Logline: Three young girls challenge the football establishment for the right to play the game they love. Even Girls Play Footy follows a landmark legal case which changed both the law and the Australian Rules football landscape.
Current Status: Completed
Length: 27 minutes, 18 seconds
Director: Kerreen Ely-Harper
Producer: Carmel Mcaloon
Looking for (ie buyer, distributor, sales agent, producer, media interest) Bigger audience on free platforms and into education sector
Funders: Victoria Law Foundation
Made in association with: early development assistance from Film Victoria
Where can I watch it: Free online: www.evengirlsplayfooty.com
1. Why did you decide to make this film?
In 2003, I was developing a drama script about a young girl’s last game of football. I had interviewed a number of girls who had been forced to stop playing footy at twelve due to the ban. When I saw an article featuring Penny, Helen and Emily in the Herald-Sun I was struck by the similarity of their stories to my screenplay.
When I went to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to hear the outcome of their first application to be reinstated I was totally inspired and without hesitation put aside the fictional version as I believed the actual real life story to be of far greater significance. The public debate that ensued in the media and the wider community, on the differences between girls and boys, was fascinating.
It was a story that seemed to touch the hearts and minds of a cross section of Australian society, not just footy fans. I didn’t want that story to be lost to history. So we began the long campaign to getting the film made.
2. You cover two time periods: the court case in 2003 and looking back on it almost a decade later. How do you believe that the passing of time strengthened the film?
From mid 2003 through to early 2004 we filmed the girls’ last junior football games, their court case, and conducted a number of interviews with them, their respective family members, friends, teammates and coaches. We also collated a large amount of archival material - newspaper, radio, news and television footage.
The media’s representation of the girls made a decisive contrast with our observational ‘behind the scenes’ approach. In 2011 we returned to see what they were doing and to find out their reflections on how the case had impacted on their lives. We also conducted retrospective interviews with their key legal representatives to provide an insight into the historical significance of the case in regard to changing the legislation enabling girls to play up to the age of fourteen to play in mixed competition.
It was great to be able to revisit the three girls in the film almost 10 years after the case. Not only could we meet the interesting women they had grown into, but we could hear their perspectives on the experience of the case, with the hindsight and wisdom that time brings.
It was apparent how much that experience of standing up for what they believed in as girls, had affected their paths in the intervening years. You can see how passionately they talk about the case, even years after the event, and it undoubtedly shaped their view on the world from that moment.
It was also interesting to note the changes that occurred in the intervening years within the football community and the AFL, in terms of acknowledging young women players and creating a competition where they could fit in. And as more time passes, we now see the increasing profile of women’s football and the potential of the women’s league being broadcast from 2017.
3. Did you approach the Australian Football League or Football Victoria to participate in the film?
We did approach the AFL and went to speak with them at length about the project and what we were covering. Our aim was to have them agree to an interview to put across their position with the case, and to share their plans for mixed and or women’s football in the future, but they declined to be involved on camera.
4. Why do you think the Victorian Law Foundation decided to fund the film?
This story demonstrates the law in action, in a way that the average non-legal person can understand, and it was great that the Victorian Law Foundation recognised that right away. It really fit their brief of highlighting the relevance of the law in all our lives, and involved people that many of us can relate to. At the centre of the case was a fundamental right that was being denied on the basis of gender, and it seemed timely that this law be challenged.
We had footage that documented the course of the case – during, before and after – and which showed an outcome of ordinary people using the law to right a wrong. So for the Law Foundation, it was great opportunity to present a case study that could be used in educational and community settings to explain how the law works.
5. What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
Many people were aware of the case at the time, and are always interested to see how it unfolded, and the impact it had on the lives of those involved.
The women’s football community appreciates that the story has been documented and passed on, as the outcome of the case made quite an impact on future young female players, in a very positive way. For those not familiar with the story, the film proves a real eye-opener – that some young girls could challenge the authority of a large, powerful sports body and win is an inspiring tale.
6. Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Not so far, but our audience to date has been pretty sympathetic with the girls’ case. I think there is still a large audience out there to be challenged by the idea that girls and women can play football just as well as men, and are passionate enough about their involvement in the game to fight for it!
7. What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
We would love a larger and broader audience to see this film and be aware of the fight for female players to get the ever-increasing recognition they have today. We would like to see this film extend into educational institutions, sports institutions and the general community, to provide awareness and discussion of the issues around gender, power and the media that the film raises.
8. Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message and audience?
It would be great to build the audience for this film via increased viewing on free platforms and recommendations to others. Film festivals, free distribution platforms, and community screenings would all be welcomed.
It would also be great for journalists to be aware of this story and the history of the fight for these girls to play. Whilst the AFL are now making great strides to promote women’s football, they did seem to have an agenda of no mixed teams of both men and women players, and there are still huge barriers for professional women in this sport (coaches, umpires, trainers) in crossing over to work in men’s football where greater opportunity and money lie.
9. What type of impact would you like this film to have?
In schools - the film is a very effective tool for use in Secondary school classrooms to generate discussion and debate across many subject areas, including legal studies, gender studies, health and human development, physical education and media studies. At under 30 minutes running time, it will maintain student’s attention, whilst providing a depth of information to be drawn out in class discussion.
The documentary features subjects of the same age as our target audience, placing it in a unique position to speak directly to that audience. It will inspire and educate young people about legal rights, human rights, community and empowerment.
This was a landmark legal case, changing both the law and the Australian Rules football landscape. The girls’ win enabled better opportunities for female participation in Australian Rules football. The documentary shows the complexities of the legal system, and how young people successfully navigate them with the right assistance. It addresses the different arguments used by both legal teams, and explores the difficulty of dealing with laws made many decades ago, that may have lost their relevance in a modern world.
It also shows that it’s possible for young people to stand up to the establishment and assert their rights to affect change. It provides positive role models operating in a complex adult world, and succeeding in making a difference.
The film also explores the fascinating treatment of the case by the media. The heated public debate on the differences between girls and boys, which ensued in mainstream media and the wider community, provides an ideal framework to examine the role of the media. This coverage also provides a way to reflect on the ongoing gender and equity of opportunity issues that are regularly played out, not only on the sports field, but also in the classroom, home environment and workplace.
10. Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
Does gender matter in sport?