Award-winning Adelaide documentary maker Shalom Almond was deep in development on her latest project in a women’s prison when she got a call from Illuminate Adelaide’s producer, Sam Wright.

It was January, and Wright was planning a new event for the winter festival – something he and the Illuminate team desperately wanted Almond to lead.

“As soon as Sam started telling me about the project and told me about the timeframe, I was already thinking, ‘Oh no, that’s the same time I’m due to do my pre [production]. I’m going to be starting my next film’. But by the end of the phone call I was like, ‘There is no way that I’m not going to be involved in making this film’.

“He just pitched it to me in such a way that was so exciting. Also, the kind of body of work that I normally take on is very emotionally intense and to have someone ask me to work on a project that was so joyful and so inspiring, and something that is so celebratory, I could not turn it down.”

That project is Into the Light, part of Illuminate’s City Lights program, which takes place around various city precincts.

Into the Light is a portrait documentary where still images and footage of inspiring and innovative South Australian women past and present will be projected onto the façade of Government House.

The idea was sparked by a phone call from SA Governor Frances Adamson to Illuminate organisers, offering to open the grounds of Government House to the public as part of the immersive winter festival’s events along North Terrace.

“So I think the initial conversations were around the fact that she’s only the third female governor that’s taken residence in Government House, so why not use that as a launching pad to explore and create and use that space to celebrate the role of women in South Australia,” Almond says.

The filmmaker collaborated with producer Katrina Lucas and the team from The Electric Canvas, who devised the technology needed for such an ambitious project.

Director Shalom Almond and producer Katrina Lucas, part of the team behind Into the Light.

The first major challenge was devising the list of women who would form the focus of Into the Light. Almond and the team worked with a variety of bodies across SA, coming up with five key sectors of public life/politics, science, social impact, sport, and arts and culture.

“We came up with a very long list and then through consultation with some amazing partners – including Parliament House, the History Trust of South Australia, the State Library and the National Film and Sound Archive – we were able to put together a really strong list which we then gradually scaled back to 12 women from each of the areas of focus,” Almond says.

“We really wanted to be able to acknowledge some strong contemporary women who are well known in their fields or area of focus at the moment, but also pay homage to the trailblazers who had come before them that may have enabled them to get where they are now.

“The selection process of the women featured in the film was one of the most enjoyable and also the most challenging parts of the process. Not only did we want to incorporate incredible South Australian women who have a profile, we also wanted to include some ‘wildcards’ who may have gone under the radar in the public eye, but are out there quietly achieving amazing things.

“We were also hugely passionate about acknowledging and honouring the contributions of First Nations women in our South Australian history. These trailblazers include actress and activist Natasha Wanganeen, cricketing legend Faith Thomas, SA Senior Australian of the Year Sandra Miller and musician Nancy Bates.”

Kenyan/Australian singer Elsy Wameyo will be one of the women featured in Into the Light.

Others who made the final cut include Senator Penny Wong; Grammy-award-winning singer Sia Furler; peace advocate Gill Hicks; the first Aboriginal South Australian to seek election to Federal Parliament, Ruby Hammond; physicist Tanya Monroe; Australia’s first female astronaut, Katherine Bennell-Pegg; dual Olympic hockey gold medallist Juliet Haslam; Kenyan/Australian singer Elsy Wameyo, and drift car racer and disability advocate Christina Vithoulkas.

Much of the content for Into the Light has been sourced from archival material, and Almond also chose one woman from each category to interview as part of her research. These interviews form part of the vision for the project.

The photos and film will be projected onto the façades of Government House, where each side of the building will have its own projector system. The building has also been mapped using a 3D photography program.

“This is all the technology that Electric Canvas are so well noted for doing so well,” says Almond, who runs her own company, Cocoon Films.

“The technology they use is so specialised and so high-end that they managed to make the images feel like they’re sort of warped and embedded into the actual architecture and the surfaces. It’s actually as if the images are sort of coming alive and a part of this historic building. It’s amazing.”

Almond, who is perhaps best known for her award-winning documentary Prisoners and Pups, detailing female prisoners working with retired greyhound dogs at Adelaide’s Women’s Prison, admits she had reservations around the scope of Into the Light and her ability to pull it all together.

“Part of me was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it,” she says. “I’ve never worked in that [technological] space before and my focus with filmmaking is very particular. I seem to have moved myself into this very niche area of documentary filmmaking, which is character-driven, observational, personal, intimate work.

“The reason I wanted to take this on was I thought it was an opportunity to challenge myself around content that I’m passionate about, which is giving some unknown, marginalised people a voice in some ways. I thought the boxes are being ticked, but I’m a little bit scared about taking it on and that’s the reason why I should.

“It’s also been a pretty good history lesson. It was incredible to have the chance to know and understand about so many women who we hear about it through history and take for granted; to know they actually came from South Australia.

“I caught myself, in some of the interviews that I conducted as part of building the audio scape and the research, feeling for the first time like [I was] fan-girling. I don’t mind admitting one of those was astronaut Katherine Bennell-Pegg!”

Australia’s first female astronaut, Katherine Bennell-Pegg.

The fact that leveraging gender equality through technology is the theme of the 2023 United Nations International Women’s Day was another factor that gave the project synergy and meaning for Almond.

“I feel like there’s not many opportunities where we get to celebrate women generally, beyond International Women’s Day. This feels timely.”

Into the Light will be at Government House, North Terrace, from 6pm-11pm from July 7-23. It is part of Illuminate Adelaide’s City Lights program, which encompasses more than 40 site-specific installations, projections and interactive installations across three city precincts. Read more and download a City Lights map here.

Read more Illuminate Adelaide stories and reviews here.

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