Birds Eye View Film Festival 2014: Girlfriends (1978)

by Maryann O'Connor on 15/04/2014


As someone who doesn’t particularly care for comparing films, the introduction to Sunday night’s screening of Girlfriends (1978) by I am Dora front woman Jemma Desai resounded in the ol’ brain and heart. Jemma told us persons there present that the film we were about to see was most commonly mentioned in conjunction with some other piece of work, such as Frances Ha, or an endorsement from some other person, such as Stanley Kubrick or Lena Dunham. That these connections were always mentioned, as if we needed a five-star Kubrick endorsement to consider viewing the film.

Jemma also told us that while she was working with the director of Girlfriends, the talented Claudia Weill, trying to bring Girlfriends to a wider audience, most press outlets were only concerned with the director’s connection with Lena Dunham and the story behind their recent collaboration. Tisk, most press outlets. Here is one interview Weill did for a New Yawk magazine, which does mention Dunham but also reveals the attitude of many critics towards women filmmakers – another matter for another day.

These connections are in no way needed to sell this film and should be kicked to the kerb. Girlfriends is a tenaciously honest account of relationships between women which we would all recognise, from having Anne’s or Susan’s (or both) experience in life.

We first meet Anne (Anita Skinner) and Susan (Melanie Mayron), budding writer and photographer respectively, as their comfortable domestic situation is about to end. Anne has plans to shatter their world by making a dash for wedded bliss, leaving Susan to struggle on with the rent and her slow-to-get-off-the-ground career. As time goes on, things continue to change (babies, boyfriends and gallery shows) and the two women feel a big gap opening up in their understanding and friendship, eventually culminating in the airing out of their joint collection of dirty laundry. Vicki Polon’s screenplay is sharp and Mayron, Skinner provide similarly sharp performances.

As far as comparisons or newsworthy items go, the pertinent item here is the realisation that things have not changed a hell of a lot in 36 years and that what the collaboration between directors Weill and Dunham speaks of, in truth, is the familiarity of situation that Dunham recognised in Weill’s film. The skilfully honest way in which the stories of Anne and Susan were told, warts ’n’ all, was obviously a big draw for Dunham as it would be for any of us. I know that having seen Girlfriends, my soul is somewhat soothed in the knowledge that the struggles that I face in my attempt to be a wife, a mother and still keep my identity as a person with hopes, dreams and friends are not new ones.

I think that bringing that comfort or sense of a honest shared experience to a greater audience is exactly what Jemma Desai had in mind when collaborating with Claudia Weill to bring us this I am Dora curated screening of Girlfriends as part of Birds Eye View Film Festival 2014 . Because sharing an experience is the whole point of film, isn’t it?

Maryann has awarded Girlfriends (1978) four Torches of Truth


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