Meet the Filmmaker: Abbie Pobjoy – Backing Up Bilitis
Abbie Pobjoy is a director, writer and filmmaker based in Melbourne, Australia. Abbie has currently completed a Bachelor of Film & Television at Swinburne University of Technology. Her recent short film ‘The Clams’ internationally premiered at last years Paris Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Chéries-Chéris). Her work has also been recognised by BBFF Media, Stronger Than Fiction and Global Citizen.
Now with her short Backing Up Bilitis, Abbie is continuously inspired by storytelling centred around the queer and female experience.
We recently had an opportunity to interview Abbie about her experiences in making Backing Up Bilitis, and here is what we learned.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about the film?
Backing Up Bilitis is about a 17-year old closeted girl called Jane, who is growing up during Melbourne’s first gay liberation movement amidst the beginning of Melbourne’s ‘Daughters of Bilitis’ chapter – which was recorded as the first political homosexual rights group in Australia. It follow’s Jane as she creates an underground pro-gay event in the basement of her suburban home (a trend in activism at the time) to not only support the liberation movement but to unveil her own identity as a lesbian.
What was your biggest inspiration to make this film/How did you get involved or attached to the project?
I had spent most of my time at the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives researching queer culture in the early 1970s. During that period, I had come across two lesbian activists, Phyllis Papps and Francesca Curtis, a couple who were members of the original Daughters of Bilitis group and who were still alive. As a gay woman, it shocked me to realise that I hadn’t come across this part of history before, but once I had found these two women who started it all, I became incredibly inspired to base a film around what it was like to find a community as a closeted girl in the 1970s. They both later became advisors of the story and who we decided to dedicate the film upon its release.
As a filmmaker there are many ups and downs in the process, what was your absolute favourite and/or funniest part of making/producing this film?
One of my favourite parts of this film was being able to work with the film’s lead actor, Jana Zvedeniuk. Jana and I spent months together reading transcripts, interviews and evening forming the perfect 1970s playlist to delve into what it truly meant to be a gay woman in 1970s Australia. It was a really organic yet intensive process. You feel like you have a big responsibility to get it ‘right,’ especially because this was the reality of some many women during the time. Not only did Jana and I share a love for Jane’s character and her story but also shared this responsibility too.
What does a film festival like Byron Bay Film Festival mean to you and your work?
Byron Bay Film Festival has been an event I have always followed. It’s such an important platform for new and up-coming storytellers to show their work as well as be apart of a festival that truly values Australian talent. Backing Up Bilitis being innately an Australian story, we were stoked that we had been selected for BBFF 2019!
Byron Bay Film Festival showcases an array of entertaining, inspiring and thought-provoking films. Do you feel that your film helps people ‘Dream With Their Eyes Open’? And if so how?
Certainly. The film follows the footsteps of a girl who had pretty much been dreaming with her eyes wide open her whole life. She dreams of community, coming out and being accepted. She dreams to unleash a hidden identity. The story follows this dream happening in her own means, all within a time period which didn’t allow it.
What was the most challenging part of the filmmaking process?
The most challenging part of making the film, was re-creating an authentic 1970s Australia on screen. Luckily, our Director of Photography, Hazal Alakus, and our Production Designer, Amelia Childs, made sure this was a priority of the story when setting up our world visually. We were able to shoot on super 16mm film as well source authentic props and costumes to build a snapshot into the past.
Sound and music also played a massive part in this process. Our sound designer, Joe Sexton, in collaboration with Aztec Music Australia, was able to source specialised soundtracks for the film, that features ‘Lobby Loyde & The Coloured Balls,’ and ‘Normie Rowe.’ We weren’t just trying to achieve a 1970s nostalgia, we wanted to be able to make the film look like it was dug out of a time capsule and put through a projector, we had to create a feeling rather than just an aesthetic.
Any upcoming projects for you, your team or key creatives involved in your film?
The next part of the Bilitis story is currently being made in conjunction with Melbourne Arts as apart of the Young Creatives Lab. It’s a documentary called, ‘Why Did She Have To Tell The World,’ following the true lives of Phyllis Papps and Francesca Curtis fifty years on.
What drives you as a filmmaker?
This has been a story I have wanted to make for quite some time. As a queer person, I find that it is incredibly important to pay homage to those who fought for our rights. This has always driven me as a filmmaker, and I believe there are many stories that are left undercover in gay history that don’t get many platforms or voices at all. Queer people need to see their history on screen, and it’s our responsibility as filmmakers in the community to make that connection.
Anything interesting or unique about the filmmaking process for this film, any hiccups along the way, any happy coincidences that changed the films direction?
One of the most happy coincidences of the film was being able to find an original 1971 basement that hadn’t been touched since its creation. It still had all it’s original wood panelling, tiles, furniture etc. I really feel like we were blessed with that find! And also the generosity of the home owners for us to come in and shoot there, is the type of generosity that gets short films made.
Is anything-else you would like to share?
I’d just like to add that this film has been made on stolen land belonging to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations. We pay our respect to elders past and present, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.