4 Jun 2017

Leanne Pooley: a picture of womanhood worldwide

From Sunday Morning, 8:40 am on 4 June 2017
Leanne Pooley

Leanne Pooley Photo: Supplied

In January this year, women took to the streets worldwide after Donald Trump's inauguration.

Filmmaker Leanne Pooley's ambitious new project Why We March will bring their voices together and find out why.

"Women marched for all sorts of reasons and came together for those reasons but also for each other."

Women who marched can contribute their answers to three questions at Whywemarch.film – Why did they march? Who did they march with? What is the issue in their country that matters to them most?

The film will be formed by these stories, says Pooley.

"We can make a film, I think, that paints a picture of womanhood around the world. What's the state of womanhood in Jordan, where they couldn't march so they held little vigils? They weren't allowed to march in Fiji ...  Women marched in Saudi Arabia, they marched in India, they marched in Antarctica ... This vast array of countries, cultures, religions, rich, poor..."

Pooley, who is originally from Canada, has made more than 20 documentaries in two decades.

Her most recent film – the animated documentary 25 April about the WWI Gallipoli campaign – made the Oscars long list.

"A good story is a good story and it doesn't matter if you're in New Zealand or America or Winnipeg, Canada where I'm from. If it's a good story and you find a way to tell it, hopefully, well it will resonate with an audience."

Pooley's film about the Topp Twins Untouchable Girls struck a chord not just here, but around the world.

It appealed to New Zealanders as really a story of how this country came of age, she says, it's unusually funny for a documentary and the Twins' message of 'people power' was a powerful one.

She says it was fun to watch a uniquely New Zealand story with festival audiences in other countries.

"These two women weren't some sort of niche entertainment act. They were mainstream openly lesbian women in the early 1980s. That was extraordinary from the perspective of the of the world."

Good films take the viewer on a journey, she says.

"I say to students, "If you're going to make a film about alcohol I already know it's bad for me so you need to tell me something I didn't know. You need to take me on a journey. Don't tell me it's bad for me at the beginning and tell me it's bad for me at the end 'cause I knew that and you've stolen 90 minutes of my life."

Last August, following her final treatment for stage 3 breast cancer – "a form of cancer where they can't say to you at the end of it 'Oh, it's gone'" – Pooley wrote an article that went viral.

"We don't talk much about what it's like afterwards. There's an awful lot of us out there who are living after cancer – thankfully, thankfully – but we live with certain things that really only someone who has been through it can truly understand."

Most of us don't really face the prospect of dying until we have to, says Pooley.

"Suddenly when you've been forced to think about it, it changes the way you see everything."

Throughout her chemotherapy treatment, Pooley was working on 25 April.

"I'm a bad human when I'm not making something," she says.

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