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Six Shining Lights: Monica Penders

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Canberra is a city brimming with high achievers—women who do incredible things on the local, national and international stage.

For our summer Magazine: Shine, we bring you stories of six local luminaries across a range of industries and find out what lights them up professionally and personally.

Monica Penders

Monica Penders has been at the helm of Screen Canberra for the past 10 years, steering it from a one-person initiative to an independent organisation that is now responsible for the delivery of the $5 million CBR Screen Fund.

Monica has a diverse background in international business including advertising and public relations, marketing with the Walt Disney Company and becoming Vice President of Corporation Communications at Lend Lease in New York.

Tell us about you…

I am 55 (eek), with a Bachelor of Arts in Media. I started an MBA but moved to New York. I got married in November, have two teenage stepchildren, two dogs and a cat.

How did you end up in Canberra?

I spent the first year of my life here but did not return until I got the job in 2009.

I was looking for a job back in Australia from where I was living in New York, and the GFC had hit, so living in New York with a mortgage on next-to-no income was almost impossible.

I saw the job “ScreenACT” and wondered what it was—and the rest is history!

What started your interest in film?

Star Wars was definitely the film that made me want to be in the industry full time. I may or may not have wandered around with Princess Lea hair buns in my teenage years.

I love story-telling, transporting people away from the everyday and entertaining them.

How did you end up in your specialised field?

My undergraduate degree was in media but it took me nearly 25 years to break into the screen industry.

What are the rewards?

Seeing a locally-made film up on the big screen, or Canberra profiled globally on a streaming platform like Netflix (ping Secret City), well, that’s worth the headaches and stress.

How do you separate work and life?

It’s difficult. We have a lot of outside-of-work-hours activities such as screenings, workshops and other events. And it’s hard on the family when I am away interstate and overseas. We just have to make quality time (and that may be something as simple as watching a movie at home together).

What are the greatest challenges?

The biggest challenge is always finance. There are so many moving parts in making a film or TV show, and so many partners.

One falls out and the whole project can fall over. But when it comes together by that strange alchemy that is film—it is amazing.

What do you love outside of work?

I am a keen renovator (love my power tools!) and also doing art. I built my own She Shed in the back garden (a lovely cedar cabin), and I have friends over and we do craft.

What keeps you up at night?

Worrying about family members and work! On the work side it’s about keeping all the balls in the air, making sure I don’t overburden the team, and trying to help everyone.

What really makes me anxious is when I have people who go ahead and make their dream film, mortgage their house, and then can’t sell the film.


Visit hercanberra.com.au/people for more Shining Light profiles.

PHOTOGRAPHY  Tim Bean Photography

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Shine for Summer 2019/20, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here.

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