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The thriving Eastern Suburbs film community kicks off its local summer season with the 12th annual Bondi Short Film Festival. The event's director, Francis Coady (pictured, below), spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the state of the industry for short filmmakers.

After 12 years, what have you seen change in the shorts that approach the Festival for consideration? Where do 2011 short-filmmakers differ from the ones from over a decade ago? 

In 2012, it is common to see shorts that don’t exactly ‘fit inside the box.’ Today, short-filmmakers are all about pushing the boundaries, showing off their creative ingenuity and expressing their personal voice. With less restraints, I‘d say the film makers in this day in age are definitely more liberated to speak their mind and shake things up a bit.  Also the overall production values of short films have increased dramatically due to reduced costs in production equipment and editing.

How does the iconic Australian setting infuse the Festival?

With Bondi’s surf, sun, sea, and sand, there is no better place for a short film festival. I am a firm believer that the surroundings and scenery of any event can really make an impact to the overall feel and atmosphere of it. So it’s quite hard to not have a good time at the Bondi Short Film Festival because you’ve got the best of both worlds. Fourteen of Australia’s finest short films set to the backdrop of Australia’s most iconic beach (pictured, right, director Brodie Rocca's Julia).

Are the current crop of short-filmmakers making work with a social conscience or are there a lot of gag-films and zombie comedies to wade through?

The work of the current crop of short-filmmakers is definitely geared towards themes of the social conscience. The shorts from this year’s finalists explore real life issues ranging from unhealthy and abnormal relationships, the struggles and pressures of performers and professional athletes to the everyday hardships of society. Some will make you shed a tear and some will make you laugh uncontrollably, but all in all each one will leave you with a new insight into the world around us.

Is there sufficient industry infra-structure and support for the short film sector? Are first time directors finding it harder or easier than when the Festival began?

There is support for young, emerging film makers in Australia through government funding bodies and scholarship programs. However, the majority of films that we screen and have reviewed over the last twelve years have been generated by extremely passionate and enthusiastic individuals or collaborative teams of film makers, who have done it on their own. Some years the major film schools will produce excellent short films and we support them accordingly. (pictured, left, director Christopher Kezelos' The Maker)



Since its inaugural staging in 2007, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) have taken on immense relevance to the region’s production sectors.

In the 5 years since it launched, over 180 films have been nominated for one of international cinema's more unique trophies (the vision of Queensland glass-artist Joanna Bone). All entrants come from the 70 countries that are deemed to be within the geographical parameters as stated by the governing body, The Asia Pacific Screen Academy (“from Egypt in the west to the Cook Islands in the east, from Russia in the north to New Zealand in the south.”)

The nominees list is judged by a six person jury, this year overseen by Australian producer Jan Chapman and featuring representatives from Georgia, India, The People’s Republic of China, Israel and Turkey. In addition to awards being bestowed upon the winners of nine distinct categories, the FIAPF-International Federation of Film Producers Association Lifetime honour will be given to Japanese composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto (past recipients include directors Dr George Miller, Yash Chopra and Zhang Yimou; actress/producer Christine Hakim; and, executive Isao Matsuoka). APSA Academy president, Australian acting great Jack Thompson, will will welcome guests to the Awards Ceremony, the highpoint of a week of celebration of international cinema, this Friday, November 23 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane.

SCREEN-SPACE allows you to test your knowledge of international cinema with the list of Best Picture nominees. Can you pick the winner....?

Bumchoiwaui Junjaeng (Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time), Republic of Korea
Produced by Park Shin-kyu and Han Jae-duk, directed by Yoon Jong-bin.
A rags-to-rogues crimer whose finely chiseled portraits of greed, self-preservation and depravity are buttressed by powerhouse perfs.” – Maggie Lee, Variety.

Khers (Bear), Islamic Republic of Iran (pictured, below)
Produced by Javad Norouzbeigi, directed by Khosro Masoumi.
Awarded Best Feature Film at 2012 Shanghai Film Festival.

