(1) What were the beginnings of the St. Kilda Film Festival? Why that suburb?
Mary-Lou Jelbart and a couple of buffs on the City of Port Phillip Council thought it should happen, and so it did (1). Having the National Theatre in Barkly Street as a venue was significant. Other suburbs do not have this option (e.g. Collingwood). The one thing the National didn’t have was a projector!

(2) What year(s) were you festival director?
I was director 1985-1990.

(3) What kind of activities did you do, or were you responsible for, as festival director?
Responsibilities? The lot, with no help at all, except at Festival time when the staff from St. Kilda Recreation Department pitched in. Certain functions were contracted however – graphic design and printing, projection, poster printing, and publicity (Meredith King and Maria Farmer). Won’t forget the night the police came upon me in Brunswick St. with a pot of glue in one hand and posters in the other: “Hullo, hullo, what’s this then?”

(4) What were the challenges you faced?
Challenge to get it all to happen on a very meagre budget.

(5) What combination of elements do you think makes for a successful short film festival?
Above all, I wanted the festival crowd to get all the good ones, the must sees, together at the one time each year. Sort of one-stop shopping.

(6) What role do you see the short film as playing within a filmmaker’s career? How important is the short film?
Filmmakers careers? Could discuss this forever. If you want a career you go into the professions – law, medicine, dentistry. Or hole out in some college or the bureaucracy.

(7) What do you think are the great challenges that confront the filmmaker when making the leap from the short film to the feature?
Shorts v features? I will forever reflect on Geoffrey Wright whose Swinburne short Arrividerci Roma (1979) had such metaphysical potency, and which has taken him eventually to the big-time in Hollywood. But will he ever catch the magic of that first inspiration? Perhaps not.

(8) What role do you think the St. Kilda film festival plays in the Australian short film scene?
It’s an important window.

(9) How has the festival grown since you were director? What would you attribute this to?
The opening night gets bigger every year. If all those who could define themselves as “wanting to make films for a living” were to march down St. Kilda Rd you would have a healthy 250,000 at least. Maybe next year there should be a march.

(10) Do you think that the tremendous growth in short filmmaking since the early ’90s has made any impact on the kind of films now being made and screened? Is there any real innovation or real accomplishments in short filmmaking going on? Has the format’s function become solely as a training ground or a calling card for feature filmmaking?
Growth and development in the content? Probably not. I always judge a film by whether my emotional meter jolts a bit. Am I amazed, upset, laughter and tears? Are there revelations, profound insights into Australian society? This doesn’t seem to be happening as much these days. There are certain genres of short films which keep repeating. For instance there is a convenience store, open late one night. Then a masked figure fronts the terrified attendant with a gun. Have you ever seen that one? I have. Always like that one because the bandit is so desperate and inept. Perhaps he represents all the short filmmakers that ever were.

(11) Are filmmakers these days too conscious of prizes, and forgetful of the quality of their films?
Prizes? Always a good idea. There can never be enough to go around. How many have you won? Filmmakers always need money.

(12) Do you see any connection between the shorts being made in Australia, and the features?
Shorts are mostly one gag setups and therefore far less demanding in brainpower. To sustain characters and plot then come to a satisfactory conclusion two hours later is a massive achievement. Even Orson Welles had trouble doing that consistently, Stanley Kubrick certainly didn’t. Do you remember Roman Polanski’s Two Men and A Wardrobe?

(13) What were the highlights for you as festival director (if the highlights were particular films, you can mention them)?
Many over the years. Apart from those mentioned in my article: I remember some weird films coming down from Sydney, friends of Rowan Woods. There was Valley of Desire by Robert Herbert in 1989 that took me to dreamland. There was a also a mad half hour doco that year called Suburban Encounters by Jo Bell and a black comedy by Ray Boseley called Smoke Em if You’ve Got Em. Yes, I liked the weirdos.


  1. Mary-Lou Jelbart was director of the inaugural St. Kilda Film Festival in 1984.

About The Author

Nigel Buesst was director of the St. Kilda Film Festival from 1985-1990. He is an independent filmmaker of many decades standing whose films include Bonjour Balwyn, Come Out Fighting, Jazz Scrapbook and Carlton + Godard = Cinema.

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