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When Freda Glynn, the subject of She Who Must Be Loved (directed by her daughter Erica Glynn and produced by her granddaughter Tanith Glynn-Maloney), addressed the audience – almost reluctantly, it seemed – at the film’s premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival on the weekend, the highly influential Australian media figure paused behind the lectern and took a long contemplative pause.
“I’m interested in who’s here,” she said to a packed-out cinema. “Who would be interested in my life?” It was characteristically unpretentious of the 79-year-old Kaytetye woman, whose life and legacy – as well as messages at the core of this beautifully constructed film about her – reminds us that humility and timidity are not the same thing. The soft-spoken Glynn is no stranger to a fight, and those fights have been driven by a deep and intrinsic belief in social justice.
She Who Must Be Loved is many things. It is part detective story, attempting to answer the mystery of what happened to Freda’s grandmother who, she was told a long time ago, was killed in a massacre. It is an observational documentary (bookended by visits to the subject’s house in Cooktown, Queensland) fused with social history. It has a personality-led element, the subject fronting the camera to revisit locations significant in her life – like in the recent Jimmy Barnes doco Working Class Boy.
It charts the foundation of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), which Glynn conceived as an initiative to spread cassette tapes of news bulletins to remote Aboriginal communities, recorded in their native language. This leads to a segment about the formation of a film school unlike any other: Imparja Television, a network servicing remote Eastern and Central Australia that fostered talent such as one of Glynn’s sons, the great Australian director Warwick Thornton (whose films include Samson & Delilah and Sweet Country).
She Who Must Be Loved is also, as Thornton himself articulates in conversation with his mother, a mission to record stories before they disappear; to construct a historical narrative counter to the widely accepted Judeo-Christian-centric view of Indigenous Australian culture and history. This subject was explored in detail in last year’s excellent four-part documentary series You Are Here, with one episode (about a literacy program in a small NSW town) directed by Erica Glynn and another, We Don’t Need a Map (about the baggage-laden Southern Cross symbol), directed by Thornton.
Mostly this film is an affectionate and affecting portrait of Glynn, whose warming but tenacious presence seems to inform every aspect of it. The beats of her life story are conveyed with gentle glimmers, infusing the doco with an understated quality even when it touches on hard-hitting political elements, including various forms of persecution – institutionalised and otherwise – of Indigenous people. The tone is melancholic rather than incendiary.
The director’s organic-feeling approach juggles tangents that could form the focus of entire documentaries, such as the history and impact of CAAMA and Imparja Television. The fluid structure of She Who Must Be Loved resists favouring one aspect of its subject over another, imparting a message that there is no single element of Glynn’s story that defines her. Nor, perhaps by inference, any of us: that there are, in all our stories, many moving parts, many inflection points, many things we are inspired by and (hopefully) many things we inspire in others.
It is also deeply enjoyable – unpretentious and life-affirming. Audiences will leave touched by the sincerity of both the film and its subject. One assumes Alfreda Glynn would be quick to tell us that her life is no more or less special than any other; the audience may beg to disagree.
• She Who Must Be Loved is showing at the Adelaide Film Festival on 20 October
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: She Who Must Be Loved review – affectionate portrait of a trailblazer in Indigenous media | Film