Orda (The Horde), Russian Federation
Produced by Natalya Gostyushina and Sergei Kravets, directed by Andrei Proshkin.
Awarded Silver George honours for Best Director (Andrei Proshkin) and Best Actress (Roza Hairullina) at the 34th Moscow International Film Festival.


Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill), Turkey/Greece.
Produced by Enis Köstepen, Seyfi Teoman and Emin Alper, directed by Emin Alper.
"Thinking back and thinking over is one of the joys of this little gem of a film, which conceals rewarding depths beneath its placid surface." - Lee Marshal, Screen Daily.


Wu Xia (aka, Dragon), Hong Kong (PRC)/People's Republic of China.
Produced by Peter Ho-sun Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet-chun, directed by Peter Ho-sun Chan.
"Masterfully executed, action-packed and with the winning pairing of Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro, Peter Chan Ho-sun’s Wu Xia promises exhilarating entertainment as a summer blockbuster." - Ho Yi, Taipei Times.



Like the native parrot from which it derives its name, Australia's newest film festival is making a lot of noise.

Having conquered the rural film festival scene with the iconic Dungog Film Festival (DFF) event, ma-and-pa movie mavens Stavros Kazantzidis and Allanah Zisterman have drawn a line in Sydney’s film festival sand with the just-announced program highlights for The Cockatoo Island Film Festival (CIFF), their start-up off-shore event.

At this morning’s media event on the historically significant atoll, the organising committee (which includes DFF dynamo Laura MacDonald and ex-Mardi Gras Film Festival programmer Lex Lindsay) announced that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix (pictured, right) will kick-off the competitive film strand of the multi-tiered cultural event on October 24. Securing one of the most buzzed-about films of the year is a major coup for a first-year festival and signals to the well-established Sydney Film Festival body that there is a new and determined player in town.

Though the full 100-strong feature film programme will not be revealed until early October, buff’s appetites were further whetted with the news that Tim Burton’s 3-D monochromatic kidspic Frankenweenie will have its Australian premiere at one of 5 digital-screen locations to be erected especially for CIFF. The portmanteau work 7 Days in Havana, featuring short-format contributions from directors as diverse as Laurent Cantet, Julio Medem, Benicio del Toro and Gaspar Noe, will head-up the Festival’s international section. And the hinted-at schedule of late-night genre pics was kick-started by news that the NSW premieres of  Frank Kahlfoun’s Maniac, a remake of William Lustig’s 80’s video-nasty cult item and starring Elijah Wood as the titular stalker, and Justin Dix’s Oz shocker Crawlspace will be central to the event.

Mirroring the community-friendly slant that Kazantzidis and Zisterman (pictured, right, on the new site) have always adopted as part of their Dungog schedule, CIFF will feature all-age, all-day Kidsfest screenings, the Oovie-sponsored Schools Film Project and host the always pertinent SPAA Fringe event, with international guest Larry Cohen (It’s Alive; Q The Winged Serpent) and representatives from Matchbox Pictures, Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Essential Media, BBC Worldwide, Movie Network, ABC TV, SBS, AFTRS, Metro Screen, Pozible and Film Finances in attendance.



A new documentary celebrates some of the great (and, sadly. late) unsung below-the-line heroes of cinema - the character actor.

The passing of Harold Gould left many in Hollywood missing a great friend. His dedication to his craft over five decades provided memorable moments in films as diverse as George Roy Hill’s The Sting (pictured, above), Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Billy Wilder’s The Front Page and Mark Waters’ Freaky Friday.

But there were no mountains of flowers left outside his Californian home to mourn his passing at age 86 on September 11, 2010. Gould was afforded the same quiet industry respect in his passing as he was granted professionally; utterly reliant upon his integrity, professionalism and ability to enhance the glow of the movie’s star, Hollywood remembered him fondly, registered his passing with sadness, and moved on.

