I was privileged to meet Solrun at the beginning of my filmmaking career. In fact, she was the first documentary filmmaker I ever heard speak – carefully, eloquently, precisely – about her films and her methodology. It was 1984 and Solrun had just completed a series of films on the Japanese island of Hatoma, Okinawa. She was showing this work at a seminar at RMIT, and I attended as I was eager to learn as much as I could about documentary theory and practice.
I was completely taken aback by the power and beauty of one of her films – Effacement (1980). Was it a documentary? Was it an ethnographic film? Was it a lyrical meditation on the relationship between a mask-maker and the Noh mask? It seemed to be all of these things. Over the years I came to realise that this was the outcome of the way that Solrun saw, and how she wanted to share the world, with others. Sacred Vandals (1983) was just as thrilling when I first saw it. These films did not tell you their meaning – they invited you to create meaning. This is a quality that is all too rare in Australian documentary filmmaking now.
Seeing Solrun’s work – and I still have the notes I took that day, covered in my drawings trying to make sense of her complex visual language – I discovered for the first time that not only could documentaries really say something, they could do so in a poetic language, visually and aurally. Language that did NOT involve sync sound! I later discovered that she turned a production limitation (no sound because she was filming everything herself on a Super 8 camera and did not have sync sound equipment) into a creative strength.
It was a wonderful thing for an emerging filmmaker to discover so early on. That documentary was a literate, not necessarily a literal, medium.
Solrun remained a poet to the end of her life.