26 September 2023

When the Camera Stopped Rolling

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Director: Jane Castle, Bonsai Films.

A deep reverence is evident in this expressive picture: a poignant insider’s view of an unheralded Australian pioneer.

This is a film by cinematographer-turned-director Jane Castle about her mother, filmmaker Lilias Fraser (1930-2004), who overcame huge personal challenges to become a remarkable pathfinder of Australian films. It looks at the life behind the camera and at the trauma and the desires that drove them both.

Fraser is hardly known despite having made 40 documentaries that were suffused with buoyant sanguinity. They began with The Beach in 1957, followed by some landmark documentaries including Irrigation Farming in the Riverina, Sugar from Queensland, Australia’s Wheat, and in 1970, she made one of Australia’s first land rights films, This is Their Land.

Fraser’s younger daughter tells Lilias’s story in a poetic meditation, using the rich textures of an unseen part of Australia’s cinematic history and her own highly personal cinematography. It’s an epic tale of her mother’s extraordinary life, her career and their challenging relationship. A journey of deep healing, Castle tells a beautiful and emotionally connecting story.

Resolute, keen and determined, Lilias overcame huge systemic and personal obstacles in her lifetime. Early childhood disturbance drove her, and her life began to unravel over time. Becoming trapped in a destructive marriage then struggling with alcohol and single motherhood, Lilias’s trademark determination finally met its limits.

Selected for Sydney Film Festival 2021, When the Camera Stopped Rolling documents both this trailblazing mother-daughter filmmaking team and the intergenerational suffering that was its shadow. Balancing meticulous archival research with searing honesty and set against stunning visuals, Jane interweaves their struggles and triumphs with clarity and compassion.

  • When the Camera Stopped Rolling is in (limited) cinema release on 21 April

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