Making a feminist film: Louise Lever on Revolt She Said

Posted Tuesday 16 Feb 2021

Making a feminist film: Louise Lever on Revolt She Said

Featuring interviews with powerhouse women such as former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Aboriginal leader Dr Jackie Huggins, WIFT NZ member Louise Lever's documentary Revolt She Said captures a portrait of contemporary feminism in Australia and New Zealand, with moving personal accounts and compelling insights into the current feminist revolution.

The film focuses on why the needle hasn't shifted far enough on major issues and navigates the choppy waters of women's changing roles in society, revealing a complex debate with no easy answers.

Revolt She Said premieres on 8 March (International Women's Day 2021), 7:15pm, at Rialto Cinemas Newmarket, Auckland, and will also screen at other locations around NZ - click the links below to find out more.

Auckland Premiere | Wellington Premiere | Dunedin Premiere | Queenstown Premiere

We talked to Louise about the highs and lows of making a documentary on feminism.

What sparked the idea for this documentary?

I started off by talking to the older gay community in Melbourne (I was working in marketing and there was an old film camera on the premises and I'd asked the manager if I could use it at the weekends).

It was around the time Hillary Clinton was running for president and my attention got zapped into that and the global women's marches.

My aim was to shed a light on how feminism hasn't shifted enough on social progress, and to delve into the deep complexities of feminism - how it's linked to gender, and how gender binary is still present.

How did you get Helen Clark (now to be involved?

I politely but persistently emailed her press secretary for six months. Finally there was an opportunity when she and I were both in Auckland. I interviewed her at the University of Auckland - she drove herself there. I was really nervous, mostly for my tech skills worrying 'is the camera on, is the sound working…' and because she's such a massive figure and I wanted to get it right. But she was so welcoming and within five minutes I was totally relaxed, and I spent an hour with her.

The doco has a lot of archival footage - how did you get hold of that?

That was a big challenge. A lot of it was old, but, regardless, you have to get copyright clearance, and it was hard to track down people. That was a long process. But again, people were really helpful - I'd do a shoutout on a Facebook group saying I was looking for footage of something and several people would message me saying they had some or knew where to get it.

Archival footage is available but it costs $AUD60 a second! I had to use some though, and I got archival photos from The Sun in Melbourne and the Rennie Ellis Archival Foundation in Australia, and some footage from The National Library in New Zealand.

How did you get around the 'talking heads' issue that docos can face?

If someone was talking about a memory, I went and shot cutaway footage. I'd go to cabaret shows or drag shows; if someone was talking about something specific, I'd get actors and film that myself. For example, Helen Clark talks about feminists having to fight, so, again through a Facebook shoutout, I got an actor in Melbourne and filmed them punching at the camera.

The doco was mostly self-funded and you did most of it yourself. What challenges did those factors create?

It was a really horrendous edit process! I didn't write a script, which I should have, so it was very difficult to bring together something cohesive in the edit. I ended up stopping editing and wrote a short narrative for the beginning and the end to tie some of the threads together. In the edit I was looking for interviews that touched on the same ideas and I'd tie those into groups. It just wasn't fun I'm sorry to say, but I pushed through.

One of biggest issues I had was losing footage. I had footage on multiple hard-drives, so it must have been lost in the transfer. Luckily I'd done a few edits so had picked out the best parts of the footage, but I lost a couple of interviews of the original footage.

Then the sound didn't work for a couple of interviews so I couldn't use those…

You got some great advice from producer Sue Maslin. What was it?

It was very difficult to [edit the documentary] down to 100 minutes. I had it at about two hours, but after the Melbourne screening Sue suggested I cut it because film festivals want 100 minutes max. I went back to the edit and painfully cut it. But it's a much tighter film now.

She also told me 'don't edit the trailer yourself'! But I had to, I didn't have the funds to hire someone.

What did you learn about feminism?

I felt my perspective actually changed a lot, especially around the transgender issue. I went to a protest at Melbourne University and interviewed someone who thought transgender women aren't women for biological reasons. My personal view is quite inclusive, but her comments made me appreciate the level of complexity around the issue. I can see quite valid arguments on both sides. This woman has been vilified, and has been through a lot of stuff herself; I didn't see her as simply against it, but as a product of her time and her generation.

Also, the World Economic Forum has said that none of us will see gender equality in our lifetime. That's a really sad statement. They're predicting about 200 years until there's gender parity.

What's next for you?

I have some very exciting projects I'm finishing! One is a film about the female gaze, which interviews Laura Mulvey*, and I'm pushing to get an interview with Céline Sciamma who made Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. She does an amazing job with the female gaze and an interview with would be the cherry on top, it would bring Laura Mulvey's ideas into modern cinema.

And I'm talking with a distributor in London to see if I can get Revolt properly released. It has been accepted into the Montreal Independent Film Festival and the Chicago Indie Film Festival - that was exciting! Once it gets some exposure in the film festivals, you can do the distribution. I'm figuring these things out as I go. I give things a good go and at the end of the day I try to have fun with it.

*In the 1970s, feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey coined the term 'the male gaze', which represents not only the gaze of a heterosexual male viewer but also the gaze of the male character and the male creator of the film.