Year:  2021

Director:  Jane Castle

Rated:  M

Release:  July 7 - 17, 2022

Distributor: Bonsai

Running time: 75 minutes

Worth: $17.00
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Lilias Fraser

... the synchronicities between mother and daughter, so unlike yet so connected, will give you goose bumps.

The power of the creative instinct is a force. Through the interlocking stories of two women filmmakers, it’s revealed as unstoppable, even in the face of family trauma and mother and daughter struggles.

Jane Castle is one of those women, a cinematographer who decided to turn her filmmaking skills to examining the life of her filmmaker mother, Lilias Fraser, seeking answers to their relationship in the process.

It should be noted that there is a third filmmaker, Lilias’ first born daughter Claudia, who directed many of the music videos that Jane shot, but Castle’s documentary When the Camera Stopped Rolling centres on the deep and troubled connection between her mother and herself.

These women are extraordinary in their craft and legacy.

Born in Brisbane in 1930 to parents who set up the first chain of supermarkets in Australia, Fraser broke away from her own mother who wanted her to live as her caretaker. She went to art school in London to study sculpture then discovered photography at Guildford College of Art. Student photos show her powerful composition from the start. Her true passion, filmmaking, began at age 25. Inspired by French New Wave Cinema, she went to Paris and was accepted into the National Film School of France. It was a far cry from the sexism she would encounter back in Australia.

The documentary tells us that Fraser was followed to Europe by a besotted older man, Norman Castle. Though they married, she kept him at arm’s length until pregnancy and the need to have a man as the face of their film company in the misogynist climate of the time.

They made good money and built a reputation for industry documentaries, a prolific output of 15 films in 5 years. Fraser was a committed Land Rights activist from the start, a natural trailblazer in everything she took on.

Jane Castle unfolds the narrative beautifully in subtle strokes that introduce the darker side of the picture along with Fraser’s brilliance. She recounts how she and her sister were left with different families while the parents travelled extensively for their film business. Money was a huge issue. Castle includes evidence in Fraser’s hand written letters, a great stylistic device on screen, another layer in Castle’s rich tapestry of stills, location and archival footage, and impressionistic environments. The letters reveal that the couple often ran out of credit because of Norman’s compulsive over spending.

Castle documents Norman’s violence and emotional abuse. These difficult themes are laced through the story in a way that reflects her own tentative searching for answers. It’s a sensitive treatment of a painful story for all parties involved.

Jane Castle was a withdrawn, troubled teenager. “I made friends with the big gum tree,” she tells us in the film.

Her mother was vivacious, playful, but “I didn’t know back then about her drinking.”

Fraser took her daughters from school and left Norman. “We became a kind of girl gang.”

He stalked them. Fraser tried to make films alone. Even though everyone knew the portfolio of industry films was her exceptional work, sexism stopped her from getting contracts.

There is a dynamic passage in the film when Castle finds her own creative power and creates her first film at the age of 17. Her formidable talent and drive led her to become one of a few female cinematographers breaking through on the world stage. She worked on music videos including Midnight Oil’s ‘Blue Sky Mine’, INXS, k.d. lang, Prince and U2.

If her mother was an alcoholic, Castle is a self-confessed workaholic who used her success to get away from the feelings she couldn’t process. A great deal of the documentary’s power is that she has brought the skill they shared to examine the questions from her and her mother’s complex relationship.

It’s a celebratory moment when we see Fraser find a new life for her creative passion. She stopped drinking and 1978 saw her take her place as a counterculture filmmaker and distributor and become a significant role model for female filmmakers.

In 2004, The Sydney Morning Herald published a tribute article by documentary filmmaker Martha Ansara, who says of Fraser, “In 1999, her contribution to the industry and her support of other filmmakers was recognised by the Australian Screen Directors Association when it awarded her the Cecil Holmes Award. Over a 40-year career, she had made more than 50 films. But it was not so much her accomplishments which drew so many younger filmmakers to Fraser; it was, above all, her joie de vivre and her generosity of spirit. And also, for many of us, her words of encouragement when times were tough.”

Castle honours herself and her mother by employing the extraordinary creative energy and filmmaking skill that they shared, not by making a eulogy or a lurid expose, but with a heartfelt and somehow humble exploration of the mother/daughter bond.

Beyond the deeply personal story, the documentary is a must see for its window into a seminal era in filmmaking in Australia, highlighting cultural themes of feminism and Land Rights.

And the synchronicities between mother and daughter, so unlike yet so connected, will give you goose bumps.


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