After being told she had earned a recording deal, Australian singer Helen Reddy arrived with her young daughter in New York in 1966.
The record company then told her that they already had enough female stars in fact.
But she wanted to remain in America anyway to pursue a music career – and ended up writing and recording I Am Woman, which in the 1970s became the women’s movement’s anthem.
An inspirational biopic that shares her most famous song with the same title.
“I met Helen seven years ago and it was the most blessed, powerful and also challenging experience,” says Australian director Unjoo Moon, who was born in South Korea, when asked how to film I Am Woman.
“I always knew this story was something that should definitely be brought to the screen; it’s a story I hadn’t seen before, and it’s a film I wanted to see.”
Unfortunately, Reddy, who suffered from Addison’s disease and was diagnosed with dementia in 2015, passed away at the age of 78 in September of this year.
“so happy that Helen not only got to see the film, but also to hear how much the audience loved it.”so pleased that not only did Helen get to see the movie, but to hear how much the audience loved it.
There was also much debate between the filmmakers and Helen about how her marriage to Jeff Wald, who was also her agent, would be depicted in the feature film – which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.
He also suffered from drug abuse, and it was a destructive relationship, even though Jeff helped her rise to the top and they had a son together.
They divorced in 1983. And the movie doesn’t shy away from showcasing their time together on both the positive and the bad sides.
The better I got to know Helen and over the years, the more we honed in on the film, the more it changed the nature of the relationship we ended up seeing in the film,”The better I got to know Helen and the more we honed in on the film over the years, the more the nature of the relationship that we ended up showing in the film changed,”
“I remember that Jeff was a very different character when we first started working on the script. At that point, I hadn’t met him; he was really the film’s villain. She wasn’t even talking to Geoff when I first met Helen; she was still calling him “husband No. 2.
“Their relationship has changed over the years that we’ve been working on this film, and I hope this film has helped that, because they’ve also had to talk to each other more.”
Moon admits that at first, she was worried about meeting Jeff.
I always thought it was important to tell this movie from the point of view of Helen, and he’s such a great character that we didn’t want to be distracted by him. So we really worked first on crafting Helen’s story.
“I went to see Jeff; I got there at one, I didn’t leave the table until seven, I didn’t even go to the bathroom. He’s one of the most charming, interesting people you might meet. He’s very challenging and difficult, too, and he’d be the first to admit that.
“But that relationship with him really helped me understand why Helen loved him so much, and I think that’s what’s really important in the film, to see not just why the marriage falls apart, but what the attraction was and why they were such a great team.”
The film is largely about a woman fighting to have a voice, which Moon says feels particularly important in recent years as the “Me Too” campaign has gained traction.
She focuses on her participation in the January 2017 Washington Women’s March, where hundreds of thousands marched to campaign for human rights laws and policies and other topics.
“I went there to support the cause, but I also went there because I wanted to stand in the exact same place Helen stands at the end of the film,” she said.
The 1989 Women’s March was mobilized by Helen; she stands looking out at the sea of people around the Lincoln Memorial, and I’ve done the same thing.
“There was a sea of pink hats and there was actually a sign that I photographed that said ‘Hear me roar’ – that actually occurs at the very end of the film.”
In this project, Moon embarked on a “huge personal journey on this project, not only as an artist, as a woman, and also as a mother.”
One of the most difficult elements for her was that her teenage son Axil, who was only 13 at the time, was determined not to fly with her to Australia, where the film was made, but to stay home and go to school with his peers.
It was really the first time my husband [Dion Beebe] and I – Dion is the film’s cinematographer – were both from our son in different countries. For me, it was a really difficult experience.
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