WIFT Works for Women; a Short History on How to Marry Filmmaking with Feminism: Reflecting on the Role of Women in Film and Television (WIFT) between 1988 and 1998, Marsha Emerman Suggested That 'Too Many People See [WIFT] as a Career Ladder and Not as an Activist Organization.' (1)

By Tomsic, Mary | Metro Magazine, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

WIFT Works for Women; a Short History on How to Marry Filmmaking with Feminism: Reflecting on the Role of Women in Film and Television (WIFT) between 1988 and 1998, Marsha Emerman Suggested That 'Too Many People See [WIFT] as a Career Ladder and Not as an Activist Organization.' (1)


Tomsic, Mary, Metro Magazine


THIS STATEMENT encapsulates the difficulties for women's groups such as WIFT who operate within a highly gender-divided workplace and culture, which itself produces a need for political activism. Yet at the same time, there is an imperative to be part of the dominant workplace and screen community that understands and values particular conceptions of work and careers. Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka identify a related disjuncture: that Australian filmmaking itself is uncomfortably wedged between being understood as a cultural activity and a commercial industry. (2) By necessity, WIFT and its members work between and around such boundaries.

For five years, Emerman coordinated the Women in Motion Film Festival and Careers Forum, which was largely devised for female school students to alert them to the possibility of film-work as a viable career. Such a festival contains many activist elements, but also acknowledges the idea of a career, one that secondary schools were willing to impart to their students. In this article, I consider the Women in Motion festival organized by WIFT in the early 1990s, as one example of the type of work WIFT was involved in. I also consider responses to the Women in Motion festival. In addition to ensuring that such activities are publicly remembered as important events when reflecting upon women's engagement with film, this article also seeks to show that by looking at particular discussions around this one event, we can see how the difficult boundary between activism and professionalism is negotiated by women working with film.

The (his)tory of

WIFT Women in Film and Television (WFT) was initially founded in Melbourne in 1982 as a branch of WFT Sydney; the latter had been successfully operating since 1978. (3) The voluntary and community-based nature of organizations like WFT make them difficult to run continuously due to limited funding and members' varied time availability. (4) Women from a range of filmmaking backgrounds were involved in the early days of WFT in Melbourne, with the 1983/84 Management Committee including Monique Schwarz, Ann Turner, Clare Jager, Barbara Boyd Anderson, Natalie Miller and Nancy Peck. (5) The size and activity of Melbourne's WFT varied in the early 1980s and Sue Maslin recorded that the group dissolved in 1984, due to political differences within the organizing committee. (6) In November 1987, Melbourne women reformed the group and called for others to join so that they could improve their status as a lobby group. (7) The group was reconstituted independently from Sydney's WFT in 1988 with the aim of co-ordinating state groups with a national WFT body. (8) (WIFT Australia was realized in 1993, but ceased to exist in 1998. (9)) WFT's acronym changed to WIFT and the group chose the official name of WIFT Melbourne, rather than Victoria, to reflect the largely urban nature of filmmaking. Meeting minutes indicate that 'women working in regional areas will be encouraged to feel involved even if in a limited way.' (10) A membership drive was organized and by October, WIFT Melbourne had a membership of seventy." The explicitly Melbourne focus was removed during 1991 and the name WIFT (Victoria), which is used today, was formalized. (12)

WI FT advocated many similar ideologies and in turn organized similar activities to feminist activist filmmaking groups. Women's filmmaking groups of the 1970s and 1980s often invoked a deliberately ,separatist' strategy, to encourage and promote women's filmmaking as politically distinctive. The main groups working this way were the Sydney Women's Film Group, formed in 1970, and Reel Women in Melbourne, which includes a body of work from 1971 onwards. These earlier women's organizations did not focus on filmmaking as an occupation in the same way that WI FT did. For instance, when discussing admission to a women's filmmaking course, a Sydney Women's Film Group meeting in the 1970s suggested that 'a possible criterion for selection be that people have something that they want to say on film rather than a desire to build a career. …

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WIFT Works for Women; a Short History on How to Marry Filmmaking with Feminism: Reflecting on the Role of Women in Film and Television (WIFT) between 1988 and 1998, Marsha Emerman Suggested That 'Too Many People See [WIFT] as a Career Ladder and Not as an Activist Organization.' (1)
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