Compiled by Fiona A. Villella
With an industry so small in which only a handful of feature films get wide, mainstream exposure in any given year, it is easy to cast rather generalised statements on the current state of play. And that there are so few films that fill the arena of Australian feature filmmaking means that those that do get made carry a greater, symbolic currency. Innocence becomes the ‘art film’ of the year; Better than Sex the ‘romantic comedy’; Looking for Alibrandi the ‘teen film’; The Dish ‘good, old-fashioned filmmaking’; Chopper the ‘criminal as hero’ film and so on. When these films don’t deliver, it becomes too easy to cast definitive judgements on the Australian film industry. And conversely, when they do, it is a moment of revivification. Regardless of whether or not it was a good year in Australian film, there is an undeniable amount of film activity and energy occurring below the ground, on the fringes and in the cracks of the ‘official’ industry, that is risk-taking, vibrant and visionary. Enough to convince you that Australian film is never in danger.
A call was recently put out inviting people to nominate their ‘favourite’ Australian film of the year. People could choose from any genre or format, recent or re-released. While many of the above mainstream releases were popular among the responses – in particular Chopper, which is perhaps the Australian film of the year to have received favourable press all round – there are many films nominated that were either generally ignored upon release (Yahoo Serious’ Mr. Accident) or that were not of the mainstream variety (in particular short films). The entries range from single-line statements to paragraphs to longer reflections on a particular film or Australian cinema in 2000. Overall they make for a pretty fascinating read.
Parts of this article are now hosted on the PANDORA archive of the National Library of Australia and Partners.
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My favourite Australian film for 2000 is Cunnamulla, the new non-fiction film by Dennis O’Rourke. It’s a controversial look at characters and emotions, which the media and the documentary community generally ignore or position on the fringes of their urban/globalised sensibilities. Cunnamulla might be entitled “Such Is Life” – it’s about it all. And wonderfully photographed and edited. It reflects a true film artist’s sensibilities. I love it. For anyone who’s lived in the bush, or the Western suburbs of Sydney, or has a few Aussie battlers in the family, it will all seem familiar. For those who don’t know about these things, the film will take them to places they’ve never been before. However, everyone high and low will recognise the sorrow and the laughter to be found in … Cunnamulla.
Martha Ansara is an independent filmmaker of many years standing.
© Martha Ansara, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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Walkabout is a film with a great, memorable beginning. A father takes his two children for a picnic in the Australian bush, then burns the car and shoots himself. The two kids, a girl and her younger brother, are left stranded, and must make their way back home. On the way, they are helped by an aboriginal boy on his walkabout.
I first saw Walkabout as a kid myself, and the film, especially the beginning, stayed in my head. With the re-release of the director’s cut, I recently managed to catch up with the film again, and have discovered that the movie as a whole is just as unforgettable as its opening.
Walkabout was made in 1970 by English director, Nicolas Roeg, who became mesmerized by the Australian landscape in an earlier visit, and thus resolved to make a film here. The cast features Jenny Agutter, Lucien John, and David Gumpilil. There are few other characters, and then only minor, so the film is basically a three-hander. The cinematography is beautiful, thanks to the multi-skilled director, and the musical score is melancholy and strange, due to the unusual choice of John Barry as composer, better known for his James Bond scores.
Walkabout is about many things but one of its main themes for me is that of wastage. This is shown throughout the film. The aboriginal boy uses every part of the animals that he kills – the meat for food, the sinews for cord, and even the fluids for the treatment of sunburn. By contrast, white man is shown to be very wasteful of the things he kills and sometimes he kills for no other purpose than sport. These conflicting approaches are shown in a non-didactic fashion, simply by cutting between the aboriginal boy preparing food and the white man’s methods, and it is left to the audience to make its own judgements. The way food is ‘sanitized’ in white culture is also explored. When the aboriginal boy serves up possum to the girl and boy, it still looks very much like a possum. By contrast, the steak that finally ends up on the dinner plates of white suburban houses looks far removed from the cows that it originally was.
This theme of concealing hard truths in pleasing fantasies comes most sharply to the fore in the relationship between the aboriginal boy and the girl he has rescued. How this relationship develops, or fails to, provides the most poignant aspect of the film. It is only at the end, along with the audience, that the girl comes to realize that an opportunity for and love and freedom has been wasted.
There is still so much to say on Walkabout. It is a film with seemingly endless layers and ongoing relevance. I haven’t even begun to talk about, say, its bizarre moments. For a film set in the Australian Outback, one might imagine that it would be very orthodox in its telling. But this is far from true. Two school-kids emerging from the Australian desert after months of being lost, still dressed in their newly washed and cleaned private school uniforms, forms one of the many surreal, yet meaningful, moments of the film.
