“Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me!”
Driving out to meet lecturer and filmmaker Anna Brownfield feels exciting. It is not often you have an appointment to meet someone who is actively interested in talking about sex, desire and sexual expression.
Anna is interested in stories around female gratification and empowerment, both at work and in play. Her films range from experimental, to short and feature-length adult films, and documentaries; her most recent Making it Handmade focused on the resurgence of traditional female crafts in Melbourne – with a feminist twist.
Because Anna’s work is not mainstream, it is often labeled political. While Anna is happy to acknowledge that she is driven, she is tired of limiting and lazy feminist stereotypes – and redefining feminism might be one of the many motivations behind her work.
Her erotic film work The Band opened the Berlin Porn Festival; the same film won the hottest film at the fifth annual Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto. The film has been sold in France, Germany, South Korea and the US – but no distributor in Australia has yet agreed to take it on.
Anna spoke to TENANT about making erotic and documentary features, and why she loves Melbourne (but for its weather).
Hi Anna, thanks for inviting TENANT to tea, where are we? What postcode names this patch of Melbourne?
We are in XXXX…Eastside. Do you mind if we don’t print exactly where I live? I am sorry, but due to the nature of some of my work, I have received threats in the past and it is just easier this way.
That is fine – and good reason not to put it in print. We’ll use some X’s instead of the postcode. Even though there will be four of them…it seems somewhat fitting. So from four X’s to three: when did you know that you wanted to be an erotic filmmaker?
My road to filmmaking was a windy one. In high school I had been very interested in acting and appeared in a lot of musicals. I loved them very much – and I still do. I also developed an interest in photography and this led me to undertake a Media Arts degree at RMIT.
Like most young students, I was open and interested in everything about the adult world. I have always been very open about sexuality and this openness encourages many people to tell me about their own sexual experiences and desires. Through lots of shared stories over many years and through my own personal disappointment in the kind of erotic films that were available to me, I began to craft my own scripts and stories. I was motivated to explore themes that were not driven purely by male heterosexual desire and included more female touch points: sensuality, storytelling and caress.
Have you found it hard to make films in Melbourne? Porn films in particular?
Making porn in Melbourne is not legal. Canberra is the only place in Australia where you can legally produce pornography. I have filmed mostly in Melbourne, with explicit parts filmed up north.
Personally I think making porn is similar to making other films. Of course the actors are not wearing clothes some of the time…but when you are on set working it feels like work; it is not a turn-on, you are focused on directing and invested in getting the best results from everyone around you.
In general, whether it be Melbourne, Canberra or outside of Australia, I would say that filmmaking is not particularly easy. It is fun and rewarding but not easy. From raising finance, to finding the best cast and crew, to working intensely with those people for months – it requires focus, determination and stamina.
You have made a lot of films now, not all erotic. What is the project that you are most proud of professionally?
Making it Handmade. I don’t compromise my work for commerciality and for this film to be recognised by organisations like MIFF and ABC TV – who cater to a broad community and therefore run a commercial model – was incredibly satisfying.
People who inspire you…
John Waters – especially his early films. He pushed boundaries and made do with what he had. I love how he celebrated a norm – it was just not a mainstream one.
As you know TENANT is interested in all things Melbourne – including the interesting inhabitants who helps her heartbeat… What is it about Melbourne that you enjoy? Why do you live here?
I love the multiculturalism. The amazing food that a mix of cultures brings to the table and/or take away menu…!
I think that Melbourne offers an amazing lifestyle. The quality of living is high, from food to culture, to education. I think we have high standards.
I don’t like the weather though. No, not much. I like the heat.
What about the suburb you live in, what do you like about it?
The view of the Dandenong Ranges is great. We have lived in this house for a year now, and I do love it. I grew up in Ballarat, and lived most of my Melbourne life in the Fitzroy, Collingwood area before meeting my partner and my little boy.
What change you would most like to see in Melbourne?
I am sad about immigration at the moment. I would like Melbourne, or should I say Australia, to feel and be seen internationally as a bit more of a humane society. I am really upset about the reports and stories that come out of detention centers – and I would like to understand more about the real statistics of immigration and the choices the government makes (in which countries to support) and why.
What is a place outside of Melbourne, or Australia that reminds you of Melbourne but is not…
Easy. Madrid. I’ve been there twice, once in my early twenties and then again in my mid-thirties…and…it just felt like home. I felt accepted, the food seemed familiar, the people were relaxed, stylish and artistic. And the weather! Well…it was probably better!
Thanks Anna – for your snap shot of Melbourne and of your work. What is on next for you? More ‘bits and boobs’ – or something that can be filmed entirely in Melbourne?
I have a few things in the works. I am penning The Mole Manifesto (I love that slang-word “mole”). It is a female ‘buddy movie’ that centres around a group of local skateboarders and their “moles”. I am working on another erotic film called Screwed in Suburbia: Perfect on the outside, perverted on the inside; and am also writing a musical – with themes that include-telemarketing and lesbian love.
A queer musical! Rocky Horror, eat your heart out! It might just go mainstream… so in terms of your work – how would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as a filmmaker who pushed the boundaries, and never compromised her artistic truth – and…I hope that my work helps people feel accepted.
Thank you, Anna. Lastly. Who, a person you know, would you like to introduce to TENANT readers and why?
Can I please have three people??!!
An amazing artist, Laila Marie Costa, who makes all her art works from “rubbish”. She recently came back from 2 months’ Artist in Residence in Argentina.
Liandra Dahl,who I just met recently, is a queer erotic film maker who is another woman smashing the stereotype of women who make explicit films.
And lastly, Rayna Fahey of Radical Crossstitch, a “craftivist” who manages to juggle three children (including a set of twins), making cross stitches that push the boundaries and creating large-scale public fence cross stitches with political messages.
The more the merrier Anna! Thanks for time and your recommendations -TENANT can’t wait to catch up with them and hear about their projects soon.