Inside Look: How Curiosity Steered Film 'Her Sound, Her Story'
"We interrupt this program now to bring you the distressing news that women in music appear to be missing across the nation."
It's that poignant verbal opening that establishes the seriousness of the issue at the heart of powerful industry documentary Her Sound, Her Story, created by longtime music photographer Michelle Grace Hunder and filmmaker Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore. A labour of love over four years, the film captures how deeply backwards thinking on gender fluidity, age, different cultures and the quality of Australian musicians has affected female artists so individually, as well as our collective psyche.
Starting out as a photographic portrait series in 2016, the project evolved as the two women helming it observed increasing dialogue about gender gaps and imbalance in the music industry. The documentary's power lies in its stories' breadth, spanning from household names who Sangiorgi Dalimore pushed for like Tina Arena and Missy Higgins, to emerging artists like Sampa the Great and Ali Barter who Grace Hunder was enthusiastic about.
When the filmmakers sit down one Friday night to chat about the work, there's a great sense of purpose. "Without those women who've been in it for so long, it wouldn't have the same substance and hit as hard," Sangiorgi Dalimore says.
Although 73 minutes is all we see, behind that is over 18 months dedicated to speaking to the musicians involved, and distilling 48 hours worth of interview footage. Chatting to Sydney folk heavyweight Julia Stone was the turning point in getting other artists on board, and Sangiorgi Dalimore considers the honesty and passion Stone showed, which allowed the two individuals to become close.
"I think getting to know her personally was really interesting to reflect on how much I thought she'd shared in the interview. Even when I was going in to edit some of it with her, she was like, 'No we need to take this out. These are stories I've been telling but I don't really feel are my truths'. So that was interesting in the way that I think artists learn to tell stories so that they can keep a good distance, and not have to give all of themselves. It was really beautiful in her case where she wanted to make sure that everything she said was honest."
Here Grace Hunder comments on Sangiorgi Dalimore having a conversational style with every woman she sat down with, creating connections on a deep level. Broadening the film's scope was the dynamic of the photographer being much more involved with the industry, while Sangiorgi Dalimore was "more on this curious adventure just listening to people talk about their life", allowing them to form intrinsic bonds with different women.
Our chat turns to the impact the documentary has had on its viewers. Grace Hunder raises the shock that a lot of men felt after watching it, having been unaware of the extent of sexism, racism and non-binary intolerance still marring the industry today. However, she says enthusiastically,"I'm speaking to a lot of younger people coming through, and it just isn't an issue for them. They're just happy to be in non-binary spaces and express themselves in different ways, not seeing the world in these binary forms that a lot of us have grown up with... There's a lot of hope in that."
It's clear from other film reactions that female artists see hope for the industry as a whole. Sangiorgi Dalimore fondly remembers a premiere screening of the documentary, when Melbourne-born soul veteran Kate Ceberano - who features in the film - ran to the front after putting her hand up in the audience.
"She was very overwhelmed and in near tears. In that moment, she reflected how sad and disappointed she was that she'd not had access to this beautiful community of women for the entirety of her career. Only now had she realised that loss, and she was going through this grieving process about that. But she was also so overwhelmed because everyone was in this beautiful moment of connection, at and after the screenings," Sangiorgi Dalimore says.
For Grace Hunder, the gradual shift from competitive pressure to genuine collaboration and support between females in the industry is evident in her bond with her fellow art-maker.
"I've joked about our relationship being like a marriage. We've seen each other at our best, worst and everything in between. There have been so many times where either one of us wanted to give up, and the other person would pull it through. So it's been the most incredible, transformative journey for us as humans."
What stands out the most about the film is that while each story told is so unique, every woman in it had, and continues to have, the courage to push through their barriers.
Keep updated about the Her Sound, Her Story project at its official website here.