I guess I love Walkabout for many reasons but in the main I love it because it is touching in a genuine and completely unsentimental way. I think to achieve this in any art form is quite a feat. I would like to finish by quoting a poem by another Englishman, A. E. Houseman that is itself quoted at the end of the film. The flavour of the poem captures perfectly the lasting resonance of the film and was an inspired choice on the part of Walkabout‘s director Nicolas Roeg.
The poem goes like so:
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it, shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Tom Conyers recently graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts, School of Film & Television.
© Tom Conyers, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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Thinking about my favourite Australian film for 2000 is a tough one. As usual, I was impressed by the high-quality offerings at the short film festivals like St. Kilda and Watch My Shorts; I was reasonably satisfied by the freshest batch of VCA films and delighted that Andrew Dominik had the courage and opportunity to make Chopper, a film with a visual freshness and form not usually present in local works.
When I think back to films of 2000 that have truly pushed the boundaries of the medium, raised questions I had never thought of and challenged my very notions of filmmaking, it is a sad realization that none have been Australian.
While Mike Figgis was bravely choosing not to edit his low-budget masterpiece Timecode we were sitting through the conventional and blandly crafted Angst, which yet again re-told a tired but possibly “uniquely Australian” story of middle class disaffection. Paul Cox’s much anticipated Innocence was also disappointingly predictable not just drawing on, but relying on convention. The earth-shatteringly unoriginal Sensitive New Age Killers capped off a disappointing year of predictable cinema and, embarrassingly, showed the world that we’re still not quite over Tarantino.
It fills me with sadness to sound so damning of what has been a tough year for our poor little industry. There have certainly been some perfectly fine films realized this year, especially in the areas of documentary and animation. What is clear, though, is the sorry political state of our industry that inevitably suffocates our artists and makes risk-taking less possible. It is with tremendous optimism that I look to 2001 and to all the short filmmakers who impressed me at St Kilda and the VCA kids who will take the torch of feature filmmaking in 2001. Here’s hoping that you’ll do something mind-blowing.
Dean Francis is a Melbourne-based filmmaker.
© Dean Francis, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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My favourite Australian film for 2000 is Flowergirl by Cate Shortland. The form and the content are indivisible. A superb piece of work. Joy also by Cate Shortland is up on my list. Performance-wise Eric Bana as Chopper in Chopper was a delight to watch.
Jo Kennedy is a Melbourne-based filmmaker.
© Jo Kennedy, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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Joy (Cate Shortland, 2000) was my favourite Australian film of 2000.
Marion Lee recently graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts, School of Film & Television.
© Marion Lee, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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Australian cinema, to be (my mother) frank, doesn’t really excite me. I don’t go out of my way looking for it. This year I saw 10 Australian films. The first five on this list are good; the next five far from it.
the sublime: Faint Echo of Ghosts (Darron Davies)
the fascinating: Chopper (Andrew Dominik)
the lovely: Looking for Alibrandi (Kate Woods)
the surprising: Sensitive New Age Killer (Mark Savage)
the independent: Gerry Humphrys – The Loved One (Nigel Buesst)
the problematic: Innocence (Paul Cox)
the embarrassing: Better Than Sex (Jonathan Teplitzky)
the pointless: The Wog Boy (Aleksi Vellis)
the stupid: Angst (Daniel Nettheim)
the abysmal: City Loop (Belinda Chayko)
Bill Mousoulis is an independent filmmaker and founding editor of Senses of Cinema.
© Bill Mousoulis, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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I enjoyed so many Aussie films this year. I found something to like and admire in Better Than Sex, Looking For Alibrandi, The Dish, Bootmen and My Mother Frank. In fact, I was completely satisfied by them because they pulled off what they set out to achieve. There are many more films that I missed on for one reason or another – work, slackness etc. I feel like a meanie singling out one film as the most outstanding for me this year, so I’ll do the fairest thing possible and say it’s a dead heat. I thought Chopper and Walk The Walk (to be released in March) were excellent.
Chopper for all the obvious reasons – amazing performance, taut and original direction and courageous material. Chopper was made for the right reason – the story was fascinating – and not because everyone knew it would take in excess of $8 million at the local box office. These things can’t really be planned and it’s an inauthentic way to go about making a movie. Also, there was a singular filmmaking voice coming through Chopper, a synthesis of Andrew Dominik (writer/director), Mark Read (Chopper), Eric Bana and a producer, Michelle Bennett, who knows how to support the creative team while being a part of it.
