Film Narrative Techniques
As the title suggests, Allie Eagle and Me takes a participatory and performative approach to presenting Allie’s story. Director Briar March strongly authors the film. She uses a first-person narration that records her responses to what she is showing the audience. She appears on-screen and can be identified as a character with a particular cultural background. She also orchestrates and participates in on-screen action, meaning that the film is partially a product of her directing characters to do (although not say) certain things in order to move the story she is telling forward. Briar’s is an ongoing narrative voice that seeks to understand Allie Eagle’s past art practices and beliefs and the way they have changed. Briar also wants to know how and why Allie is expressing her new beliefs in a new exhibition and what Allie’s new beliefs mean. Her constant questioning and presence on-screen mean that while the film documents Allie as an artist, it also reflects Briar’s personal journey to place herself as a mature film-maker.
Visual narrative techniques
The film makes limited use of seated interviews. Instead Briar has chosen to point the camera at Allie in her studio while she works and ask questions there, or record their conversations as they go on a hill top trip to sketch clouds, to visit Allie’s old friend Jane Zusters, writer Sandra Coney or to the Auckland Art Gallery. These visits allow the audience to see older pieces of art including the pivotal This Woman Died I Care, prompt the characters to talk about certain topics and provide a rich visual landscape that Briar is able to exploit to engage the audience’s attention and draw attention to the art and the artist.
The constant presence of the Te Henga landscape and a palette of greens and vibrant reds in the film mirror the content of Allie’s paintings and therefore draw attention to or accentuate the relationship between film-maker and subject, who have been friends and neighbours in the same district since Briar was a child. Just as Allie uses these colours in her paintings, Briar uses them in her film. This prior link helps explain to the audience why Briar is able to tell the story and to a degree why she wants to, and also why Allie is willing to be part of the film. It is highlighted in the way that Briar talks about her own past memories in the swamp, which is very much a part of Allie’s art work.
Narrative Structure and Themes
Allie Eagle and Me can be loosely understood as the intertwining of three related but separate narrative strands. These are bookended by Briar’s establishment of her own character and her relationship to Allie, and a final discussion between the two characters.
In one narrative Briar follows Allie around Auckland finding out about her past involvement with the Women’s Art Movement and the explicitly feminist polemics of her early art practice and identity as a lesbian separatist. This narrative strand also incorporates discussion of female artists and art by women that has been reclaimed by feminist artists into a women artists’ canon. It involves visits to Juliet’s Batten’s bach at Te Henga where Allie used to live, the Auckland Art Gallery and curator Ron Brownson, to Sandra Coney’s home and her collection of women’s art and broadsheet archives and to Te Henga for plein air painting and a discussion of painter Olivia Spencer-Bower (see photo). Allie’s contribution to the Women’s Art Movement is emphasised by Carole Shepheard, Professor of Fine Arts, in the film’s only formal interview.
The story of Allie’s involvement with the Women’s Art Movement is inter-cut with another narrative in which Allie prepares for a forthcoming exhibition. Part of the preparation shows Allie in her studio reworking an earlier painting This Woman Died I Care. This earlier work expresses a lesbian, feminist position on abortion and Allie wants to use a new work to communicate her changed position. Allie’s work in the studio shows her atelier workshop where younger artists help in exchange for mentoring. This is portrayed as Allie’s continuing commitment to a collective approach to producing art. Briar follows Allie to church. Coupled with a discussion that Allie and Briar have with Allie’s fellow artist and long-time friend Jane Zusters, Allie’s transition to christianity and new position on abortion is expressed. Allie wants to see women supported when they make the decision to have children. She says she does not feel inclined to advocate any repeal of existing abortion laws but feels a sense of regret that she might have encouraged women to have abortions through her past activism.
Briar’s presence in and narration throughout the film serves as a way of interrogating how and why things have changed both for Allie and for women and women artists since the days of the Women’s Art Movement. Briar constantly asks questions, prodding Allie to share her thoughts, but also includes her own responses to what is happening on screen. As Briar and Allie walk around a Te Henga paddock at the end of the film, Allie asks Briar what she thinks after exploring women’s art, abortion activism, Allie’s new faith and Briar’s own position. Briar concludes that the activities of women activists and artists have enabled her own freedom but that people in her generation are more compelled to take a less specific position politically, artistically and spiritually. Allie concludes by saying she wants to take a grandmotherly role in the art world at this point in her career and suggests that there are still many problems that Briar’s generation will have to deal with. The end of the film highlights the fact that, like people everywhere, the two women on screen and the texts they make are products of particular historical moments.