Prove your humanity

Producer Tenille Kennedy talks family, queer representation, the film industry, and her work on intense Aussie thriller, Bad Girl (2016)

Kennedy grew up in Rockingham, received an Advanced Diploma in Screen Arts from the Central Institute of Technology, and has been working in the Australian film industry ever since. Recently she worked with Fin Edquist on Bad Girl, a taut, enthralling thriller that claims exceptional performances from its two lead actresses.

The psychological drama follows Amy Anderson (Sara West), an adopted only-child recently released from a juvenile detention centre, whose parents whisk her away to a model home in the country. They hope the move will positively influence their daughter, and it looks promising when Amy strikes up a friendship with local girl Chloe (Samara Weaving). An initial attraction between the two gives way to a tumultuous sexual relationship; but obsession escalates while secrets are exhumed, and their lives collapse.

As the plot peels back the films layers it seems to negotiate ostensibly predictable paths, but the proceedings remain unexpected and enthralling, and challenge viewers. Kennedy admitted that she’s a fan of Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen (2003), and was initially attracted to Bad Girl because of the toxic relationship between the two girls, which she hasn’t seen a great deal of in film. She discussed the importance of working on films that push boundaries and finding a strong audience in the queer community: “it’s not about two girls that are lesbian, that’s just one facet of their makeup. And I think that’s refreshing and I think that’s important; and it’s nice to have that view validated with the audience response.”

Another layer of the film is family dynamic, Kennedy describes the films writer and director Fin Edquist as intelligent and articulate, continuing that “Fin talks about blood being thicker than water, and he opens it up for discussion.” In Bad Girl we have a less conventional family in the Anderson’s, for Kennedy: “it’s really important that we see different types of family structures on screen, it’s not your mum, dad and two kids, and mum stays home and looks after the kids. Because until we see that depiction change I don’t think we can affect the gender divide”. Kennedy believes that changing representations on screen reflects changes socially; something she wants to be a part of.

Bad Girl received two awards at the 28th Annual Western Australia Screen Awards last year in July. After winning Best Long Form Drama, it also received Best Sound Long Form, a deserved recognition for the tone set by Warren Ellis’ moody score.

Kennedy commented on the success of the film, “I think what we’ve managed to achieve on a small budget and tight schedule is really quite incredible, and a testament to the team that we had together”.

But expresses her anxiety about opening in Australian cinemas this week, despite the films screening at numerous festivals last year, including the Melbourne International Film Festival in August, and South Korea’s 21st Busan International Film Festival in October: “although we’ve screened in a bunch of different festivals, this is the first time that close friends and family will actually get to see it.”

Kennedy admits that in some regards, it’s been challenging working in the Australian film industry, which she describes as unstable, “because you never know where you’re next job is coming from, you’re quite often reliant on government funding agencies to finance your films. So it’s competitive. There’s no guarantees. You never who you’re up against from one round to the next.”

But ultimately, it’s been worth it: “Getting to make movies and calling it your job, that’s pretty cool. It’s kind of all I’ve ever wanted to do. So to be able to say that’s my day job, that’s quite rewarding. Also, it sounds really wanky, but working with other talented creators is pretty awesome. Just being able to create, and having really great collaborators to work with; you’re always coming up with new ideas and discovering new things and you’re challenging each other, and it can be pretty inspiring sometimes.”

On how Perth’s industry fairs in comparison to other Australian cities as well as cities across the world, Kennedy reflects that in Perth, “there’s such a beautiful sense of family and community; and we’re small but everybody knows each other and it’s very supportive. Which is a really great thing that I don’t think that you get in those bigger film industries elsewhere.” Remembering and laughing about being interviewed for The Turning (2013): “it took a little moment, but I was like hang on a second, I just worked with David Brennan and Hugo Weaving and I didn’t have to leave Perth.”

Discussing how discouraging it can be contemplating a career in the film industry, or any form of creative arts, Kennedy came back to the family: “that relates back to those family structures. Letting go of some of those traditional views of what you should be doing with your life, and those milestones you should be hitting. What I find far more rewarding is opening your mind and learning something new about the world. Improving on the world if possible.”

Finally, she imparts a few words of wisdom for young Australian’s contemplating a career in the arts:  “how do I say this without sounding lame. I think you just have to do what you have to do. Film has been my thing since I was fourteen; it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I think I would always be deeply unsatisfied if I hadn’t followed that filmmaking career path so I think it’s important to do what makes you happy and what brings you joy. Because at the end of the day you could make a million dollars and still be deeply unhappy. And would it be worth it in the end? I don’t know, it depends on how much you love your Ferrari.”