Director of My Brilliant Career
Award-winning Australian film director Gillian Armstrong gained international recognition for directing the highly-praised My Brilliant Career, from which she picked up an AFI award, a London Critics Circle Film Award and was nominated for a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. At the film’s release, the talented filmmaker distinguished herself by becoming the first female to direct a feature-length movie in Australia in nearly fifty years. That fact, combined with the film’s themes, categorized her as a “feminist” director, something Armstrong intensely fought. She is probably best known in Hollywood for directing Winona Ryder in the remake of the classic Little Women (1994), and more recently, received phrase her best documentary to date, the Sundance-screened Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst (2006). Other credits include the trilogy: Smoke and Lollies (1975), Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better (1980) and Bingo, Bridesmaids and Braces (1988), the musical Starstruck (1982), Mrs. Sofell (1984), The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992), Oscar and Lucinda (1997) and Charlotte Gray (2001).
Armstrong has been romantically involved with John Pffefer. The couple has two daughters.
Childhood and Family:
In Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, Gillian May Armstrong was born on December 18, 1950. After graduating from Swinburne Technical College of Advanced Education in Melbourne, Australia, where she studied theatrical costume design and film-making, she received a scholarship to the Australian Film and Television School. To pay her tuition, Gillian worked as a waitress.
Gillian and companion John Pffefer are the parents of two daughters.
A graduate of Swinburne Technical College, Gillian Armstrong had her first taste behind the camera as the producer-director-screenwriter for 1971’s eight-minute short Roof Needs Mowing. She continued with three shorts films she made during her time at the Australian Film and Television School. These included the 27-minute Gretel (1973), an adaptation of a Hal Porter short story that was chosen as Australia’s official entry into the Grenoble International Festival of Short Films. In 1975, Gillian, who once worked as an editor for Kingcroft Productions, scored her first credit as an art director with director Tom Cowan’s Promised Woman, where she also briefly appeared as a nurse, and directed the first of three documentary films about the lives of three teenage girls, Smoke and Lollies. She also produced, directed and wrote the 1977 short The Singer and the Dancer, a soft-pedaled feminist strip which nabbed an award at the Sydney Festival.
The gifted Armstrong finally made her full-length movie directorial debut in 1979 with My Brilliant Career, adapted from a novel by Miles Franklin. Focusing on a female writer who chooses her career over marriage, the film became history in Australian cinema for being the first movie to be directed by a woman for almost 50 years. It won six Australian Film Institute awards, including one for Best Picture and Best Director, and was nominated for an Oscar in Best Costume Design. The film also received a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. Armstrong further gained recognition by taking home a Special Achievement award from the London Critics Circle Film and a Golden Palm nomination from the Cannes Film Festival. After My Brilliant Career’s success, Armstrong’s career took off.
After the documentary Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better (1980), an installment to Smoke and Lollies, the musical Starstruck (1982) and the indie film Having a Go (1983), Armstrong broke into American movies with Mrs. Sofell (1984), an underrated drama-romance starring Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson, which garnered a Golden Berlin Bear nomination from the 1985 Berlin International Film Festival. She went on to work on television, directing “Bob Dylan in Concert” for HBO in 1986, before returning to her native country of Australia for 1987’s High Tide, which reunited her with My Brilliant Career star Judy Davis. She nabbed an AFI nomination for Best Director for her effort in the drama film. Gillian then completed the third sequel Bingo, Bridesmaids and Braces in 1988 and once again earned an AFI nomination for her fine direction in the drama The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992), a study of the relationship between sisters and the effect one has on the other’s family.
Back in Hollywood, Armstrong enjoyed her biggest success with the release of Little Women, a movie adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. Starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon, the drama/romance collected numerous honors, including three Oscar nominations. Following a brief return to Australian’s documentary Not Fourteen Again (1996, also serving as a writer and producer), the director headlined Oscar and Lucinda (1997), adapted from an award-winning novel by Peter Carey, which starred Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award.
Gillian’s more recent and upcoming directing credits include Charlotte Gray (2001), Unfolding Florence: The Many Lives of Florence Broadhurst (2006) and Death Defying Acts (2007), starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Guy Pearce.