This piece is in response to a piece published on FilmInk that listed the 20 Most Powerful People in Australian Film
As an Australian I’ve long believed that my home country’s industry was a bit more progressive than America’s. For instance, our homegrown annual awards formerly known as the Australian Film Institute Awards recognised their first female director winner way back in 1979 with Gillian Armstrong for the classic My Brilliant Career. A further seven have won in the years since from 28 nominations that includes names like Jane Campion, Cate Shortland, Nadia Tass, Jocelyn Moorhouse and the late Sarah Watt. While I didn’t tally the exact figures, there is a similar representation in screenwriting categories, too.
And yet it’s still very much an issue. Funding and development isn’t just a female problem, of course, but it’s hard not to think the industry doesn’t encourage male filmmakers more strongly. This list isn’t about sticking it to the (very literal) man or about hard to gauge notions of power. It’s simply about acknowledging the achievements of these 25 women who have a proven history of getting projects off the ground, made and seen by audiences. It’s about giving younger women who want to work in the industry a set of successful role models. It’s about showing it is possible to be a woman in the industry and have creative freedom.
Imogen Banks (producer, writer)
Imogen Banks only has four series to her credit, but they are Dangerous, Tangle, Offspring, and Puberty Blues. Those are four of the most acclaimed and successful of the last decade. She is very clearly a name to watch having also written episodes of the latter three, as well as the acclaimed Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo.
Cate Blanchett (actor)
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish Cate Blanchett would make a film back home again – her last was Little Fish in 2005 for which she won an AFI Award (an “Australian Oscar” if you will) – and, hey, maybe there’s an adaptation or two to be made from her years behind the Sydney Theatre Company like The Maids, which starred Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and The Great Gatsby’s Elizabeth Debicki. Still, she routinely flies the banner for Australia, returning frequently to present at local award shows and to help open events. Her Oscar (for Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator) is able to be seen at the free permanent “Screen Worlds” exhibit at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.
Rosemary Blight (producer)
The Sapphires wasn’t quite the arthouse sensation that Harvey Weinstein would have hoped for, but its local success is undeniable. Rosemary Blight heads Goalpost Pictures, the primary producers behind The Sapphires as well as Clubland, and she was also involved in Teesh & Trude, Panic and Rock Island and the Lockie Leonard television adaptation. Coming up she has Matthew Saville’s Felony, perhaps my most anticipated Aussie film on the schedule following his modern classic Noise.
Mimi Butler (producer)
With popular and acclaimed series and TV movies Blue Water High, Rush, Howzat!: Kerry Packer’s War and Paper Giants: Magazine Wars I’d say Mimi Butler is on a role in bringing successful projects to the screen and winning big audiences.
Jane Campion (director, writer, producer)
An international career that hops between Australia (she brought Bright Star to local shores as a co-production with many locals on board), New Zealand (recent miniseries Top of the Lake was originally an Australian production until ABC backed out due to creative differences), the USA, and the UK. Apart from her high-profile works she was also a part of acclaimed drama Soft Fruit, worked on the Aurora screenwriting committee that helped bring Cate Shortland’s Somersault to the screen, and helped push Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty to Cannes and beyond.
Michelle Carey (festival director)
As the artistic director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, Michelle Carey is responsible for the biggest and the oldest film festival in Australia. Pretty impressive, no? Also impressive is that MIFF, now over 60 years old and currently on right as I type, has a film development fund for local features, also features a female CEO and board chairperson and a staff roster with many other female positions including operations, programming, marketing, publicity, and industry.
Jan Chapman (producer)
Jan Chapman has long been associated with Jane Campion on The Piano and Bright Star, and Cate Shortland with Somersault and The Silence. She has also helped produce Lantana (arguably the most acclaimed Australian film of the 2000s), Suburban Mayhem and Griff the Invisible (getting Ryan Kwanten back from True Blood to star). Coming up she has The Babadook, which is (ding ding ding) directed by a woman, Jennifer Kent.
