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Journey among Women

Journey among Women (Tom Cowan, 1977) prod. John Weiley, wr. Tom Cowan, John Weiley, Dorothy Hewett and cast, dp Tom Cowan, music Roy Ritchie, ed. John Scott; Jeune Pritchard, Nell Campbell, Diane Fuller, Jude Kuring, Rose Lilly, Lisa Peers; Sydney, colour, 35mm, 93 min.

IMDb summary (edited):
In colonial Australia, a judge's daughter helps a group of female convicts living in inhumane conditions escape. An Aboriginal girl teaches them how to survive in the bush. The youngest is sexually assaulted and murdered. The group seeks revenge.

In colonial Australia, refined Elizabeth Harrington, daughter of the judge advocate and engaged to Captain McEwan, decides to help female convicts who are living in appalling conditions. The women manage to escape and Elizabeth goes with them. An aboriginal girl, Kameragul, shows them how to survive in the bush but Elizabeth almost dies of malnutrition. A convict, Emily, nurses her back to health.
Months pass, and Emily is raped and killed by two men. Elizabeth leads the other convicts in a revenge attack against the men. Captain McEwan leads an attack on the women, in which he is killed. Elizabeth returns to her old life.

Tom Cowan:
I was living in the bush, in Berowra Waters, and it was so powerful. I happened to read this French science-fiction story called Les Guerrieres about a future society of women - like an Amazon society - who were at war with the rest of society. Somehow in the combination of the wildness and strangeness and beauty of the bush and this story of wild women, I saw a parallel in how we perceived the bush and how the British first saw the bush as ugly. Well, we now see it as beautiful. And how the sort of excesses of radical feminism, when it began, were seen as ugly - ranting and raving and being abusive and so on. But, in fact, behind it were very beautiful things - not just the women, but the humanist ideas. Interview 12 November 1998 from the Wayback Machine.

Stephen Groenewegen:
"Naked lesbian convicts go bush"
Journey Among Women is an unusual hybrid Australian historical adventure and low-budget co-operative feminist experiment.
Director-cinematographer and co-writer Tom Cowan took an improvisatory approach, bringing a disparate group of women into the bush for acting workshops and filming (there's even a credit for 'Bushcraft' in the closing titles).
The women play a group of mistreated female convicts, and a posh colonist's daughter, who escape their squalid prison, flee into the landscape and turn wild. They successfully repel the military's attempt to recapture them, though the daughter returns to the colony and a number of the convicts are killed.
The early scenes in captivity are amateurishly acted and awkwardly scripted, and some imaginative staging can't disguise the stilted performances. But the actors are far more convincing and compelling in the middle of the film, as they explore and are altered by their surroundings. The climactic attack and its resolution are surprisingly exciting.
For an essentially fringe feature, Journey Among Women attracted a wider-than-expected audience 25 years ago because of its reputation for graphic female nudity and lesbianism. It's still intriguing viewing today, although perhaps more notable for its intentions than execution.

Not a quality film in any sense, and particularly on the commercial DVD on which I saw it, which looks like a dub from videotape. It does develop energy, however, from the way in which it was made - i.e. made up as it went along. It's a bit of a Lilley family film, with Dorothy as co-writer, Merv given a credit for 'bushcraft' in the details, and Rose playing the youngest of the escapees, whose rape and death gives impetus to the final 'battle'. Merv was probably also there to look after his 13-year-old daughter - who was exposed in more ways than one - as well as to act as camp cook. Tom Cowan is an intelligent and sensitive man, but mainly a cinematographer. He refers to Aguirre der Zorn Gottes in the commentary on the DVD, but Werner Herzog he is not. This film was not under his control. (His last feature as director seems not to have been released.)

References and Links

Wikipedia page, and as above.

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