Harold Gould was a character actor. If a steady stream of work was the payoff for the successful support player, anonymity was the curse. The American film industry has lost a great many of its supporting cast in recent times. Though their names will register with only a few of you, their performances have enlivened many films you’ve undoubtedly seen – James Gammon (A Man Called Horse; Silverado; Major League; pictured, right); Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers; The Misfits; Kansas City Bomber; Inner Space); Dan Resin (The Happy Hooker; Caddyshack; The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover); Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams; Invasion USA); Glenn Shadix (Beetlejuice; Heathers); Maury Chaykin (Wargames; Dances With Wolves) Carl Gordon (Gordon’s War; The Brother From Another Planet); and, Gloria Stuart, who was groomed for stardom (The Invisible Man, 1933) but ultimately made a living in support roles, culminating in her Oscar-nominated role in Titanic.

The character actor may finally get some long-overdue recognition thanks to producer Dea Lawrence who, with her filmmaking partner Saratoga Ballantine (pictured, right), has produced Troupers, a lovingly crafted documentary that profiles some of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. Ballantine is the daughter of character greats Carl Ballantine and Ceil Cabot and Lawrence is married to character actor Michael Zelniker, so the making of the film proved to be particularly emotional (both Gould and Ballantine passed away before they could see the finished film).

“One of the defining traits of a great character actor is that they truly love the craft of acting and their driving force is that love. Not, in the words of Harold Gould, ‘to make a pile of money and sit by the pool all day’,” says Lawrence, who premiered the film at a special screening for the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles. “A great character actor tends to be a person of depth and intelligence who is constantly improving his craft and keeps learning no matter his age or level of experience and knows how to put his ego to the side to make way for the star.”

The documentary follows some of the great characters in Hollywood film history, all of whom were over 80 years of age when interviewed for the film.  In addition to Gould and Ballantine, the ‘troupers’ include Ivy Bethune (92 years old), Kaye Ballard (85), Pat Carroll (83), the late Betty Garrett (91; pictured, right), Marvin Kaplan (83), Jane Kean (86), Bruce Kirby (82), Allan Rich (84), and Connie Sawyer (96). “The troupers profiled in our documentary survived constant rejection, debt, divorces, health issues, deaths of spouses and children, bad agents, insensitive casting directors, pilots that didn’t get picked up and of course, critics,” says Lawrence. “Both Allan Rich and Ivy Bethune were blacklisted along with Betty Garrett’s husband, Larry Parks.”

“Connie Sawyer said that she was never afraid to take B if she couldn’t get A. All of them would act wherever they could as much as they could and are not overly concerned with their appearance. So when looks faded, they did not,” says the filmmaker, with a deep and obvious respect for her subjects. “The business has changed so much since these actors first got into the profession, however it is inspiring to see how these people are still able to find work for themselves. Speaking with these talented pros was refreshing, inspiring and gave us hope that you can still pursue your dreams at any age, regardless of the situation or the town.”

The Australian acting community has produced some of the greatest characters ever seen onscreen. Though they never achieved the international fame that the Rod Taylor’s, Nicole Kidman’s or Mel Gibson’s would ultimately enjoy, there is plenty of nationalistic love for the likes of Michael Pate (40,000 Horsemen; Mad Dog Morgan; Death of a Soldier); Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell (Kangaroo; Smiley; Breaker Morant; The Castle); Ray Barrett (Touch of Death; Don’s Party; Goodbye Paradise; In The Winter Dark); Bill Kerr (Gallipoli; Razorback); John Meillon (The Sundowners; They’re a Weird Mob; Wake in Fright; The Picture Show Man; Crocodile Dundee) and Bill Hunter (Backroads; Newsfront; Gallipoli; Strictly Ballroom; The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert; Muriel’s Wedding; Australia; pictured, below, with Kerr and co-stars Mark Lee and Robert Grubb at a 2005 cast reunion for Gallipoli).

Other notable names that have swelled the character actor ranks Down Under include Tony Barry, Arthur Dignam, Ray Meagher, Alan Cassell, David Field and Terry Norris; actresses who have established long, esteemed careers as character players include Julia Blake, Monica Maughan, Robyn Nevin, Patricia Kennedy, Linda Cropper, Lynette Curran, Beverly Dunn, Jeannie Drynan, Penne Hackforth-Jones and Lois Ramsay.  

