There should be more teen rock stars. I don’t mean wayward Disney Channel starlets, or rags-to-riches Soundcloud memers ― both precocious breeds of fame are valuable in their own right, but I feel like there’s immense potential for Gen Z to come up with something angrier, something fittingly collaborative and political for the cesspit circumstances they’ve inherited. Look no further than No Time For Quiet, Hylton Shaw and Samantha Dinning’s Melbourne-set rockumentary about a week-long punk workshop for young women and gender non-conforming kids. In the film, the participants of GIRLS ROCK! Melbourne are documented as being hyper-emotional, obsessive, and so good at pinning down exactly how they feel ― whether the grown-up world can handle it or not. One histrionic yet eminently relatable lyric from the camp’s final performance goes ― ‘I’m tired of feeling tired! I feel like I’m on fire!’
As evidenced in MIFF 2018’s I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story, we’re all familiar with the intimate meaning teens yield from their cultural consumption; No Time For Quiet shows what happens when those same alienated youths are pushed to create their own art. The documentary follows a refreshingly diverse group of baby riot grrls, homing in on key participants like effervescent Mika and gender-fluid creative Ziero, while also featuring some blazing performances from Melbourne acts like Courtney Barnett, Cable Ties, and slam-poet Sukhjit Khalsa.
Through sensitively-captured talking heads and chicken-scratch animation, Shaw and Dinning have crafted a loving, inspirational ode to a sadly rare, transitory safe space somewhere between punk rock and therapy.
Eliza Janssen spoke with Shaw about the “brutal truth” of post-camp blues, and how her crew stayed considerate while filming a group of kids going through some of the worst shit puberty can throw at you; mental illness, institutionalised cissexism, and trying to come up with a decent band name.
Eliza Janssen: One of my favourite moments in the film is when one of the kids refers to Alien (1979) as ‘that feminist film Alien’.
Hylton Shaw: Mika, yeah.
EJ: That perspective is amazing…like, she’s right! But it’s just such a pure, childlike way to describe it. What was it like working with kids who think like that?
HS: Mika was a real joy throughout the camp. She was one of the youngest members, and a lot of the time with the younger participants at camp, you could see how much the environment was influencing them. Because GIRLS ROCK! isn’t just about the music, it’s kind of an educational week-long school holiday program. Although of course the aim is to write a song, and form a band, and get better at an instrument, and then perform at the end of the week ― they also do all these really cool talks. They do self defence, and they learn about cultural appropriation. Sometimes this might’ve been the first time a lot of the younger participants would’ve had a chance to get informed about those kind of topics that maybe don’t get too discussed at school ― those kind of broad feminist theories. Those talks were really informative and I think they inspired a lot of the younger campers.
As the days went on you could really see the confidence building in them. And when we followed so many of the characters for pretty much two years after the documentary, Mika and the younger participants had really taken all that ethos and then applied it. Mika was going into high school, and she then applied all that stuff she learned at camp to school. She’s challenging kids, she’s asking teachers, ‘Why are we looking at gender in this way?’.
So the younger you can get those participants to go to something like GIRLS ROCK!, it’s really integral to them. Whereas if they’re like 15 and 16 when they go, they do have a set of ideas already, around thinking and movement. If you get them when they’re younger, it just goes to show how much it can influence them during their teen years and then further into being a young woman. I think Mika was really someone we needed around the film, because she’s so joyous and young. There’s some more candid and darker issues with some of our other participants like Phoebe and Ziero, whereas Mika is someone who was really well-adjusted. We needed Mika throughout the film to remind everyone, ‘This is such a happy environment ― it’s just that a lot of the participants do go through struggles’. Mika was someone who absolutely thrived in it, and that was really special to see.
EJ: What were you looking for in the gap between the first camp, and then returning to film the girls 18 months later? It was so staggering, seeing that you must’ve caught them at such a sensitive, transformative moment, because 18 months later, they’ve all really changed.
