Synopsis

With refreshing honesty, Allie Eagle and Me meditates on the complex legacy of a pioneering artist who was the public face of the Women’s Art Movement in New Zealand. Briar March’s debut feature explores Allie Eagle’s transition from feminist extremism to mature self-critique, building a nuanced portrait of the artist as an older woman.

In the 70s Eagle identified herself as a Lesbian Separatist. Her stridently political, subjective work from this time, which includes the pro-abortion painting This Woman Died I Care, has been absorbed into the canon of New Zealand art-history. Thirty years later Eagle voices concerns that the unremitting focus on this period of her life has locked perceptions of her practice into a feminist time-warp.

The film follows Eagle’s preparations for a new show, in which the polemics of the past form a critical, and often ambivalent, subject. Briar March’s decision to include herself in the frame reflects the film’s observational, self-reflexive agenda — as a young artist for whom the actions of Eagle and her contemporaries are part of history, March’s presence provides a touchstone for the ongoing relevance of gender issues to a generation of women who steer clear of the didactic connotations of the ‘feminist’ label.

Now celibate and a practicing Christian. Eagle’s own relation to her history of activism in abortion and gay rights is complex. While her art-making remains collaborative and socially orientated, her past sits at times uncomfortably against new positions on personal responsibility and spirituality.

The West Coast landscape of Te Henga provides a distinctly New Zealand backdrop for this narrative, while a playful apporoach to editing and the conversational tone of interviews with historian Sandra Coney, Auckland Art Gallery curator Ron Brownson and artists Juliet Batten. Carole Shepheard and Jane Zusters provide an effective counterpoint to Eagle’s own views on the extremes of controversy and significance within her oeuvre.

March’s commitment to the inherent density of her material is evident in the charged dynamics between director and subject, effectively balanced by the film’s lush visual language. Allie Eagle and Me deftly side-steps the conventions of dry art historical biography, fusing personal history, generational dialogue and politics with a deliberately light touch.