Penny Chapman (producer)
Penny Chapman is not only associated with groundbreaking ’90s crime series Blue Murder and Police Rescue, but has also worked on The Slap (which sold big internationally, I believe), The Straits and My Place.
Kirsty Fisher (writer)
Kirsty Fisher has written for Dance Academy, H20: Just Add Water, House Husbands, Winners and Losers and Laid, for which she is also a producer. An impressive roster of titles that have achieved big success.
Emma Freeman (director)
One of the most acclaimed and respected directors, Emma Freeman has steered clear of feature films, but made a name for herself on series The Secret Life of Us, Puberty Blues, Tangle, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Rush, Love My Way and Hawke, for which she won an AFI Award.
Claire Henderson (producer)
As executive producer on The Saddle Club, Claire Henderson helped produce a show that sold big time (TV and DVD) to basically any continent that has horses. So that’d be… all of them? At Australia’s ABC network she’s also been responsible for Blue Water High, Round the Twist and The Ferals at one time or another. She knows what young audiences want to watch it would seem.
Anita Jacoby (producer)
Anita Jacoby surely incited jealousy from the big networks having worked on several of ABC’s high-rating Wednesday night line-up including the Gruen franchise and Hungry Beast. Has predominantly worked for Andrew Denton’s former company, I believe, on projects like Can of Worms, God On My Side and one of the world’s first crowd-funded films, The Tunnel.
Claudia Karvan (actor, producer, writer)
Predominantly known as an actress – she’s my personal favourite local TV actor and when I met her I was ecstatic – on such seminal programs as The Secret Life of Us and Love My Way. Claudia Karvan also spearheaded the latter as a writer and producer as well as Spirited on which she also wrote and produced. A highly respected actor, she’s currently appearing in Puberty Blues and The Time of Our Lives.
Asher Keddie (actor)
A fellow film critic friend has said that he reckons Asher Keddie is the only Australian TV actor who could get people to go and see a local film purely on their selling power. Given the giant success of Offspring and Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo it’s hard not to agree. She’s also been on Love My Way, Rush, Hawke, Curtin and even smuggled out a role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Robyn Kershaw (producer)
Originally a casting director on Children of the Revolution and Looking for Alibrandi, producer Robyn Kershaw’s work as producer straddles film and television. She has been involved with Kath & Kim and The Shark Net on TV and Bran Nue Dae, Looking for Alibrandi (as a producer alongside casting), and Save Your Legs! on the big screen.
Nicole Kidman (actor)
Much like Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman is seen predominantly as an American star now, but lest we forget she does show support for the industry and made Australia even in the face of that screenplay to prove it, making an international hit in the process (just not in America). I would love to see her use her production house, Blossom Films, which produced Rabbit Hole, maybe make a film to two in Australia. Maybe if she reads this (nudge wink, you’re a goddess) she might she inspired. She returns with The Railway Man this year, an Australian-UK co-production, which has been given a plum spot on the release schedule.
Deborah Mailman (actor)
Australian acting royalty, and perhaps the most popular and respected indigenous actor of all time. Seems to win award nominations for everything she does – The Secret Life of Us (who didn’t fall in love with her as Kelly Lewis on that groundbreaking series?) Radiance, Bran Nue Dae, The Sapphires, Offspring, Mabo, Mental and so on – and with a staunch desire to tell indigenous tales on screen like Rabbit-Proof Fence, Redfern Now, and Black Chicks Talking. She’s a force in the industry without a doubt. I’d be curious to find out if she has ever been offered the solo lead in a series. I think she’s popular enough to make it a hit, but I also like having her in films so maybe not.
Natalie Miller (distributor, exhibitor)
A fixture of the Melbourne cinema scene, Natalie Miller is the originator and leader of Sharmill Films (a company that most recently released Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing) and was first the first independent female distributor in Australia. She is also the co-founder of Cinema Nova in Carlton, arguably the premiere destination for exclusive arthouse releases in the state. For what it’s worth, the Cinema Nova are the only cinema to play Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring.
