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16th of July 2018

Entertainment



About a girl

In 2014, Melbourne music photographer Michelle Grace Hunder had just finished a series documenting Australian hip-hop artists when a particularly lamentable edition of Triple J's Hottest 100 reignited the perennial conversation about female under-representation in Australian music.

She asked her video director friend Sangiorgi Dalimore to conduct short interviews as she shot portraits of 10 women. "I was like, 'No, we need 30'," the filmmaker says with a laugh. As we speak, she's still agonising about whether she can splice two more into an already rammed final cut.

The film evolved so subtly that "I can't even remember the first women we interviewed," she says. "The first big name we got was Julia Stone. That was a turning point because then others could see we were serious and started coming on board."

The premise they offered was simple: "Talk about your experience of being a woman in the music industry". There was no agenda, no anticipation of what they might find, just a determination "to ask and listen to each woman’s individual experience."

Nkechi Anele.

Nkechi Anele.

Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

"Michelle was always about the importance of diversity; visually and in the storytelling," the director says. "She's so much more on-the-money with who's up-and-coming. When we interviewed Vera Blue she was really just at the start of where she is right now.

"I really wanted established artists. I wanted Missy Higgins. Mama Kin is an old friend of mine. But those two interviews I had to wait for a year-and-a-half to get. I just kept asking and asking." She raps her knuckles on the table. "I knew they were gonna be important."

What's important, in the end, is no one artist dominates the film — although Kate Ceberano had a preview audience up and hollering at the Thornbury Picture House last month. Grace Hunder reflects that it's the commonality in each artist's experience that reveals the film's singular narrative. For Sangiorgi Dalimore, its thematic heart is something that took her by surprise in the throes of creation.

"I don't think I emotionally invested in it for the first two years until I realised what these people were saying and how much it applied to me," she says. "Every time someone would break down … I would see my own story and start to have this flash of empathy, 'Wow. Women are so hard on themselves'. Part of why this film took me so long is that I had to face a little bit of that myself."

Sampa the Great (top) is among the many female musicians who appear in Her Sound, Her Story.

Sampa the Great (top) is among the many female musicians who appear in Her Sound, Her Story.

Photo: Supplied

Sangiorgi Dalimore's mum, by the way, is Maria Sangiorgi, a belly dancer and dance therapist who founded the Life Models Society in 1989. Her dad, Sonny Dalimore, is "a painter and a crazy inventor of everything". It was the artist's life they gave her, she reckons, that made her so tough.

"It meant I was performing in the Brunswick Street Parade and smacking all of these artists and poets into a divvy van aged seven dressed as a clown," she says. "I was the kid in the corner, yelling at adults: 'I'm an artist!' Directing plays when I was 19, 20; directing actors twice my age…

"Unconsciously I learnt to act like a bit of a man in order to feel that sense of acceptance. In turn I neglected to learn … that my strongest alliance was in forming a close circle of women around me. It’s caused a great deal of damage, but the process of making the film helped unpack some of it."

In the climate of reckoning sparked by the #metoo movement, Her Sound, Her Story only hints at the unpacking that's yet to come. Here in Australia, the gathering weight of #menomore suggests a darker narrative that might rock the Australian music industry any day now. But that's not the story Sangiorgi Dalimore wanted to tell.

"I could have," she says. "There are so many ways this film could have been made but in the time that we're in right now, the amount of angry stories that are coming out, stories that vilify men, all of those things … I was very aware that I just wanted this to be a women's narrative; telling their stories. I didn't want this to be the 'reveal' film, because then you'd miss this beautiful tier of storytelling and diversity and it also would mean that I'd miss seeing women in the cinema watching it and seeing themselves in it, and what that does to them. For me that’s the biggest gift."

Her Sound, Her Story is on exclusive release at Cinema Nova, Carlton, from Thursday, July 12. Opening night includes a post-screening Q&A with Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore, Michelle Grace Hunder, Missy Higgins and Dallas Frasca.

Sydney premiere: Events Cinema, George St, Wednesday, July 11.

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