She’s the reporter turned film critic turned producer with an eye for the obscure, and she’s unintentionally doing her bit to buck the trend for keeping women on television as opinion-free sidekicks.
Fenella Kernebone meets me for a chat about her passion for the arts over coffee near the ABC studios in Elsternwick, where she spends her time reporting and producing for the Sunday Arts program.
Initially wanting to become an actor, Kernebone, now 32, began her radio career at Sydney community radio station 2SER. She landed her first role at Triple J at 24, where she still remains, hosting her weekly arts and electronic experimental music show, The Sound Lab.
In 2004, she was approached to join The Movie Show (SBS) after the departure of stalwarts David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, before moving to Sunday Arts.
I got into radio when I was 17 and it was something that I really enjoyed, she says. What I love is being able to talk to people and put together a story. That’s what I love about Sunday Arts, putting together a story and structuring it. It’s really creative in its own way.
Kernebone speaks of her time on The Movie Show as a training ground. She’s happy in her role now, but would consider making longer documentaries in the future.
Like most children of the ’70s, Kernebone grew up listening to the music of the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and her mother’s Deep Purple records before she discovered Triple J for the first time when she was in year 6. She says it was a massive education.
Kernebone admits it’s unlikely she’ll ever start dusting off old country and western albums, having made a name championing the up-to-date and avant-garde, but is more likely to delve into classical music.
I’m stupidly obsessed with electronic music and new experimental music. I love rock music that’s kooky, or got a bit of a twist to it. Bands like Animal Collective -” instrumental rock is the daggy word, she says.
I consider a lot of the electronic artists to be almost -¦ they aren’t going to be in the canon of great classical musicians, but what they’re doing is not that far off.
When asked to pick a highlight of her career as an arts reporter, Kernebone remembers an interview with film director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that went over the strictly allotted four-minute press junket timeslot.
I thought, -˜I don’t want to rock the boat here, I’ll only ask a couple of questions,’ but his answers were so detailed and he wanted to know what the next question was and we ended up being 20 minutes. I felt terribly guilty about it, but it was so brilliant that this was a guy who just didn’t play the game, he wanted to give proper, intelligent and thoughtful answers. And it’s just like watching his films; they’re extremely heady and intellectual and dream-like, crazy and beautiful.
Of her status as a gay icon, Kernebone laughs, joking that it’s because she has short hair.
I’m gay and I have no problems with that at all, she says. It’s not something I worry about, it’s who I am. My mother would be very proud.
Kernebone came out in her late teens but says when her mother was alive she used to light-heartedly keep tabs on speculation about her daughter’s sexuality in internet forums.
She would email me and say she saw something on the internet about [me], and I would say, -˜Mum, stop looking at the internet!’
I think my joy in life is, there are elements in society that I think are discriminatory but in this industry at least, everyone’s been open-minded, I’ve never experienced any insult, she says.
Checking pop culture blogs, cheeky whisperings about Kernebone’s sexuality still pop up, with the following comment posted on aptly named site Blahblah by an anonymous blogger: I saw her at the last Sydney film festival after-party all dressed up in a femme tux -“ not many breeders would do that!
Amen to that.