Cherie Nowlan (director)
After breaking out with the Brenda Blethyn-starring Clubland (aka Introducing the Dwights in America), Cherie Nowlan moved predominantly into TV in Australia and then America. All Saints, Packed to the Rafters, Dance Academy, and Underbelly are the biggies back home, and then Gossip Girl, 90210, and new 2013 series Mistresses in Hollywood. Now there’s a name that many wouldn’t know about and yet should have a photo up in filmmaking school around the country. What Aussie director wouldn’t want those gigs? If they say “no” then they’re probably in it for the wrong reasons.
Jacqueline Perske (producer, writer)
Having developed a strong working relationship with previously mentioned Claudia Karvan, Jacqueline Perske has worked on Love My Way and Spirited as a writer and producer, The Secret Life of Us as a writer, and even received AFI, IF, and Film Critics Circle nominations for her screenplay to Little Fish, which starred Cate Blanchett.
Daina Reid (director, actor)
This lady right here seems to have a monopoly on all the really big TV series, movies and miniseries, doesn’t she? The Secret Life of Us, MDA, All Saints, Satisfaction, Very Small Business, City Homicide, Bed of Roses, both Paper Giants films, Offspring, Rush, Howzat!: Kerry Packer’s War, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and upcoming Nowhere Boys. Not to mention feature film I Love You Too, and a very accomplished career as a comedian and actress on Full Frontal, Jimoin, The Micallef Program, Kath & Kim and Welcher and Welcher. Yeah, I’d say Daina Reid’s going pretty darn well and shouldn’t be in any danger of losing out on jobs any time soon.
Julie Ryan (producer)
While Julie Ryan’s credits on Red Dog and 100 Bloody Acres (on screens and VOD in America now) are keeping her going at the moment, what I find most impressive is her roster of Rolf de Heer films. Having worked as producer on most of his titles since The Old Man Who Read Love Stories in 2001 (arguably his hardest production) and an ability to pluck funds out of thin air for Dr Plonk and Ten Canoes shows determination and skill. I’d want her on my team. Plus, she has Tracks premiering at the upcoming Venice Film Festival with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver (Girls).
Liz Watts (producer)
She could argue her position on any list such as based on one film: Animal Kingdom. She steered that film to instant Aussie classic status, which spun into an unlikely but well-deserved Oscar nomination for star Jacki Weaver. Other than that, she has TV series Laid, and other features Lore, The Hunter, Walking on Water, The Home Song Stories and David Michod’s Animal Kingdom follow-up, The Rover starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. Deserves big thumbs up for getting Michod to stay in Australia for his sophomore effort as well as making films that aren’t always in the English language. She’s thinking global.
Joanna Werner (producer)
As a producer on H2O: Just Add Water and Dance Academy (on which she’s also a writer and co-creator), Joanna Werner has been involved in two programs that have found sales and cult followings in America, which is money. There was talk of a H2O movie, but I haven’t heard anything about that in quite some time, sadly.
Kate Woods (director)
See also Cherie Nowlan. After winning an AFI Award for directing Looking for Alibrandi one could mistake Woods for having fallen out of the industry. She actually went into television, directing the acclaimed Changi miniseries in 2001 and moving to America to director episodes of Without a Trace, Law & Order: SVU and Private Practice. Lately she’s working more than ever on NCIS: Los Angeles, House, Bones, Castle, Hawaii Five-O, Suits and was most recently given the big honour of directing an NBC pilot (Aussie-made, US-set Camp with another big Aussie female name, Rachel Griffiths).
So, there you go. 25 names of Australian women in the film and television business that deserve not just credit for their achievements, but actual prominent recognition. We’ll never get anywhere if those who are out there making the stuff we watch aren’t celebrated and cheered on. Not in a patronising “you go, girl!” kind of way, but in a professional, respectful way. Hopefully sooner rather than later this list can be twice as long and eventually not even be necessary.
Glenn Dunks is a writer and blogger from Australia, currently based in New York. He is a big supporter of Australian cinema having worked as Film Editor for Onya Magazine and contributed to World Film Locations: Melbourne from Intellect Books. He has written for The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Junkee, Quickflix and The Film Experience and appeared on Joy 94.9FM.