Saturday, June 23, 2007

Overlocked & Underpaid

I lived in Western Australia for several years - it's where i had my son Samuel and lived with his dad until i returned to NZ at the end of the 1990s. We had a home birth in White Gum Valley with friends from NZ and Australia.

I started filmmaking after studying computer programming (1986)! and realised that although I loved learning about computers and their potential, programming was not my forte, and that the creative bug was more in tune with my personality. I started working on other people's films, drama and documentary and started to learn the craft - on set. There was also an active women's community video group that I became involved in.

The Film & Television Institute was a fantastic local resource centre for independent filmmakers and documentary was a major focus. It was the hub of filmmaking in W.A. and still is. It provided courses on sound, lighting, directing and producing and would often bring filmmakers across from the East (Swinburne and AFTRS). Perth is a long way from everywhere and Fremantle where the FTI is, was really the artistic and creative centre.

Overlocked & Underpaid was my first prime time documentary. It came about through the FTI network and initially was going to be directed by feminist filmmaker, Martha Ansara. I was keen to work with her - but she decided to let it go and so I ended up directing it. It was a collaboration between the Clothing Trade Workers Union who funded local Mexican folkloric singer, Rita Menendez to travel around clothing factories doing lunch time concerts. At the same time we would interview women about their lives and film their working conditions. The guise of a concert allowed us into factories where union delegates had not been for years, so it worked perfectly. Migrant women were being exploited, some were starting their own businesses after years of working for others, and some conditions were so oppressive that women even had to ask permission to go to the toilet and the managers would hand out toilet paper. Demeaning and difficult for women whose gender roles were very differnet to western causalness. The film was part of a series for SBS-TV on different jobs and the collaboration betwen the Australian Council, the CTWU and SBS-TV was, at the time a first.

Rita was an amazing woman - she was a political exile from Mexico, having been involved in anti-fascist movements and the renaiisance of the Mexican Indian culture which her family was linked to. Another kiwi was on the film, Janis Tidmarsh (originally from Matamata) and in fact the whole crew were women - it was part of the idea that the migrant women would be more comfortable speaking to an all-women crew and it was true. Camerawomen Mandy and Jane, production manager, Claire Calzoni, sound recordist, Catherine Montigny. Janis was a poet and artist and she met Rita in the artistic community in Darwin where Rita was doing a concert and Janis travelled down to work with us on the film. We became close friends and continued to see each other over the years. She became an award winning sculptor and lived in Darwin until she was tragically killed in an accident in the Kimberleys in 2004. Rita continues to sing with her band in Western Australia and has been involved in many collaborative projects.

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