Film & TV

Adelaide Film Festival: Brazen Hussies

This documentary feature tells the story of the incredible women who lead the Women’s Lib movement in Australia in the 60s and 70s

Emerging director Catherine Dwyer worked as Associate Producer, Researcher and Assistant Editor on Mary Dore’s documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014), the story of the US Women’s Liberation Movement. She now gives us the Australian perspective on the Women’s Lib Movement, that seminal decade beginning around 1965 and culminating in 1975’s International Women’s Year.

Drawing on some incredible, and often intimate, archival footage, Dwyer intersperses these clips with interviews with such feminist luminaries as Anne Summers, Pat O’Shane, Elizabeth Reid, and Eva Cox. We are shown the young, passionate, woman, alongside the older, possibly more measured, but no less angry, woman. Editor Rosie Jones has done a brilliant job with the material, shaping an engaging and fast-paced feature. What shines through all the interviews is the gratitude each of these people has for the movement that raised their consciousness, gave them basic rights, and freed them from suffocating social expectations.

But this is no hagiography. Dwyer does not back away from an exploration of the schisms within the movement (many of which persist today): queer women; aboriginal women; working class women. Women’s Lib was seen then, and to some extent still is, as a socio-political vehicle for white, straight, middle-class, women. Today’s complaints about trans-exclusivity stand testament to these long-standing divisions.

Despite these issues, the strength of ground-swell women’s movements, and the female collaborative way of working, asserts itself.

Brazen Hussies is a fascinating look at an important era in Australian social history. Here are the early days of Bob Hawkes ascendancy, the hope of the Whitlam era, and the constitutional crisis of 1975. Here too are the equal pay amendments, the early days of women’s shelters and rape crisis centres, and the beginnings of single parent income support. So much that we take for granted was fought for long and hard, by women chaining themselves to various edificies, and being beaten up by police and the public. And any of these rights can be taken away again.

In the words of actor/director Margot Nash “history has to be retold over and over because people forget.”

Dwyer’s film is an important and masterful contribution to our collective memories.

Brazen Hussies is currently screening as part of the Adelaide Film Festival. It will also begin a theatrical run on November 5th.

To book tickets, click here.

Photo by Anne Roberts, courtesy Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and SEARCH Foundation


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