“Babyteeth” was one of only two films from women directors participating in the main competition at the Venice Film Festival, and the film’s helmer Shannon Murphy thinks that’s important. Although not at the expense of the art.
While many of the questions fielded by Murphy, her cast and crew at Wednesday’s pre-premiere press conference dealt with music, themes of self-medication, appealing to young audiences and Rita Kalnejais’ screenplay adaptation of her stage play, the conversation inevitably came around to the filmmaker’s two X chromosomes and what they mean in industry terms.
“I think it’s a struggle to always have to answer questions about being a female filmmaker if I’m being honest,” she replied when asked if she’s comfortable as a woman working in the industry. “It takes away from the artistry of what we are doing and our production. The conversation is important but in the right context, at dedicated panels. Otherwise it overshadows the film.”
She was full of praise for Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative and the state of the industry in her home country. Her producer Jan Chapman, Oscar-nominated for “The Piano,” was in full agreement.
“There are six or seven films from women about to be released in Australia so I’m very positive about the openness in the world to see how great female-led films are,” the producer said.
Having put a pin in the topic, the conversation shifted back to the film itself.
“Rita approaches the story with an unsentimental humor that makes it difficult to wallow in the darkness of the story,” said rising star and lead actress Eliza Scanlen (“Sharp Objects,” “Little Women”) of the screenplay.
“You know good writing if you don’t have to work as hard,” followed up co-star Toby Wallace. “You find yourself getting emotional just from the dialogue or circumstances.”
The film’s most recognizable star and one of Australia’s main cinematic exports, Ben Mendelsohn, got emotional simply speaking about the film.
“Rita’s script was such a palpable and beautiful rendering of the finest virtues of Australia,” he said before half-joking, “One thing about Australia is you can be something of a complete mess there and be embraced and acceptable, hence my longevity.”
“All the finest virtues of the country are in this piece and it’s a powerful love story and very life affirming from a bunch of contemporary, messy, damaged people… I think it’s a beautiful piece. I wanna cry just talking about it.”