The backbone of every nation that prides itself on its cinematic pedigree was formed on the very strength of tradition that the character actor carries with them. The cinema of Japan has been shaped by hard-working actors such as Terajima Susumu, Ren Osugi, Tomorowo Taguchi and Renji Ishibashi, who continue the tradition of such character actor legends as the late Mako (The Sand Pebbles; Conan the Barbarian; Memoirs of a Geisha; pictured, left) and Sasano Takashi (Mahjong Horoki; Departures). Indian cinema has the likes of Mohan Makhijani, Sharman Joshi, Amrish Puri, Kader Khan and the late Kamal Kapoor. European film culture offered richly-talented support players such as Austrians Leon Askin and Otto Waldis, Frenchmen Phillipe Noiret and German Bruno Ganz, amongst many, many others.

One of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors is Stephen Tobolowsky (insurance salesman ‘Ned Ryerson’ in Groundhog Day). When not filling memorable support slots in movies such as The Philadelphia Experiment, The Time-Travellers Wife, Memento and Basic Instinct, Tobolowsky is one of Hollywood’s most prolific bloggers and presenter of The Tobolowsky Files podcast. Writing on what it means to be a character actor in a celebrated op-ed piece for The New York Times, he described his resume as one of “parts that didn’t have names” and of the quizzical expression that often greets him that he refers to as the “You are either someone in show business or my former chiropractor” look. After three decades being in the shadow of the lead, he was resigned to the fact that “the very best character actors are made of equal parts discipline and madness, and the fact that our faces are more familiar than our names is not our curse, but our blessing”.



One glimpse at the source material and many naysayers would have pegged 20th Century Fox’s box-office disaster as a tough sell from day one. The savvy production brass at Murdoch’s empire once viewed the property as a prestige title; the finished product would emerge as something else entirely.

The Big Year, creeping into Australian video stores this week having bypassed a theatrical release, is adapted from the cult book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. The 2005 non-fiction work is one man’s account of the year he spent in one of the most fiercely competitive pastimes in the world – bird-watching. It is a chronicle of the passion that drives many and varied enthusiasts to commit 365 straight days of their lives to recording as many unique bird sightings as possible.

A bestseller is a bestseller in the world of potential film properties and 20th Century Fox weren’t going to let a recognisable brand with a built-in audience slip by even if the subject matter seemed, well, a bit abstract. The studio brought Obmascik onboard so as his unique spin on character and understanding of the birding obsession could be utilised by Hollywood comedy veteran Howard Franklin to turn the flavoursome book into a marketable three-act movie. Franklin was a respected writer and occasional director, notable for having worked with Bill Murray on Quick Change and Larger Than Life (two of the actor’s biggest box-office duds)

The finished script, crafted into a warm-hearted story featuring three distinctly different comedic leads each going after a record number of sightings, was generating buzz. Director David Frankel was basking in the glory of 2006s word-of-mouth hit, The Devil Wears Prada, when the script came his way. “I fell in love with the characters and the opportunity to tell a story in a world that was really unusual, and that's one of the things I look for,” the director told "...Prada was in the world of fashion, and (bird-watching) just seemed like this cool other world with equally passionate and obsessive characters.” He and Franklin made some adjustments, before the director committed to Marley & Me, but producers Stuart Cornfeld and Curtis Hanson kept at Frankel; by May 2010, Fox 2000 had okayed a hefty budget to cover the extensive outdoor shoot and production would begin (pictured, above - Frankel on-set with Martin and Black).

