The annual festival kicked off in Melbourne from May 3 to 17, before heading to Launceston last weekend, and will wrap up in Canberra from May 29 to June 5.
Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore and Michelle Grace Hunder’s film ‘Her Sound, Her Story’ premiered on May 11 at ACMI as part of the festival, receiving rave reviews.
The duo were inspired to work on a project that gives a voice to women in the music industry and provides an explanation for its previous absence.
Having spent two years photographing artists in the Australian hip-hop scene for her book RISE, Michelle realised that out of the 182 rappers photographed, only 10 were women.
Digging a little deeper, it became clear that these figures reflect not only the situation in hip-hop, but across all music genres.
The world of arts, like many other sectors of society, is dominated by men, and although women represent 55 to 60 per cent of people who study music at a higher level, only 30 per cent of artists registered with the Australian Performing Rights Association are female.
What causes this disparity?
And what do female artists have to do to make it in an androcentric world?
Determined to answer these questions, Michelle embarked on a four-year mission, accompanied by her friend and filmmaker Claudia.
What began as a collection of photographic portraits and video interviews – which were shown in an exhibition and all-female concert during Melbourne Music Week in November 2016 – soon evolved into a 70-minute documentary featuring five decades of women in music and more than 50 artists.
Young and emerging musicians are showcased alongside industry veterans such as Tina Arena and Renée Geyer, and the result is an intimate conversation unveiling the personal experiences, histories and the significant social impact women have within the Australian music scene.
“We didn’t have a specific goal in mind, we just asked artists to tell us their story,” Michelle said.
“At the beginning I followed a more precise structure, but then the interviews became more spontaneous and longer, like a chat between friends,” Claudia continued.
“I began to listen much more and concentrate on the individual stories.”
In the end, the pair discovered that while each story had its own personal touch, they all shared similar experiences and sentiments.
This is echoed in the participants’ thoughts, and one of the artists interviewed said that while she only appears on the screen for two minutes, she feels that the whole film reflects her story.
It’s a universal narrative which extends beyond the entertainment industry and is lived out by women across all professions.
The film touches on the extra work that women have to put in to make a name for themselves and the standards imposed in a male-dominated world.
“Women are judged much more harshly, not only by men but by other women,” Michelle affirmed.
“As they get older they start to hear that their voices are no longer needed, and that is very hard for artists who don’t want to stop creating music.”
But in ‘Her Sound, Her Story’, once thing is for sure: there is no pity.
In fact, the film has more of a festive tone, as it celebrates female artists’ achievements, and inspires future generations of young women to achieve greatness themselves.
“It’s also very humorous; something we weren’t aware of until we showed it to an audience and heard their laughter,” Claudia said.
“It’s the same kind of humour which many of these women use to confront life.”
The filmmaker added that the documentary tells stories of strong women who won’t let anything stand between them and their aspirations.
“We hope it inspires women of all ages to do whatever they want,” she said, highlighting the importance of having female role models to prove that anything is possible.
The film is also a credit to Michelle and Claudia’s own achievements.
The pair managed to see the project through from start to end with no external funding or assistance with production, from shooting to distribution.
Both women claim that their ability to do so stems from the strong work ethic which they grew up surrounded by.
“It’s ingrained in us,” Michelle said.
“Work hard, party hard,” Claudia echoed.
The latter of the two has Italian blood running through her veins from her mother’s side, and her nonni worked for years in the vineyards of South Australia.
They migrated to Australia from Carpineto Romano, in Lazio.
Claudia lived in her grandparents’ hometown for a year when she was seven years old, attending a school run by nuns, where the teacher was the same nun who taught her grandmother.
Michelle, whose maiden name is Italia, was born in Shepparton and raised in a Sicilian family.
Her grandparents came to Australia in the 1950s from two different towns on the slopes of Mount Etna.
Having spent her teenage years trying to be like her “Australian” friends, she rediscovered her Italian roots at the age of 21 with a trip to Sicily, where she will return next month.
Michelle and Claudia became close through their professions but also through their lives outside of work.
Both are very social and hospitable, two traits which have been passed down in their families over many generations.
“Seeing so many people unite to create this sense of community within the film makes it all worthwhile,” they concluded.
‘Her Sound, Her Story’ will be showing in Darwin on May 24, in Canberra for the HRFF on June 1, and in Sydney on July 11. For more information, visit the website.