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Entries in Australian Film (2)



Like the trailblazing feminist pornographer Candida Royalle before her, Anna Brownfield has determinedly chosen the path less travelled to fulfil her artistic vision. The Melbourne-based filmmaker has garnered international acclaim for her works The Money Shot (2007), The Band (2009) and Making it Handmade! (2010), cinema that challenges the mainstream definition of pornography. Her latest feature, The Bedroom, captures key moments in the development of Australian sexual culture across 50 years, all set within the walls of the particularly action-packed title space. Ahead of its US premiere at the CineKink 2017 Film Festival, Anna Brownfield spoke frankly with SCREEN-SPACE about her unique status in the Australian film sector and flying the flag for ethical erotica…

Pictured, above: Anna Brownfield, left, with The Bedroom actress Aeryn Walker (c) Megan Spencer 2014

SCREEN-SPACE: In general terms, how would you rate the depiction of sexuality on Australian cinema screens?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: I think Australians have a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality on screen.  However, what we see on Australian screens ebbs and flows depending upon our political climate. A lot has changed since the introduction of the R rating in the 1970s and the flourish of sexploitation cinema.  One of my favourite is Fantasm directed by Richard Franklin under the pseudonym Richard Bruce, especially the scene where a housewife takes revenge on a thief, on the kitchen table using household items. These films reflected the changing attitudes to sexuality of the time but were made predominately from a male perspective. Now, I think our mainstream film industry in Australia is quite conservative and likes to play it safe when it comes to funding films.  While we have a history of sexploitation cinema, I can’t see the funding bodies supporting this type of film today.

SCREEN-SPACE: Is there a filmmaking subculture that strives to bridge the gap between conventional narratives and graphic sexuality? Is it possible that such a movement could some day flourish?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: When I started making explicit films, there were quite a few art house films being distributed that had storylines and explicit sex; Basie Moi, Nine Songs, Intimacy, Romance, Sex and Lucia to name a few. But this is nothing new, have a look at lots of films made in the 70s! The directors of those films were saying we see actors really crying on screen, so why not see them have real sex.  For me, it was about making films that focused on women’s sexual desires and fantasies, objectifying the male body and bring a female gaze to the genre. That coupled with storylines, feminism, high production values and being creative with the visual language to create something sensual and erotic but also explicit. (Pictured, above; Lily Rei and Rob Paulson in 'The 1960s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite spanning 50 years, is there a 'constant' that your depictions of sexuality in The Bedroom capture? The aesthetics change greatly, but what stays the same?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: Honest, authentic depictions of sex and sexuality, produced in an ethical manner that give agency to performers and promote safe sex.

SCREEN-SPACE: Where do your films in general, and The Bedroom in particular, sit within the broad definition of 'pornography'? Few films employ both graphic imagery and historical context such as The Bedroom.

ANNA BROWNFIELD: When I began, I called my films feminist erotica, because when I used the word porn, people made assumptions about the types of film I made regarding aesthetics and sexual stereotypes.  I frequently use the word explicit and, depending where I am, will use the word pornography. When I made my first explicit feature, The Band, my producer was worried that it wasn’t explicit enough to be called porn but too explicit to be arthouse.  In the end, it was distributed by both sectors of the industry. The Bedroom screened at the Porny Days film festival in Zurich, Switzerland.  I couldn’t attend but one of my friends said there was a lot of discussion after the screening, about if this was in fact a porn film or not.  One of the things I endeavour to do is to push the genre.
As a society, we have come to accept a formulaic depiction of explicit content, or in a term coined so beautifully by Candida Royalle as “porn by numbers”.  Porn and its consumption is still surrounded by so much taboo, I think we often don’t question what we see on screen and I wanted to provide an ethical alternative to that. (Pictured, above: Chloe B in 'The 1970s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: In terms of the production, were the actors told where the scenes had to go and what specifics you were looking for? Or did you let them dictate the action?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: The dialogue in each scene was scripted. In the 1980s sequence, (actor) Christian Vega rewrote a lot of the dialogue as it was important to him that he honour and be true to his community, which I was more than happy for him to do. Regarding the explicit scenes, the performers would discuss it together beforehand and negotiate what they would and wouldn’t do.  On set, I would sit down with them and do a basic blocking of what they wanted to do and how they would move around the space.  As it was a historical piece, I also discussed with the performers about making sure the sex depicted represented the times and who that character was and were they would be in their sexual journey. (Pictured, above: co-stars Emerald and Bandit in 'The 2010s' from The Bedroom)

SCREEN-SPACE: It's been over a two decades since your first short, Playing; over a decade since  The Money Shot closed MUFF and became the toast of the festival. How would you describe your journey, working in your chosen form of filmmaking/storytelling?

ANNA BROWNFIELD: At times it has been hard, as I have chosen to work outside of the mainstream film industry, but continue to make other films without explicit content.  My explicit films tend to do better overseas, particularly in Europe, than they do here in my home country. I often look back and think, how did I manage to make that? I work with little to no budget, so it's lots of hours unpaid and doing other jobs to make ends meet.  However, working with very small budgets, makes me inventive and resourceful and provides me with complete creative freedom. I have times where I question what and why I do what I do, but at the same time I love it and it provides me with an outlet for self-expression. That coupled with the faith that people will like what I do and enjoy it if not now, in the future.

THE BEDROOM screens at Cinekink 2017 in New York on March 17; it is available to download via Poison Apple Productions.