On the page, the film was full of rich, character-driven comedy potential and quality actors gravitated towards it (at different junctures, Steve Carell and Dustin Hoffman both showed interest). Also, the opportunity to work with a director who was quickly developing a Midas-like reputation was enticing. Jack Black was looking for a small-scale project after the FX-heavy Gulliver’s Travels and was cast as obsessed wannabe Brad; Steve Martin, in favour after his stellar hosting of that years Oscarcast, responded to the melancholy inherent to the ageing birdy Stu Priessler (a character who closely resembles ‘Neal Page’ in the much-loved Planes Trains and Automobiles). Owen Wilson had become the go-to guy at Fox for any lead material, having added his name and voice to a series of in-house hits (Marley & Me; The Fantastic Mr Fox; Night at the Museum 1 & 2; Marmaduke). "David was the reason we all signed on to do the movie," says Wilson in the film’s press notes. "We got swept up in his enthusiasm for the project. He explained it in a way that resonated with us -- the idea of people striving to do something with their lives; something that really makes a difference to them." The top-tier support cast included Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, Brian Dennehy, Jim Parsons, Joel McHale, Jobeth Williams, Kevin Pollak, Tim Blake Nelson and Rashida Jones (both pictured, below, with Black).

The extensive shoot (California, Georgia and several remote sites in Canada) was not an easy one, especially for a director whose previous work had been in the film-production centres of New York and Los Angeles. The budget climbed to over US$41million, but the distant locations kept Fox executives at bay and the pedigree of the stars and track-record of the director allowed the film’s producers to ease the concerns of Murdoch’s minions.

Early indicators that the film was in some post-production trouble was when Fox shifted the film from a highly-competitive July 4 release date to the wilds of mid-October. Worse yet, the avid bird-watchers of North America were growing increasingly peeved at Fox for apparently pulling support for the film; the natural heritage website 10,000 Birds ran a scathing piece called ‘Birdersploitation’. Questions arose amongst enthusiasts as to the accuracy of several bird calls used in the film – an unforgivable error amongst full-time bird-watchers.

By the time The Big Year hit cinemas, it was already cinema non-grata amongst Fox executives. Meagre preview screenings to capital city critics had resulted in lukewarm reviews (it ranks a 39% on Rotten Tomatoes). Promotion was non-existence, ensuring none of the demographics that the three leads appeal to (Black’s goofball under-25 crowd; Wilson’s 35+-ers; Martin’s over 50’s) would be convinced their favourite stars could make a bird-watching film...watchable. The film’s ultimate humiliation was that, on a cost-vs-return basis, its international box office take of US$7.5million may make it 2011’s biggest money-loser.



A fresh wave of local short-film makers get set to do some serious networking in the Southern Californian sunshine.

Quickly establishing itself as one of the most respected independent short-film showcases in international cinema, Indie Fest 2012 will kick off its 3 day celebration of unfettered personal vision on August 17 in the free-spirited Southern Californian enclave of Garden Grove. The event takes on a special significance for our local sector with four Australian short-films selected for this year’s event, second only in number to the host nation’s contingent.   

“Submissions from Australian filmmakers to the festival have increased each year and the quality, cinematography and story of these films is consistently outstanding,” says Donald Taylor, Indie Fest’s Festival Director. “While we do receive a lot of international film submissions, we do seem to be an Australian favorite and we love working with the filmmakers.  The stories are always fresh, entertaining and interesting and the cinematography is among the best we receive each year.”

The local quartet heading stateside in just over a month are Shaun David Katz, with his noirish-thriller Sleeping in Blood City; Talisha Elger and her dark coming-of-age tale, The Fears of Young Caroline (pictured, above); Darren MacFarlane, director of the relationship dramedy, About Face; and Tez Frost, with his amusingly-titled Two Guys in a Backyard (pictured, below).

Donald Taylor and the Indie Fest team, who this year oversee 27 films from 9 countries, are renowned for the focus they place upon supporting the filmmakers over the course of the festival. “We are unique in that we don’t cater to Hollywood studios and films, (but rather) truly showcase each and every independent film we select to screen,” he explains. “Each year, there are many from the industry attending the festival, including distributors, acquisition reps and film agents, and we get reports back from filmmakers every year telling us they were contacted by these visitors about possible deals.” 

