Wednesday 8 March 2017
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY DIRECTOR INTERVIEW: BELINDA MASON
International Women’s Day (IWD) is all about celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. In solidarity with this year’s IWD campaign theme to #BeBoldForChange and to show our support for female triumphs, we decided to explore the work of Australian director Belinda Mason, who will be showcasing her new film Constance on the Edge as part of HRAFF’s 2017 10th anniversary festival.
How did you get into filmmaking? Have you always been creative?
I grew up in a family of filmmakers and the moment I picked up a camera as a teenager I was hooked, but I always dreamed of being a journalist. Documentary filmmaking fulfils both passions and is thrilling on so many levels: we get to closely share people’s journeys, often at pivotal moments in their lives. This is both a privilege and a responsibility. We also get to play: to share stories in a creative way.
What kind of films do you usually like to make? How do you decide what subject matter/stories to focus on?
I’m always drawn to stories about strong women challenging the status quo. Constance fits the bill. She and the women around her are inspiring role models. Constance is a survivor, willing to fight for what she believes in, and in my eyes, she represents the resilient spirit that defines us as Aussies.
Seeing Constance’s struggle and suffering was a shock. She asked me to collaborate with her to share her experience about what it takes to belong in a new land far from home. As we filmed what emerged was that the way we treat refugees can promote or impede their ability to contribute successfully over the long term.
Do you have a particular overall objective for your films?
I hope my films take people into worlds that they haven’t been to before, hopefully they’re inspired to think about things differently, and, in a perfect world, to take action.
How important do you believe it is to represent women through film, and do you have any opinions about how this should be done?
It’s important for us to create spaces and opportunities for women to tell their own stories. We are very under-represented in this industry. I love watching films made by women. All roles in filmmaking need more women working. Producer, Marguerite Grey, and I, chose an all women crew on Constance. It felt right having a female team around Constance and the other subjects, particularly as we were talking about sensitive subjects like rape and suicide. Brilliant cinematographer Jo Parker shot most of the film. Kathryn Millis did some gorgeous filming at the beginning, and Denise Haslem was our editor who pulled it all together so beautifully.
How did you meet Constance?
I met Constance and her family when I directed I’ll Call Australia Home in 2006-07, a documentary about their first year in Wagga Wagga, regional Australia, after a decade of living in a refugee camp in Kenya.
This new film, Constance on the Edge, picks up the story after the honeymoon period is over. A few years after the first film was completed Constance called me to say life in Australia wasn’t working out for her. Her trauma had re-emerged, she was dealing with family issues, and had even been arrested. This film is about what it takes to forge a new life far from home. Constance says, ‘In the warzone I fought for survival; in the refugee camp I fought for human rights; and here in Australia, I’m fighting for belonging.’
How did her story resonate with you? Why did you choose to share her journey?
Yes, I hope it will help audiences understand the journey of refugees, be inspired by their lives and openly welcome them. Following one family personalises the refugee experience and gives the audience a way in. Often what we see in the media is refugees stripped of their identity and that makes it hard to connect with their world. Hopefully, Constance on the Edge humanises the refugee experience.
Constance and the women around her are courageous, resilient survivors. They have so much to offer – global perspectives, entrepreneurial skills, and they’re strengthening their communities. I hope they also remind us of the contribution refugees have been making in Australia, over decades, and continue to make if given the opportunity to do so. Like Vicky, Constance’s daughter, who, with support and respect, and enormous commitment from her – she studies every morning from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. – and makes it into university, after spending most of her childhood in refugee camp without education. Extraordinary young women like Vicky are our future.
Purchase tickets for Constance on the Edge when the full program is released on Tuesday 4th April.