be the villain, but I think she is actually a compelling heroine and little Saoirse at age 11 is as perky as ever. Great mother and daughter duo. Take a look.
Watch Death Defying Acts now at SBS On Demand.
What are you currently working on?
Doing viewing lists for everyone who is in lockdown.
How are you coping with self-isolation?
[I suggest we] watch great movies, or stream, read one of those books stacked by your bed for the past six months and Face time or Zoom real people. Especially friends home alone.
I read and loved Rick Morton’s One Hundred Years Of Dirt and have started Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout. (Olive Kitteridge, one of my fave streamers.)
What are your 5 favourite films at SBS On Demand?
Leaning on some amazing women directors for the first four. [SBS Movies: Ms Armstrong broke our rules and selected 6 films plus 4 special mentions, but that’s fine with us!]
Director: Sally Potter
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Lothaire Bluteau
So unique and brave. (Especially in early 1990s.) First seen at its Sundance premiere and I hung around afterwards to find and congratulate the wonderful first-time director, ex choreographer Sally Potter. Breathtaking visuals and breathtaking first look at the forever amazing Tilda Swinton. Later used one of its fab Dutch production design duo, Jan Roelfs for Little Women.
Watch Orlando now at SBS On Demand.
2. The Piano
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Sam Neill
Country: New Zealand
Language: English/Sign Language
If you’ve never seen it, it’s mind-blowingly wonderful. If you have, see it again as it hasn’t dated. It’s even better. This film broke Jane Campion to the world. And no wonder. Beautiful, dark, sexy, so haunting and brave and heartbreaking. I remember thinking how can she cast Holly Hunter, she is so Southern. Well, she was incredible. They are all amazing, Sam Neill and little Anna Paquin. Costumes by the genius Aussie (who also did Last Days of Chez Nous and Oscar and Lucinda) Janet Patterson.
Watch The Piano now at SBS On Demand.
3. Capernaum (Capharnaüm)
Director: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw
One of my faves from last year’s Sydney Film Festival. Takes you into another world and culture completely. Powerful and poignant and disturbing. Wonderful female Lebanese director, Nadine Labaki. It deservedly won the Cannes Jury prize. Great lead kid and the best baby acting you’ve ever seen. I think one key nail-biting scene must be CGI. I hope!
Watch Capernaum now at SBS On Demand.
4. 52 Tuesdays
Director: Sophie Hyde
Cast: Mario Späte, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane
First time I had seen the very talented South Australian director, Sophie Hyde’s work. Her partner is the cinematographer and editor and they are still together! Clever idea, launched young dazzling Tilda Cobham-Hervey. And they really did shoot it over a year. Was it on Tuesdays?
Watch 52 Tuesdays now at SBS On Demand.
5. A Separation
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Payman Maadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat
Another wonderful, powerful Sydney Film Festival favourite, where I felt I travelled into another world and culture, middle-class Iran. And so sad for us all that there is no Festival this year.
Watch A Separation now at SBS On Demand.
6. Two Days, One Night
Director: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
Country: Italy, France, Belgium
Language: French, Arabic, English
A Cremorne Orpheum cinema Saturday matinee favourite. And I hope it will still be there when all this is over too! I would go see Marian Cotillard in anything. She is fantastic in this really gutsy, tough story. Not your baguette and pretty garden French film. The brothers are wonderful social issue filmmakers.
Watch Two Days, One Night now at SBS On Demand.
Launched the adorable Greta Gerwig for me. I think we all believe she is that crazy whimsical character! I am a big fan of Noah Baumbach, the director, and love black and white.
Completely knocked me out when I first saw it. A masterly film, great storytelling. And of course Jack Nicholson at his best. He made bandaged noses sexy.
It really deserved a better release. The lead (Victor Polster) is incredible, it’s a very moving story (just a touch too much dancing but amazed he did it). Heartbreaking and beautifully done.
A Single Man.
Beautifully, stylishly made, and heartfelt. Colin Firth and Nicholas Hoult are perfect. How dare Tom Ford be so talented at everything!