Film Art Media and Generator Pictures today debuted the trailer for documentary film Paper Trails, which follows the beloved Australian broadcaster, writer, activist and mental health advocate Anne Deveson AO as she reflects on her life, memory and history while racing against time to pack her 85- year paper trail into boxes destined for the National Library of Australia.
The film is set to premiere at the 2017 Antenna Documentary Film Festival on Wednesday, 11 October before it is broadcast nationally on ABC TV's Compass on Saturday, 14 October at 6pm, as part of Mental Health week.
Paper Trails is directed by Sari Braithwaite, whose short documentary Smut Hounds screened at BFI London, MIFF, SFF and Adelaide Film Festival in 2015 before being broadcast on ABC2 and Qantas. Katia Nizic (Violent Florence, Tough & Cookie) and Britt Arthur (SMUT HOUNDS, Life Architecturally) produced the film, with Sue Maslin (The Dressmaker, Japanese Story) serving as executive producer. Paper Trails will be distributed by Film Art Media.
When Braithwaite met Anne in 2015, she was attempting to bundle up thousands of private papers for the National Library of Australia (NLA). She offered to help and over the next six months they transform Anne's 85-year paper trail into a mountain of brown boxes for the permanent collection at the NLA.
But during this time, Anne's brain starts to fail her. Alzheimer's, the illness that took her mother and grandmother, is gaining hold and she is feeling the pressure to move into care. While she has stacks of miscellaneous files to sort, Anne has resolved to keep living in her own home, on her own terms.
It took over six months to archive Anne's life into 150 neatly packed boxes. The prevalence of digital technology today means that Anne's generation will be the last to have such a long -paper' trail.
Paper Trails contains never before seen archive from Anne Deveson's collection, including unpublished writings from her final journal. Anne's archive is now stored in the permanent collection of the National Library of Australia, so that future generations may explore, discover and continue the adventure.
Synopsis: Anne Deveson was a magnificent woman: the first female talk-back broadcaster in Australia, she was also a writer, activist, mental health advocate, and mother. When director Sari Braithwaite met Anne in 2015, she was attempting to bundle up thousands of private papers for the National Library of Australia (NLA). Sari offered to help and over the next six months they transform Anne's 85-year paper trail into a mountain of neatly stacked brown boxes for the permanent collection at the NLA. But during this time, Anne's brain starts to fail her. Alzheimer's, the illness that took her mother and grandmother, is gaining hold, and she is feeling the pressure to move into care. While she has stacks of miscellaneous files to sort, Anne has resolved to keep living in her own home, on her own terms. As she seeks to make sense of her life through the archives, she discovers that the storylines she's seeking to piece together are becoming harder and harder to find. What to keep, what to discard? Anne writes in her diary, 'Who am I to think I matter?" The film weaves between Anne Deveson's present and past as we time travel through her rich archive, exploring the changes and repetitions that appear over a lifetime. While Anne may be packing her life's work into boxes it is, at best, a mirage of order. The chaotic beauty of Anne Deveson, or any of us, defies a singular telling or definitive p
I met Anne when I was making SMUT HOUNDS - a film about censorship in 1960s Australia. She was a newspaper columnist in 1969, and had written a column with this very funny, irreverent opening line - so I travelled from Melbourne to Sydney to interview her for the research. When I met Anne for coffee, I knew nothing about her, and she remembered nothing about censorship. We very quickly moved away from work talk, and had this incredible, hilarious and thoughtful conversation about everything: politics, society, feminism, love and relationships. I went home and thought 'who is this woman?"
She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's just before we met, but she hadn't told me. It was clear that she was unwell. She would call me most days to confirm when I was coming next to visit - forgetting that we had already met. And so we would talk on the phone a lot, and during those chats, we developed a friendship that became the basis for embarking upon this film.
The National Library of Australia (NLA) had been asking Anne for years to entrust her papers to them for archiving (I found paper trails with requests going back 35 years). There were boxes of papers in every cupboard of her house, and under every bed. Anne had always been chaotic, but the Alzheimer's took that to another level. Finding order was too difficult.