SCREEN-SPACE spoke exclusively to each of the Australian directors and posed the question, “Getting festival recognition at an event like Indie Fest means....”:

Darren MacFarlane: “... a true validation of my filmmaking and storytelling. As a filmmaker, you want to tell stories that are unique but more importantly, you want to share those stories and that's where festivals like Indie Fest are so important. The other great thing about festivals like Indie Fest is that they encourage filmmakers to keep making films because there is an audience out there." (About Face, pictured below, screens August 18 at 4.30pm)

Tez Frost: “... not only maximising exposure for my project and myself as a director, but reassurance that the story itself resonates with audiences around the world.” (Two Guys in a Backyard screens August 18 at 8.30pm)

Talisha Elger: “... that I am able to view my film amongst an audience and receive feedback and viewer reaction. I feel ‘The Fears of Young Caroline’ is one of those films where you either like it or you don’t. It has quite a bit of ambiguity, which is something that audiences often feel uncomfortable with, so it is always interesting to see how my film is received. It is a great opportunity to be selected by a film festival like Indie Fest USA, as they pride themselves on encouraging filmmakers to network and promote their films by giving them the opportunities that not all film festivals offer.” (The Fears of Young Caroline screens August 17 at 9.00pm).

Shaun David Katz : “...that effort is paying off and is being appreciated, and best of all Indie Fest takes place near such an exciting part of the film world, so it all has a celebratory feel to it.” (Sleeping in Blood City, pictured below, screens August 17 at 6.30pm)




In part 2, SCREEN-SPACE examines the coming-out of gay- and lesbian-themed works from the 1970's to the present day. (Read part 1 here)

(Pictured, Phoebe Hart's Orchids: My Intersex Adventure, 2010)

Several films from the much-lauded ‘renaissance’ period of Australasian filmmaking touched on homosexual ambiguity - Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Bruce Beresford’s The Getting of Wisdom (1978) employed corseted yet lilting explorations of hidden and unrequited same-sex longing; Tom Cowan’s Journey Among Woman (1977) drew strength and unity from female partnerships; New Zealander Richard Turner’s Squeeze (1979) was a bold experiment in homosexual cinema from the small Kiwi film community; Fred Schepisi’s The Devil Playground (1976) potently mixed Catholic guilt, teenage confusion and repressed homosexuality

Schepisi, however, upset gay audiences with his 1978 film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, in which an elderly homosexual was portrayed as a predatory aggressor. Gay characters as evildoers onscreen is not particularly endemic to Australian cinema, but our filmmakers are as guilty of it as any other nations, amongst them Igor Auzins (High Rollin’, 1978), David Barker (The Great McCarthy, 1975) and Dr George Miller (Mad Max II, 1981).     

Whilst it is true that the 1970’s was a time of expanding cultural tolerance, of pushing the boundaries of acceptable social issues onscreen, this often manifested itself in crude representations of how ‘Ockers’ saw gay Australia. Bruce Beresford’s The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1971) and John D Lamond’s Felicity (1978) and The ABC of Love and Sex: Australian Style (1978) all presented queer living as the strangest of alternatives to mainstream society; Peter Bernardos’ bigscreen version of the hit TV series Number 96 (1974) took an each-way bet, featuring a camp caricature in Dudley Butterfield (Chard Hayward) and an urbane gay lawyer in Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham). Alternatively, positive representations of gay culture could be found in such underground hits as Pride and Snide (1973) and Paul Bugden’s Adam (1975).   

The 1980’s saw a major shift in the profile of gay culture in Australia, accompanied by a wave of exciting gay filmmaking talent. In 1982, anti-discrimination laws were introduced (Susan Lambert’s On Guard, 1983; Noellie Taylor’s Even Cowgirls, 1985; the works of Franco Di Chiera); in 1983, the AIDS epidemic began to impact the gay community (George Pugh’s AIDS, 1985; Bob Huber’s Understanding Sexuality, 1986). The Mardi Gras had mobilised the gay masses following a 1977 Sydney screening of the US documentary Word is Out; by the early 1980’s, its associated events, including the constantly-evolving film festival sidebar, became the frontline in the dissemination of information pertaining to the increase in mainstream acceptance of LGBT culture. Richard Turner documented the Mardi Gras parade in his landmark documentary We’ll Dance if We Want To (1984).

