“I got quite active in social justice campaigns and the filming and the hard work of trying to raise money for making films went to one side and I just went to the other side,” she said.
After leaving the last of a dozen jobs at the steelworks, Murphy took on a longstanding passion project: making a documentary about the campaign by mostly migrant women who were effectively locked out of the 20,000-strong workforce at the steelworks.
And now she faces an unusual world premiere with the festival streaming films online for the first time from Wednesday until June 21 because of the pandemic. Her film, Women of Steel, is in the $10,000 competition for best Australian documentary.
“It’s great that the festival is going to be out there for everybody for everybody across Australia,” Murphy said. “But on the other hand, I’d love to be sitting there to see how the audience is reacting to the film. That’s the downer.”
Murphy found out about the film’s selection after a traumatic summer fighting bushfires with the Nelligen Rural Fire Service on the south coast. It was a town that became famous when fellow RFS volunteer Paul Parker blasted a blunt message to Prime Minister Scott Morrison from the cabin of his truck.
“I’m actually quite damaged by the fires,” Murphy said. “The aftermath has been quite stressful as well. We’re all trying to mend in our community.”
She was “totally gobsmacked” to have the film selected for the festival.
While her former film school classmates went on to celebrated careers, Murphy has no regrets about the direction she took.
“I was campaigning for the right for women to work in the steelworks so it made sense not to be on the sidelines but to be in the thick of it,” she said.
“And that experience has been absolutely fantastic. I’ve really grown to respect the various migrant communities in the area and the union movement.”
The documentary was made with support from the ACTU, South Coast Labour Council and other union organisations and identities.
The virtual 67th festival includes 10 Australian documentaries, 10 films by European women directors and 13 shorts.
Festival director Nashen Moodley said it was a “way to bring attention to the filmmakers and the film industry at a time that’s really devastating for the cinema business” and maintain a connection with its usual audience.
Festival details and tickets, sff.org.au.
Garry Maddox is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.