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She’s maturing with her three subjects, Gillian Armstrong tells Andrew L. Urban after making the fifth in her series on Kerry, Josie and Diana, the three teenagers in her 1976 film, Smokes and Lollies. They’re 47 now, and two of them are grandmothers – and very honest ones, at that as can be seen in Love Lust & Lies, the latest in this revealing audio-visual photo album.

It had been 14 years since she made the 4th documentary about their lives, so when Sydney filmmaker Gillian Armstrong started ringing her three subjects in Adelaide – Kerry, Josie and Diana – she met resistance. The 14 year old girls from her famous first documentary about them in 1976, Smokes and Lollies, are now 47 and two are grandmothers. Armstrong suggested she fly over and they all have dinner together.

“It will be lovely to see you,” replied Kerry, “but you’re not going to talk me into it…” Armstrong laughed. “It will be great, and I WILL try and talk you into it.” But she was worried, because she feared that Kerry and Josie, both unwilling to be part of Armstrong’s fifth revelatory documentary about their lives, would “gang up” on her and talk Diana out of it.

"the importance of the films as a social document"

Once in Adelaide, Armstrong used every argument she could muster to convince the women that they should take the plunge. “They’re well aware of the media and they’re not seeking fame, so I asked them to look at the big picture of the series, to consider the importance of the films as a social document, not just for Australians generally, but for their families … their children and grandchildren.” That did it. They were in.

“I thought Not Fourteen Again was going to be the last film but in the final scene at the farewell dinner when I’m on camera, Josie asks me ‘So Gill is this going to be the last one?’ I answered that I couldn’t be absolutely sure about that and that I might just be curious to find out what happened to them all.

“Then in 2008 Dasha Ross from the ABC called out of the blue and asked whether I’d consider making another instalment in the series. She encouraged me to go back to Adelaide to find out what had happened in the fourteen years since the last film. I found it hard to believe it had been fourteen years, but I have to admit I was curious. So I did go back.”

The first 27 minutes of Love Lust & Lies are devoted to edited highlights of the previous four, as Armstrong profiles the three, first as teenagers, and then every seven years. “I felt it was important to include that footage, both for those who hadn’t seen some or all of the films, and for those who had, to remind them of the experiences that shaped these women.” It helps set the context for this fifth film, which is marginally different from the others in that Armstrong has succumbed to suggestions from friends and colleagues to leave her own voice in the film. She is seen on camera and the warmth and trust of the relationship with her subjects is evident.

"more willing to ask questions she may not have dared to ask before"

“It meant I could leave conversations intact,” she says. She was also more willing to ask questions she may not have dared to ask before. “We’re all older and wiser now, and by leaving myself in the picture, I could ask them a question and they could refuse to answer if they wished. It would make the film real.”

In fact, the three women are revealing and frank about their lives – providing an audio visual ‘photo album’ of their lives. By definition, the women have longer stories this time, their personalities are fully formed, and their way of coping and surviving becomes clearer. “I’m really pleased they were so honest,” says Armstrong.

Making this fifth film was hardly different to the others. Armstrong kept the crew small and even banished production interns to the cars outside when shooting, to limit the number of people ‘gawking’ at her subjects while they were on camera. Which, for much of the time, was inside their lounge rooms and kitchens. “I had to tell these poor young things to try and look normal… these guys in black standing about a suburban street … it would have looked odd, to say the least. Neighbours might have called the police. I told them to read a paper or take a drive…”

When she began shooting, she was “afraid I’d be too old to crawl around behind the camera in the kitchen like before,” says Armstrong, “but I did it. So maybe I can do it again in 10 years time. Oh no!” she yelps, “I’d be too old.” But she doesn’t sound as though she’s convinced of that.

Published May 13, 2010

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Gillian Armstrong on set


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