But without a doubt the greatest achievement of this 1980’s period in LGBT films was the foundation it laid for the familiarity and acceptance of gay characters on screen. At the start of the 1990’s, almost every Australian capital city had its own gay-themed film festival. In 1993, American comedienne Sandra Bernhardt travelled to Australia to star in Ann Turner’s lesbian-fish-out-of-water comedy, Dallas Doll, and audiences flocked to see Baz Luhrmann’s flamboyant Strictly Ballroom; Ruth Carr’s Mimi Pulka was Australia’s first indigenous lesbian-themed feature. Then, in 1994, the Australian mainstream audience came out to embrace homosexual characters and gay-themed storylines – it would be the year of Stephan Elliott’s The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling’s The Sum of Us (pictured, left) and PJ Hogan’s kitschy, thinly-veiled same-sex relationship smash Muriel’s Wedding.

A gay sensibility had infused the production sector and audiences alike – this was the time of Emma-Kate Croghan’s Love and Other Catastrophes (1996), Lawrence Johnson's Life (1996), Anna Kokkinos’ Head On (1998) and Samantha Lang’s The Well (1997) and Monkey’s Mask (2000). It was not all good news for the gay cinema industry over this period; in 1995, twelve films screening at Tasmania's Queer Film Festival, including Spikes and Heels, Coming Out Under Fire, What a Lesbian Looks Like, Mad About the Boy, 21st Century Nuns and Sex Fish, were banned outright by the only state that (at the time) still outlawed consensual sex between age-appropriate men. But that was a blip on the radar from a decade that saw homosexual cinema conclusively enter the mainstream cinema-going habits.

The past decade began with Tony Ayres' (pictured, right) Walking on Water (2002), a bittersweet tale of friends dealing with the death of one of their own by AIDS. Ayers has been a leading figure in gay Australian cinema – he produced the 1991 documentary Double Trouble, which examined the multi-faceted prejudices faced by LGBT Aboriginals, inspiring similar works from Reno Dal (Voices, 1997) and Lou Glover (Black Sheep, 1999); he would also produce the documentaries China Doll (1997) and Sadness (1999), which examined the lives of gay Asian Australians.

We are seeing a new dawning of equally-committed LGBT filmmakers – creatives who grew up through the impassioned emergence of gay cinema in the 80’s and 90’s. Phoebe Hart’s documentary Orchids: My Intersex Adventure (2010) chronicles Hart’s journey of self-discovery; Robert Chuter’s The Dream Children (2011) examines the adoption process as it affects the lives of two gay men who want to have a child; and the annual Mardi Gras Film Festival effortlessly programs diverse Australian short films from a wide-range of talented, emerging directors.




Australia's 'Pink Cinema' culture and the representation of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender Australians on our cinema screens is as expansive as the history of our mainstream film heritage. SCREEN-SPACE presents the first of our two-part examination of the role that our national cinema has played in reflecting and defining the LGBT community.

(Pictured, Lou Glover's Black Sheep, 1999)


A furtive glance back over the first 100 years of Australian cinema indicates that our filmmakers are not averse to the onscreen representation of homosexuality in our culture. What does emerge, however, is that in reflecting the profile of gay and lesbian Australia, our films have perpetuated our society’s misunderstanding of or, worse still, its prejudices towards the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) culture.

But that has not always been the case; in fact, it has only been in the last 20 years that Australian gay cinema has found a receptive sector in mainstream cinema culture. Prior to that period, homosexuality was peripheral to the main narrative, mostly existing as either comical relief or thinly-veiled caricature. Legendary film pioneer Ken G Hall introduced us to ‘Entwistle’, a mincing owner of a ladies fashion boutique in Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938, pictured). As played by South African actor Alec Kellaway, the character’s showy femininity ensured cheap laughs at the expense of homosexual flamboyance (though, in fairness to the production, the character did ultimately play a wise and supportive role in the Rudd family story). So popular was ‘Entwistle’ with audiences, he returned in Dad Rudd MP (1940) and set the tone for the onscreen depiction of gay men for nearly 40 years.

