Prove your humanity

“We interrupt this program now to bring you the distressing news that women in music appear to be missing across the nation.”

So says Her Sound, Her Story, the hip-swingingly good new documentary about the “distressing” statistics surrounding women in Australia’s music industry. Produced by Michelle Grace Hunder and directed and co-produced by Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore, long-time friends and all-round creatives, the film gives voice to many of Australia’s most well-known female musicians, including Deborah Conway, Ella Hooper, Jen Cloher, Julia Stone, Kasey Chambers, Mama Kin, Missy Higgins, and many, many more.

Banjo Butler, Mama Kin, Airling, Ecca Vandal, Vera Blue, Montaigne, Julia Stone, Kira Peru—by Melissa Cowan.

The women, some of whom are friends with the filmmaking duo, speak candidly, and sometimes emotionally, about their personal experiences as women in the music industry. The frank interviews are enmeshed with groovy tunes and snazzy patch-work art that make for an audio-visual rollercoaster of good vibes and truthful storytelling.

Her Sound, Her Story is exactly that: women of all ages, colours, backgrounds and genres coming together to tell their stories as musicians. Hunder and Sangiorgi Dalimore didn’t necessarily approach the film with a feminist agenda, but they agree it will nonetheless be branded this way, as it attempts to break down the challenges women face to find equality in the music scene. This comes through in various ways—from being judged, unacknowledged or mistrusted due to their sex; to being eroticised, sexualised or tokenised because of what they wear or the colour of their skin; and being shunned for their age or marital status.

Grok spoke to Hunder and Sangiorgi Dalimore about the beginnings of Her Sound, Her Story and their thoughts on the process and results of the film so far.

The pair were old friends and both working on their own creative projects when the idea came to them. Hunder, who is an acclaimed music photographer, was photographing a series of portraits of hip hop artists in Australia—over 100, to be precise. But when she realised that only 10 of those artists were women, she began to see the issue of gender disparity in women’s representation in music. She invited Sangiorgi Dalimore, who Hunder refers to as a natural filmmaker when it comes to bringing out people’s stories and emotions, to interview some of the musicians. It was only then they realised that they were opening a Pandora’s Box of a much bigger issue at play in Australia’s music industry.

Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore and Michelle Grace Hunder.

While Sangiorgi Dalimore simply sums up the film as “hard work” (with an included chuckle), Hunder describes it in three words: “Emotional, uplifting, and life-changing.” Not life-changing for audiences, she says with a laugh, but for herself. For her, the conversations she shared with these women both saddened and inspired her.

Stories like Missy Higgins’ experiences of outright sexism in production, Clairy Browne and Dallas Frasca’s counts of being sexually harassed, and Mama Kin and Clare Bowditch’s memories of discrimination because they’re mothers.

Sangiorgi Dalimore agrees with her co-creator, saying that many of the shoots were really heavy and emotionally exhausting at times; but, in the end, they felt the right way to end the film was on a high-note—by celebrating these women’s amazing talents and strengths. And the film does: some of the ladies come together, in someone’s kitchen or lounge-room, one of them strums on a guitar while the rest sing in glorious harmony before they all burst into laughter. The message draws clearly: women need to empower each other in this industry and elsewhere to succeed, and to feel alright within ourselves.

This sense of empowerment also came through in the filmmaking itself, which sought to include voices that weren’t just of the heteronormative, white, cis-identifying kind. Women of colour, including Aboriginal Australian musicians like Dhapanbal Yunupingu and Kardajala Kirridarra, were front and centre; as were openly queer musicians like Mojo Juju, Courtney Barnett and Jen Cloher.

Sangiorgi Dalimore says she feels glad people picked up on and appreciated the diversity so much. Her particular focus was bringing in older women and looking at their struggle (see Kasey Chambers flustered at “people saying I’m 40 and can’t make music. Fuck that! Keep going!”) as they’re told that they should “put down the pick”, so to speak. The embrace of Aboriginal women was actually one of the later additions to the film, with those interviews being added last; but Sangiorgi Dalimore couldn’t be more grateful they were included, saying they “offered a whole new depth to the film.”

Mojo Juju’s reflection in the film affirms this, when she says that, “I don’t see myself reflected in media that often. I never thought about the fact I might be that for someone else, but that’s pretty huge—it’s nice to know that maybe that makes a difference.”

And how did Hunder and Sangiorgi Dalimore go interviewing some of these women, who are among the most successful musicians in Australia?

‘Fan-girling’ wasn’t happening apparently, but Hunder admits that there were instances where they paused: “Claudia and I would have a moment after interviewing someone like Renee Gayer or Tina Arena and just think, how privileged are we to be able to interview and film these incredible women?”

But the biggest reward for the budding filmmakers has been the clear messages of truth that stretched from the films and were seen etched on the movie-goers faces after a screening. For Sangiorgi Dalimore, seeing music producers, other musicians and people in the music industry leave a viewing of the film with the desire to make a difference—by employing more women or having more women in their next line-up—has been the greatest outcome of their project.

When asked how most people respond to the film, the women say almost simultaneously, with “empathy.” Male viewers are particularly shocked and impacted emotionally, and seem to visibly want to get involved and make a change to what they see as undeniably unfair attitudes towards women. Female viewers, on the other hand, aren’t particularly surprised by these stories—they’ve heard (and experienced) it all before. Hunder says the biggest reaction from women has been of inspiration, and a motivation to work harder, be kinder, and support other women more.

The film chooses to be truthful and inspire, rather than point fingers or sink in its own defeatism. What emerges is a beautiful moving image of the women (nay, #queens) who are slaying at what they do—making mind-numbingly fabulous music.

I think we can all get behind that.

Until the documentary is made available to the public, you can watch a selection of the interviews here.