HS: I think what we were looking for was obvious transformation. You see that happen through the week-long camp for people like Ziero and Phoebe, that they’re starting to get a sense of validation, or transformation in the community that they’ve found. I guess we wanted to look at how when they go out of the space of ‘Girls Rock’, particularly based on what Lucy says towards the end of the film, it can be such a downer. We wanted to highlight that we would love to see more spaces like that, and more people with the attitudes of GIRLS ROCK!, like the volunteers and the mentors. For me particularly, I’m hoping that they can find those people they found at GIRLS ROCK! in schools, because that’s where they’re mostly at.
We want to further inclusive spaces, really. We wanted to look at the downside ― what that meant for some of them, in not having the people of GIRLS ROCK! around. We just didn’t want to finish it at the showcase, where you see everyone really happy, like, ‘oh I’ve conquered my fears and done everything ! wanna do!’ Because to us, there’s so much more of a story in the effect of when camp finished, since it’s a character-driven documentary. We wanted to show the effects of, when they don’t have that supportive community, what can potentially happen. But then a lot of them went back to camp the following year. The post-camp blues, we call them, start to dissipate, because they’re forming a community. The more times they go back, they feel more confident in themselves, and feel like they can survive in a post-camp world.
EJ: Among conservatives, that concept of a ‘safe space’ is a buzzword with really negative connotations ―
HS: And in venues as well.
EJ: Absolutely. I thought the film dealt with the idea really well, that these kids have never had such an inclusive space, but it’s not going to extend into ‘the real world outside of camp’.
HS: That’s the brutal truth, that’s exactly it. That’s what I was trying to say. It’s not in the real world, it exists in some places, and I’ll say that since we started filming the documentary, there’s definitely way more organisations and people and individuals trying. It is a buzzword, especially in venues, but I do believe people are trying to achieve more with it. I still think there’s so much more to do, especially within the live music scene. People just wanna tick a box and go, ‘we wanna be seen as being a safe space’.
EJ: Like just putting up a poster mentioning pronouns, as if that’s enough.
HS: There’s still so much more training to be done with venue managers. We don’t want it to just be about appearing as if the space is safe, and that’s what is tending to happen. That GIRLS ROCK! space is really what it looks like ― really inclusive and supportive and empowering.
EJ: How did that extend into your filmmaking? The scenes of the girls and non-binary performers coming up with their own music sometimes made me cringe, because it’s so awkward seeing the kids being so apologetic and raw with each other while trying to make artistic decisions. Did you feel like you were trespassing at all, by coming into this and trying to document it?
HS: The first GIRLS ROCK! in Australia happened in Canberra, almost a year before the Melbourne one in January 2016. So when I read an article about the Canberra one, I met with the founder Chiara Grassia, and spoke to her about documenting the camp. She said, ‘Well actually, there’s some women in Melbourne starting up a GIRLS ROCK! Melbourne’, and for me living in Melbourne, that was way more accessible. So my co-director and I got in touch with GIRLS ROCK! Melbourne, and started the conversation about how we could embed ourselves within the camp unobtrusively.
We knew it was their first camp, so it would be overwhelming having a film crew there, so once we established their trust we decided on a few key things. We decided that it would be a very small crew of really just Samantha and myself, two camera operators, and a few sound people. It was really small, and that was because we’d gone to Wick Studios where the camp was held, and the rehearsals rooms were really small! They’d have multiple bands practicing at the same time all around the venue, so we decided to go in and embed ourselves in the camp, and almost act as mentors ourselves. And to try to form relationships with the participants, where they felt safe and trusted us. We opened up to them and said, ‘You know, we’re filmmakers, if you have any questions about the filmmaking process, please ask us’. That trust allowed us that access in, and we’re still really great friends with all the participants and their parents.
Being in the room when Ziero kind of has a bit of a breakdown, towards the end of the film just before the first dress rehearsal, they were clearly just overwhelmed. They were anxious that they weren’t going to be able to perform, they were uncomfortable in the room, in the clothes they were wearing, and we were right there capturing it. At times it was awkward. It felt hard to breathe, because you just felt so close to them, but at the same time, it was always based on a friendship. We were presenting ourselves as mentors in there. It was a little bit different to your normal shoot ― these are young people, they’re vulnerable. They need to feel comfortable that they can trust us, and that we would never force them to talk about anything they didn’t want to talk about. I think that allowed for really candid access, because it was based on a friendship.