I managed to see Walk The Talk at the Australian Film Institute (AFI) screenings. Budding writers must see this film as soon as it’s released. It is one of the funniest and cleverest Australian comedies I’ve ever seen. In fact, I think it’s one of my all-time favourite movies. Sacha Horler has never been better. Shirley Barrett’s script and direction combined with Mandy Walker’s singular cinematography makes this film a stand out. It was a bloody disgrace it didn’t feature in the AFI nominations this year. Every other year, they manage to leave out the best writer. I have no idea how that happens.
So there it is. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all you on-line cinephiles. And may my next film be on somebody’s favourite film list very soon!
Cherie Nowlan directed Thank God He Met Lizzie (starring Cate Blanchett, Frances O’Connor and Richard Roxburgh). Before that, she directed a documentary and short films. These days, she’s a commercial director with Doll Collective and is developing several film projects.
© Cherie Nowlan, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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Without a doubt, my two favourites for 2000 are Chopper and Innocence.
Both had guts, both had a lot to say, and both were handled very delicately.
Julie Ryan is an Australian producer and has worked with Rolf de Heer since 1997 (she was production manager for Dance Me To My Song), produced the documentary Heather Rose Goes To Cannes, production managed the horror film Cut!, Australian producer on the French/Australian co-production The Old Man Who Read Love Stories and producing with de Heer on his next feature The Tracker which begins shooting in March/April 2001.
© Julie Ryan, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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I was particularly impressed by the short film work of Jo Kennedy and Cate Shortland which screened recently in Melbourne. Both offer styles that are remarkably different. Kennedy’s is allusive and whimsical but remarkably so: in The Bridge, her very first short film, she creates a distinct tone in the first moments of the film, keyed to the drama of the story, through placing together a series of abstract images, the right use of slow-motion and a minimal, haunting score. The ensuing drama seemed to strike a very fine balance between mystery, uncertainty, discovery and the everyday. This whimsical and allusive strain continues more emphatically in her most recent short Lost, which is a haunting meditation on the theme of loss and how it is dealt with over a long period of time. There is a very contemplative quality to Jo Kennedy’s films, which is admirable. Quite a world away are the short films of Cate Shortland. There is something urgent, explosive and vibrant in her films and a certain melodrama both on the level of form and content. Perhaps the most amazing was Joy, a smart, stylistic, energetic portrait of a young rebellious girl punctuated with moments of stunning, unnerving irony – the narrative at heightened, peak moments is stopped dead in its tracks as huge aphorisms associated with female propriety bleed across the screen providing ironic commentary on the action. In Joy, Shortland achieves a fascinating balance between stasis and action, and aggrandizes the central female character as an unstoppable, energised, ego-force in a way reminiscent of Scorsese. Her other films reveal an ability to handle different styles. Flowergirl is a very gentle, love-story based in a documentary realism mixed with stylistic flourishes most reminiscent of Wong Kar-Wai. While Pentuphouse has one of the greatest endings for an Australian film. Discovering these two filmmakers was definitely my Australian-film highlight for the year.
Fiona A. Villella is editor of Senses of Cinema.
© Fiona A. Villella, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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I often like to be taken out of my skin when I see a film – thoroughly thrashed about by the humour, trashiness, intellect or the ‘no bullshit’ rawness of emotion … then there are times when I just like to identify.
My favourite Australian film for 2000 was Pip Karmel’s Me Myself I – Rachel Griffiths plays Pamela Drury, a career woman who always wondered what it might have been like to have a family and ‘settle down’ with ‘that man’ (you know … the love of your life who dissolves into the ether after you’ve finally come to your senses).
The late ’70s and early ’80s produced an impressive workforce of women, many of whom saw motherhood as a form of suffocation – a socially accepted way of being buried alive. Then when they hit their mid-late 30s and faced the ‘package’ they’d ended up with, I’m sure many asked themselves, “what if I had been less selfish, ambitious, goal oriented, frustrated, restless, hungry?”, “what if I’d got married and had kids?” I think everyone wonders about or craves otherness at some stage in their lives, whether they ideologically believe in the alternative or not. Karmel’s reflections on career vs. motherhood, from both sides of the fence, must echo loudly to a whole generation of women who have grown up with choices. I like the sentiment of the final scenes – the way Karmel tells us that we make choices for very sound reasons, that we need to hang onto the integrity of our decisions. Yes … the man, the baby, the Jeep and the leafy suburban house can be a nice illusion but, as Karmel suggests, many of us would like to leave it at the fantasy level and get on with the business of solo flight!
Terrie Waddell lectures in Media Studies at La Trobe University, Melbourne.
© Terrie Waddell, December 2000 back to list of contributors
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The best ‘Australian’ film was Mission Impossible 2, if it counts…
Jake Wilson is a Melbourne writer, cinema student and filmmaker.
© Jake Wilson, December 2000 back to list of contributors