A far more thematically-ambiguous device from this very early period of Australian film culture is that of cross-dressing. Dusty outback melodramas would often feature tough-as-nails women, the ‘jilleroos’of legend, suitably attired to fight the elements in the same garb as the men. This led to often-knowing encounters, however shrouded in masculine bravado, in such films as husband-and-wife team Louise Lovely and Wilton Welch’s Jewelled Nights (1925; their marriage would end when Welch revealed his bisexuality), Lawson Harris’ Sunshine Sally (1922), Hall’s The Squatter's Daughter (1933) and Lovers and Luggers (1937, pictured; referred to by its detractors at the time as ‘Lovers and Buggers’) and Ralph Smart’s Bitter Springs (1950). Male-to-female cross-dressing, generally employed for farcical means, surfaced in AC Tindale’s The Laugh on Dad (1918), Franklyn Barrett’s The Breaking of the Drought (1920) and PJ Ramster’s Should a Girl Propose (1926).

Particularly important to the representation of gay longings onscreen from the era is Clarence Badger’s Rangle River (1936, pictured). RAF pilot Reggie Mannister (Robert Coote) has several moments in the country-set soap opera where he very obviously seeks the affection of co-lead Victor Jory, playing the handsome Dick Drake. A restored screening of the film at the 2004 Mardi Gras Film Festival drew resounding applause from an audience able to identify with the film’s depiction of misunderstood, silent passion.

The tide of social change that swept through conservative Western cultures in the late 1960’s led to a landmark film in the depiction of authentic same-sex relationships – Frank Brittain’s The Set (1970, below). In its portrayal of a cross-section of love stories in the bohemian inner-city enclaves, The Set features lesbian romances and gay awakenings with an earnestness that was admirable for the period. The film features an appearance by renowned drag queen ‘Candy’ (American Ken Johnson) and was one of the first high-profile Australian films to explore the alternative gay lifestyle with some modicum of truth and minimum of exploitation.

Also crucial to the emergence of a gay cinema culture at the start of the 1970’s was the Ubu Film Collective (later The Sydney Film-Makers Co-op). Having riled the Censorship Board with its gay-themed parody The Sound of Mucus (1965), Ubu became the first stop for fearless, experimental filmmakers and produced same-sex themed films from Gillian Armstrong (Satdee Night, 1973), Jan Chapman (Showtime, 1977), Jeni Thornley (Maidens, 1978) and Peter Wells (Foolish Things, 1981). One of the legacies of the Ubu era was the formation of the Gay Film Fund, which supported homosexual projects and filmmakers between 1976 and 1980.

Stemming from the country’s strong factual film-making tradition, documentaries reflected a willingness to embrace topics that were once taboo, thereby helping to shape a landscape of tolerance. Key amongst them were Barbara Creed’s Homosexuality: A Need for Discussion (1975), Digby Duncans’ Witches, Faggots, Poofters and Dykes (1979) and Fiona Cunningham Reid’s Feed Them to the Cannibals (1992).

Traits that ‘out’ otherwise-closeted homosexual characters onscreen have afforded gay Australian audiences some cinematic acknowledgement of their lifestyle, but invoke a conundrum. There is satisfaction to be found in connecting with the below-the-surface subtleties of such characterisations but gay audiences must then reconcile themselves with the secretive nature in which they are presented. Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright (1971, pictured) slyly explored simmering homosexuality in a desolate outback region via the both the lead character, English teacher John Grant (played by openly-gay actor Gary Bond) and the leering, mentally-unstable ‘Doc’ Tydon (Donald Pleasance) – educated, understated men, unable to assimilate with the brashness of the Aussie male (embodied by a strapping, mostly-pissed Jack Thompson) and  whom the working-class Australia of the early 1970’s would have labelled ‘pommy poofters’.

In PART 2: LGBT influence upon the Australian film renaissance of the 1970s; The mainstream embraces gay culture; Strong new voices....

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