EJ: Those scenes to me felt like the complete antithesis of how we show music or art being made in any other movie ― I guess because I’ve mainly seen big music biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), where it’s super polished and immediate.
HS: That’s the idea of GIRLS ROCK!, that it’s not a competitive environment. At the start you’re like, ‘Oh my god. They’re trying to make these songs with all these sounds, they kind of sound crazy together’, but that’s the whole idea. It doesn’t mean you have to go on to be the next amazing Melbourne band. It’s about being all together, making music, writing your own songs, feeling like you’ve accomplished something, and that it’s enjoyable. Which is really different to school, where it’s a competition ― there’s a first, second and third. In this case, it wasn’t about who was the best ― it was about everyone having a go, everyone participating, everyone supporting all of the other bands. Even if you broke down on stage, cried, whatever; it’s all about telling the person, ’You rock!’, and to keep going. To not let it stop you.
EJ: Like you said, the camp isn’t just about rock music. It’s also about zine-making, and heaps of other activities that are sort of related to rock subcultures ―
HS: Or at least that punk, DIY ethos, yeah.
EJ: Why do you think rock especially was chosen as the genre that forms the basis of the camp?
HS: I mean, I’m not from GIRLS ROCK!, but from what I can see, they were frustrated with the inequality within the music industry and within live music, and they wanted to be able to inspire the next generation of young people to feel comfortable in live music scenes, and with forming bands. So I think the punk rock idea felt the most, I guess, inclusive, and also that idea of DIY ― ‘don’t rely on any man, don’t rely on anyone else, just get in there and do it yourself’. There’s also no prescribed ‘you must do this, you must do that’. You only participate if you want. I think that’s really punk rock. You can do whatever you want; just be loud, let your voice do its own thing.
EJ: I think it had a sense of reclamation for me, too, because I don’t think many kids today would gravitate towards rock music. There is something semi-old fashioned about it.
HS: Within the camp as well, even though the idea is that it’s based on punk rock ethos, they’re not at all forcing the kids to make punk rock. As you saw, there’s all sorts of styles. I think Kirsty, one of the band coaches in the beginning of the film, says something like, ‘It’s not about bagging someone out for what kind of music they like; you can create whatever you want in the room in the rehearsal. It doesn’t have to be punk rock, it can be whatever you guys want it to be.’ But they kind of focus the structure of the camp on that DIY, punk stuff.
In terms of what music they make, the four or five different people we follow throughout the film all have really different aspirations. Dakota clearly wants to be a kind of commercial pop star. Lucy is a beautiful singer songwriter, Phoebe is this amazing multi-instrumentalist who wants to be in hundreds of bands and is 100% rock and roll. So, you know, everyone has their own pathway and aspiration, and no one is paid out about that, about whatever they want to be within the camp. It’s kind of rare. There weren’t any groups forming who were cooler than anyone else, you know?
EJ: Thank you so much for chatting with me.
HS: No problem at all!
EJ: My sister was originally meant to do this interview because she’s a massive Courtney Barnett and Cable Ties fan ―
EJ: Yeah, I’m so glad I stole this interview from her.
HS: Hopefully most of the people in the movie are coming to the premiere ― I know Cable Ties are coming. We’ve invited heaps of people whose music we used during the film, like Jen Cloher. They’re all so supportive of the film, which is really nice. Cable Ties are awesome.
It doesn’t come across in the film because we only had 82 minutes, but Jenny and Shauna from Cable Ties were there the whole week. Jenny was in vocal training with all the kids and Shauna was drum instructing. They’re just the best band, they’re awesome. And Courtney [Barnett] is just so down-to-earth. The kids just went gaga over her.
EJ: I love when you pan across the audience and you can see everyone mouthing the lyrics.
HS: It’s cute, isn’t it! I think she did seven or eight songs, and most of the words, they were all singing along. That was a really cool day.
No Time for Quiet will be playing Thurs 15 August, Fri 16 August, and Sun 18 August 2019 as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Eliza Janssen is a Melbourne writer of criticism and screenplays who wants you to know that there are pterodactyls in the background of the breakfast table montage in Citizen Kane. For more information visit elizajanssen.com / @eliza_janssen.