Early in our phone conversations, Anne expressed her desire to organise her papers. When I explained that I was a trained historian, with a background in archive, she thought it was some kind of magical conjuring that I was willing to help her (the film I had been working on had paused, and I had time on my hands). Once we were in the thick of archiving, she would introduce me to people by saying that I 'magically appeared to help her pack up the papers" - she couldn't really remember the months of discussions about this, or even how we met…and so she just invented a better story. She was a storyteller, and the boringness of the truth never got in the way.
I love archives. I love looking in them, and I love hunting through. I've spent a lot of my working life pouring over archive collections. A total sticky beak. I was aware that Anne was part of the last generation that would have a full set of papers to hand over to the public record. From now on, our greatest thinkers and influencers will hand over hard-drives - but there is something extraordinary about an archive that you have to sit and work through page after page to learn its mysteries. No search terms, no quick peeks - and the reality that within those mountains of boxes, some mysteries will never be found.
Both of my grandmothers died around the time we were making the film. I had been really interested in that moment in someone's life when they know they can't live independently for much longer, but they still aren't ready to let go of their independence. They are tired, and in need of help, but they are not ready for the final phase of their life. When I met Anne, I knew that there was this small window. Her health was declining, there was pressure for her to go into care, but she still had this job to do, and enormous sass about doing it…and I thought that was a momentous change in someone's life to document.
There were some really hard days, particularly at the end. She was losing weight, and she would be in pain, which would make her Alzheimer's worse. But Alzheimer's isn't linear - she would be terrible for a couple of days, and then she would come out again, and be magnificent. It was a special relationship. I think in some ways for me it was a coming of age experience - it made me think about what's important in my life, what isn't. There is a lot of bullshit and insecurity at the beginning of your career, particularly in the arts, and I think I let go of a bit of that. Her trust in me gave me a confidence to pursue what I wanted to and I think that was a gift she shared with a lot of people. She could make people believe in themselves. Anne taught me to be led by kindness, and to be brave.
It was very tricky to balance the roles of archivist, filmmaker, and friend. Anne was very unwell by the end of our filming…although whenever I turned the camera on, she had this remarkable ability to perform her best self. The amazing network of Anne's family and friends always felt very supportive of Anne and doing the archive, and the filming. The archive gave Anne a sense of purpose, and an escape from the illness that was taking over. She was a woman who loved to work, and she needed a job to do.
Although I didn't really think about it at the time, I think the priority was always our friendship. The priority wasn't making the archive perfect, or making the film. I never pushed her with filming, or pushed her to talk about things she didn't want to talk about. I always asked her what she wanted to do. She was definitely the boss. And I think that because of that long time we spent together, often not filming, the intimacy of that bond comes through in the film.
Anne was a lot of things, she had many careers - but it was her writing that I loved. It was always so grand and colourful, just like she was. I found a notepad, flicked it open, and she had written about Alzheimer's. A couple of pages, just a stream of consciousness…and she had no memory of writing it. Amongst all her notepads, we could have easily never stumbled upon it. Originally, we thought maybe the film would be about her writing about Alzheimer's. But she had lost that ability to sit and write prose. But she could still read, and perform her words, and I wanted to show how magnificent that was.
This film is about Anne's very personal experience of packing up her life, but also there is the universal experience, the turning point into the last stage of your life. I wanted the archive to feel like Anne's memory - which includes memories specific to her, but also those grand narratives in all people's lives. Our memories are a mix of the personal and the universal, and so I sought archive from a range of places to create this kind of tapestry of what it is to grow old. People can access Anne's records at the NLA: and she didn't put restrictions on access. Personal archives breakdown the official events of our history, and make them personal - and much can be revealed in that. We may have boxed it up, but there is much in that archive is remains a mystery.
But we don't know what people will discover. Anne was many things, and not one thing that could be pinned down. And that's her archive: it will be many things to many different people. And Anne was generous enough to let people take a look and make their own calls about her life and contribution. The archive continues to live through us, however we choose to use it.
- Sari Braithwaite
Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Generator Pictures present in association with Film Victoria 'Paper Trails".
Produced in association with Screen Australia, Film Art Media, Documentary Australia Foundation, Victorian Women's Trust, Alzheimer's Australia, The Sky Foundation, Australian Film Television & Radio School.
Distributed by Film Art Media.
Written and directed by Sari Braithwaite
Produced by Katia Nizic and Britt Arthur
Executive Produced by Sue Maslin