There was a Little Girl


25 minutes


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There was a Little Girl is an autobiographical film spanning fifty years, from 1959 to 2009.

I tell six stories from my life set ten years apart, each on a backdrop of political and social events of that year. The film explores my personal growth and the relationships of three generations of women in my family, using animation and manipulated found images.

The film opens in 1959 when I was a little girl. The late 1950s was a time full of new inventions and products, many directed toward children. Disneyland had recently been completed, Barbie dolls hit the toy stores, and the space race was at its height. We see this era through the eyes of a child as I tell the story of a shopping trip to Woolworths with my mother. An unexpected turn of events sheds light on the nature of the relationship between me and my mother.

The next episode in 1969 shows a very different world. The war in Vietnam and the massive protests opposing it reflect a society full of conflict and contradictions. I'm a teenager. I strongly support the anti-war movement and I identify with the peace, love and pot smoking culture. When my mother sends me for a doctor’s check up, I encounter a situation that mirrors the discord of the time.

In 1979, I left Australia for New York eager to reinvent myself. I build a life in the New York of the 1970s and 1980s, a city renowned for its innovation and creativity that attracted many disaffected young people at that time. Later in the film I become a mother and I'm presented with some of the same challenges that my mother faced.

Each decade brings its own unique set of events, but over the course of 50 years, it becomes apparent that the underlying causes have many similarities. My personal narrative is set within this context. I wonder whether this immutability is also inevitable in my life. The film draws parallels between my personal life and the larger world and examines the effect they have on each other. I consider how much we are a product of the time period we live in and how the fabric of society is transformed as the world changes.

The film employs a wide range of visual styles and techniques. It combines hand drawn animation with manipulated found footage and stills. It is rough and edgy, creating a feel that corresponds to the mood of the stories being told. The soundtrack is built using the same approach. The music is largely true to its time period. There are deviations from this basic structure where the filmmaker uses a segment of found imagery or sound from a different era that thematically melds with the story being told. This helps unify the film and gives a sense of the cyclic nature of ideas and events.

There was a Little Girl is part animation, part documentary and part personal narrative. It is open, honest and penetrating, at times exuding discomfort, but also warm and funny. It is a densely layered film full of correlations and juxtapositions, relentlessly exposing the ironies that engulf us all.


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Director’s Statement

I started making animated films in 1980 as a vehicle to tell my stories, convey my social and political concerns and as a means to express myself as a visual artist. I earn my living as a graphic designer, which doesn’t fulfill my need for self-expression. Making my own films has no restrictions. It is my art. It’s unpaid.

By 1996 I had two children and no husband. There was no longer time to make films. Bringing up my children became my creative project. As with all creative projects I thought a lot about it. At times it was a struggle, at other times it was sheer joy. Mostly I was so busy I barely had time to notice how I was feeling, but my lifelong patterns of behavior kept staring me in the face. I had no clue how to be a parent. I was constantly analyzing and examining the family dynamic, and how best to deal with all the unexpected things that kids do. My gut level responses were uncomfortably revealing. It was important for me to examine my own childhood. Memories, thoughts and observations flooded through my head. I wrote them down. Over the years I accumulated a large body of work. As my time was so fragmented I couldn’t get my head around building a coherent picture, but the pieces made sense in a visceral way.

The impossible happened and my daughters became teenagers. Finally I had time to slowly, very slowly, start making films again, and my journals seemed the natural source to draw from. Gathering meaning from them, discovering connections, understanding that no story, observation or thought was isolated, was like a purging, a release, of the sadness, anger, and confusion that I had carried with me for way too long. And I was exploding with a desire to do artwork, shape a story that would be not only be meaningful to me, but would also have more significance. It was wonderful to be immersed in a project again. I had no idea what the outcome would be, but I knew I would love the process.

It took quite a while to work out what I wanted to convey in There was a Little Girl. My writings were about myself as a daughter and then a mother, and often examined my relationship with my mother and my daughters. The film evolved into a story about three generations of women in my family spanning fifty years. It was apparent how we were partly shaped by the time period we grew up in, so I decided to use world events as a unifying thread, in tandem with my stories. I wasn’t sure how putting my personal narrative in the context of the bigger picture would work, what it would say, but it conceptually made sense. The fun of making a film is to let it spin out of control and discover things that I couldn’t conceive of beforehand.

I didn’t draw any conclusions when I was making the film. The parallels, incongruities and ironies formed on their own. I don’t believe there are conclusions, just questions, observations and discoveries.

I hope There was a Little Girl has meaning beyond a personal narrative, that there is universality in its themes. I hope they make people think about their lives. There is nothing special about mine. I just tried to examine it as honestly as I could.