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Stars: Morgana Muses, Petra Joy, John Oh, Anna Brownfield, Judith Lucy and Candida Royale.
Directors: Josie Hess and Isabel Pappard

WORLD PREMIERE: Melbourne International Film Festival, Friday August 16 at The Capitol Theatre.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The emergence of a vibrant, creative free spirit from the constraints of societal expectation is captured with genuine affection in Morgana, co-directors Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard’s expansive yet deeply personal account of one woman’s coming-of-middle-age journey. Charting a course from the depths of despair to artistic and emotional fulfilment then back again, this frank, often funny and very moving portrait piece is an engaging crowd-pleaser, particularly for those who adhere to the sex-positive beliefs of their protagonist.

Having grown up in the harsh climes of Coober Pedy, Morgana Muses bought into the ‘suburban ideal’ of her mother’s longings and was soon constructing her own middle-class façade. Having married well and embraced motherhood, she soon found herself sadly unfulfilled in a union devoid of warmth; the dissolution of her marriage and subsequent disconnection from friends and family led to thoughts of self-harm. These moments are thoughtfully reconstructed through a ‘little boxes’ motif, in which Morgana is captured peering longingly through the windows of a grey suburban landscape.

The turning point came as Morgana’s life force was at its lowest ebb; a ‘last hurrah’ sexual experience awakened in her a hunger to explore the boundaries of what she always believed were acceptable sexual practices. With her old life fading fast, Morgana Muses reinvents herself as a feminist porn actress-filmmaker, her debut film Duty-Bound becoming an award-winning global hit that takes her from suburban Melbourne to the BDSM mecca, Berlin.

Via her friendship, co-director Hess (who features at key moments in her own doco) is afforded rare access into Morgana’s highs and lows over a period of several years; the 70-minute feature began life as a short, morphing into a frank and confronting study of mental health and its impact upon the creative process. Hess and Peppard, one of the local industry’s most respected animators and horror sector artists, are clearly advocates for the practice of ethical pornography and strong feminist ideals, but these themes, while central, never overshadow the universal humanity at the core of Morgana’s narrative.

Most importantly, the woman herself proves a complex, fearless frontwoman for her own story. Muses bares all, yet it is her physical openness which ultimately proves the least shocking of her revelations; the self-reflection and psychological torment she is willing to expose for the documentarian’s lens is first-person storytelling at its bravest. Audience empathy is so engaged that, by the time the ‘cherry-on-top’ moment happens deep in the third act, the intimacy required to fully accept every inch of Morgana Muses is comfortably in place. So sex positive and emotionally resonant is her factual film journey, everything about the body and soul baring of Morgana Muses feels convincingly empowering and wonderfully real.

Morgana Documentary - 'First Look' Teaser #2 from House of Gary on Vimeo.

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