Since graduating from the nation’s premiere acting school, Jenny Wu has forged a unique niche for herself in the Australasian sector as an actor determined to challenge the established stereotypes. The Chinese-born/Sydney-bred actress has crewed on an action blockbuster in the Gobi Desert; shot in the freezing chill of the northern Chinese countryside and on the steamy streets of Hong Kong; worked with two of this country’s most acclaimed directors; and, is preparing for her professional stage debut in a award-winning play being staged by Australia’s most respected theatre company. Ahead of what promises to be a rewarding 2017, Jenny Wu spoke with candour to SCREEN-SPACE about her craft, career and choosing the most challenging path as an artist…

SCREEN-SPACE: Having graduated from the the most prestigious training ground for actors in the country, what do you recall of your time at NIDA?

JENNY WU: The school is very strict, certainly sheltered, but you are very well looked after there. You don’t always get an idea of how tough the industry can be once you’ve graduated. The school is concentrating on your craft, so a lot of things the teachers say are very personal, the aim of which is to make you able to transform into as many characters as possible. But a lot of directors I’ve worked with want to see just ‘you’, a vulnerable you, not the technique you apply to become a character. I’ve spent a lot of time unlearning much of what I learnt at NIDA to get a job, then reapplying it, or combining it with my personal growth, when I’m on set or on the stage. You start to understand more fully what you’ve learnt at NIDA when you get out into the workforce and apply it in practical, working environments.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your studies in China led you to the set of Dragon Blade, the epic action film on which you served as Assistant Director, alongside filmmaker Daniel Lee and stars Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody. How did such a coveted role come your way?

JENNY WU: I was interviewed and months passed and I hadn’t heard from Dragon Blade, so I returned to Sydney only to get the call, meaning I had to fly back. When I arrived, I found out that they had only jotted one name down from all the interviews and that was mine, as I was the only one with the qualifications. I felt like I did a three-year film course in the seven months I spent on Dragon Blade (pictured, right: Wu on-set with actor John Cusack).

SCREEN-SPACE: Those years in China appear to have been both professionally rewarding and personally fulfilling, especially the role you played in Lin Bai Song’s rural romance The Promise I Made To You (那年我对你的承诺).

JENNY WU: My parents were ‘sent-down’ youth, city teenagers sent to the country to work as peasants as part of their social education during the Cultural Revolution. The Promise I Made To You is a kind of romantic comedy version of that experience, of two young people thrown together in the countryside and experiencing this incredible life-changing period with each other. I was able to visit northern China, a beautiful place that I had never experienced, and a place that my father had spent ten years as a sent-down young man. The movie resonated with my parent’s generation, as there a still a lot of them who recall the experience with very powerful emotions. Many did not return to the city, instead settling in the country and changing the course of their lives.

SCREEN-SPACE: Then you got mean and bloody as the lethal martial arts adversary in Chris Nahon’s US production, Lady Bloodfight, shot on location in Hong Kong. How much of that NIDA training were you able to apply to the action genre?

JENNY WU: (Laughs) It’s very much a knock’em’down, blood’n’guts type of role but she is still a fully-fleshed out character. I absolutely called upon my NIDA training to create a look and feel for this girl, who emerged as a punk-ish, streetwise, alternative-goth type of pickpocket who becomes a stripped-down and rebuilt martial arts weapon. Martial arts were new to me, so I had to put a great deal of trust in not only my amazing choreographer and stunt team but also my own instincts as a performer. I didn’t know I could be an action star before Lady Bloodfight. So much of the location work had to be in one, sometimes two takes, which makes you so aware of both your performance and the environment.

SCREEN-SPACE: In 2017, you co-star in two of the most anticipated local productions of the year, Kriv Stenders’ Australia Day and Jane Campion’s second season of Top of the Lake. Firstly, what insight into Jane’s technique can you offer from the set of Top of the Lake?

JENNY WU: Jane’s approach is to keep it simple, to not try to do anything. What she loves is actors who are really just ‘there’, who are living the role and living the moment. I interpreted that to mean, ‘Don’t act, just trust your own emotions and instincts and your body will respond to that truthfulness.’

SCREEN-SPACE: And what can audiences expect from what promises to be a confronting study of our society in Australia Day?

JENNY WU: It was the first script I’d read that had ethnic characters in complex lead roles, and that’s very exciting. I am very cautious that the roles I choose are not those that typically reinforce established stereotypes, like ‘the Asian doctor’ or ‘the Chinese computer nerd’. These are well-rounded characters in culturally sensitive and relevant narratives. Australia Day is going to redefine what an ‘Australian story’ is in this day and age and what it means to be Australian. My character is of Chinese heritage but her story, and the voice that it is told in, is very much from contemporary Australia. She is the new immigrant, defining her place in the country on her terms, and that will raise the question of what it means to be Australian in 2017. It’s a simple but quite radical approach and I don’t think any Australian artform has really approached it in this way (pictured, above: director Kriv Stenders, far right, with Wu and cast and crew on-set).

SCREEN-SPACE: And you take on another dramatic aspect of race and society when you make your professional stage debut in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica, for director Kip Williams. Was it always your intention to go after roles that challenge racial boundaries and social issues?

JENNY WU: I think the play will inspire passionate discussion, which is one of the benefits of great art, in any form. It presents various viewpoints that offer a critique of both western and eastern cultures. I don’t mean to make any specific political statement, or statement on ethnicity, by taking on these roles. They are great roles that were presented to me that I find challenging and rewarding as an actor; they are characters with a purpose. I never intended them to define my point-of-view or dictate an agenda. When I approached them as characters, I did so by embracing their humanity, their vulnerabilities and insecurities, not as symbols for social change. My job as an actor is to make sure they live truthfully within the world provided for them (pictured, above: Wu with actor Jason Chong during Chimerica rehearsals).

CHIMERICA opens February 28 at Sydney Theatre Company; AUSTRALIA DAY and TOP OF THE LAKE will air on pay-TV provider Foxtel in 2017 (dates tbc). 

Main photo: Shane Kavanagh.