The man simply begins to decipher the inscription. He purses his lips, as if he is listening. You’ve seen that it’s not easy to figure out the inscription with your eyes, but our man deciphers it with his wounds.
– In the Penal Colony, Franz Kafka (1919)

A micro-festival of recent works by Melbourne independent filmmaker Saidin Salkic occurred in Melbourne in late November 2022. Salkic was both the artist and curator. A prolific filmmaker, Salkic made five films in 2022, four of them features. Two of these were shown at the micro-festival: Frightened (2022) and The Killing of Dirk de Bruyn (2022).


Frightened is a critical dialogue between John Flaus and Saidin Salkic that stretches Flaus’s cinematic presence beyond his iconic spot in narrative film (Yackety Yak [1974], Newsfront [1978], Ghosts of the Civil Dead [1988], Nirvana Street Murder [1990], The Castle [1997], Jack Irish [2012-2021] and so on). 

Its opening locations tell me that Salkic’s body breathes and emanates a miasma relatable to Clarice Beckett’s 1920s fog. 

Silent Approach, Clarice Beckett

Frightened begins in the beachside suburb of Brighton, Beckett’s stomping ground, and journeys to Castlemaine, beginning on the Sandringham suburban train-line with images reminiscent of Stan Brakhage’s The Wonder Ring (1955) and with a soundtrack that could have been purloined from George Kuchar’s A Reason to Live (1976). Saidin also continually inserts himself in ways Kuchar does generally but particularly in his Weather Diaries (1986-1990). This related Kuchar aesthetic did seep into Hollywood via John Waters: “The Kuchar brothers gave me the self-confidence to believe in my own tawdry vision.”1

In the audience discussion that followed the film’s screening, Flaus’s gentle voice whispers that he is just there in the frame, that there were no demands like learning lines made on him, no rehearsals, no multiple takes. He was not expected to do anything, it just happened. He even dozes off while Salkic moved around the room, sometimes with a tripod, sometimes handheld, moving, prowling the room. The images are drained of colour and the television is on as a kind of familiar background hum. At home with his partner, Natalie de Maccus, he’s almost frozen, she’s reading the newspaper, making coffee, toast, half a word here and there spoken by Flaus. 

You catch Salkic’s apprehensive breath corrupting these settled spaces. Salkic inserts his rolling eyes and face, tools perched between melodrama and slapstick. A contemporary Roy (Mo) Rene face inserts itself into the frame incessantly to explain: “he walked behind the wall, I couldn’t see him, there was heavy rain.” “and he sat down on his couch, he sat down on his couch, and he looked at the TV, he looked at the TV for a while”, “and then a woman came into the living room, picked up a paper, she sat down, she was so tiny that, she was trying to fold the paper, and he was, he was asleep, he was sleeping, he was still sleeping”. 

There is also something of the vaudevillian touch of comedian George Burns in Salkic’s positioning and delivery. Although much more compact and repetitive, Salkic’s hyper-insertions into the audience’s face performatively sketch Burns’ cigar smoking monologues which Burns regularly inserted into his 1950’s television series with his virtuoso partner, Gracie Allen: The Burns and Allen Show. Both Salkic and Burns break down the fourth wall. Salkic whittles such interventions down to the length of Burns’ cigar-puffing conjoined facial mien. The couple’s television series unpacked essential suburbia. Allen’s play on the dumb blond meticulously disarms her audience’s prejudices. I can now see how this series invited my own pre-occupation with double-meanings and wordplay so critical to my own unravelling of the migrant voice. 

Salkic and Flaus. Two ‘worlds apart’ and collaged together, a situational collage, a contested space vacillating between trauma and ease. The anticipatory effect of Salkic’s hypervigilance saturates Flaus and De Maccus’s safe and settled domestic space. Anything can happen but nothing does (spoiler), only the settled micro-gestures of Flaus’s occupation are available. But this is occupied indigenous land and anything can happen. This is one particular layer of the disquiet beyond his own migrant position Salkic uncovers and amplifies. I can locate related apprehensive territory in the animation Nothing Happens by Michelle & Uri Kranot (12 mins, 2017, Canada-Denmark-France), experienced in immersive 360 form in Zagreb in 2018, sprinkled with the related symbolism of birds, trees and melodramatic sound licks all orchestrated to anticipate an unspoken secret that does not reveal itself.

Salkic’s frightened lurking body survived a Serbian massacre of Muslim boys and men in Bosnia. Salkic’s father did not survive. Like the execution machine in Kafka’s short story In the Penal Colony (1919), Salkic’s body was viscerally inscribed with the lesson that decades, nee centuries, of accumulated historical mistrust can be unleashed at any time. This body keeps the score. This body learnt that unprecedented violence can and will insert itself into everyday life at the drop of a hat; in this case Tito’s hat. Is there an homage of Salkic’s dead father in this somnambulistic enactment by Flaus and De Maccus? Salkic renovates the Flaus/De Maccus domesticity into a remnant of the mutilated family space that the Serbian soldiers had infected Salkic’s childhood home.

Is it possible to read this Flaus/Salkic contested space as a proletariat/precariat dialogue? In Marxist terms the proletariat expresses a working class whose means of subsistence sells its labor for a wage. The precariat has arisen as an unstable outcome to Thatcher and Reagan’s neo-liberal dismantling of the welfare state. “The precariat consists of people who work part-time or eke out their incomes by seasonal or ‘gig’ jobs.”2  Flaus’s family origins are working class. His early intermittent jobs were blue collar. He was a conscientious objector to the Korean war, an Anarchist and member of the Sydney Push, a left-wing libertarian cultural movement from the 1940s to ‘70s. His cultural trajectory has certainly demonstrated an element of precarity. The acting profession is a “gig”, after all. Yet Salkic ramps this precarity to another level, heating up Flaus’s domestic space. 

Salkic’s traumatic migrant pedigree is evident. His ceaseless contemporary low budget practice is insecure, unfunded, unrecognised, mobile and executed efficiently through the moment. Flaus populates his space with a bookshelf of annotated texts and a strong sustained personal relationship with Natalie, while Salkic’s aesthetic is impulsive and annotated through a drawing practice hanging on a Café wall. Repetition migrates from the factory floor into Salkic’s practice and warps into a method of enquiry and witnessing. Every edit re-asserts a traumatised hypervigilant presence. As a film critic Flaus has responded positively to experimental repetition through his validation of Paul Winkler’s controversial Brickwall (1975, 22 minutes), for example, an ode to Bricklaying made by another migrant. Winkler’s blue-collar repetitions are more about the technical image than Salkic’s verbal witnessing that speak more directly to social change. Winkler has travelled much further into international prestige. Yet both exemplify Vilem Flusser’s arguments about mobility and the technical image showcased in The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism3

The patterning of Salkic’s relentless narratives parodies the persistence of Surveillance Capitalism’s hidden persuaders. Each mouse click is constantly mined by Google to locate the consumption potentials of its targets. In China, face recognition software incessantly records and archives every face to pinpoint and discipline transgressive behaviours as minor as jay walking. Surveillance cameras are now omnipresent, spewing out data for analysis at speeds way beyond visibility, networking the Panopticon Orwell predicted. Similar looping structures also roll out those unending narratives that hook the consumer online to manipulate some insecure need. These advertising moves themselves have been long evident4 and Flaus’s golden voice has been enlisted to woo our interest in Four’n Twenty Pies, Fertilizer, Road Safety, The Salvos and much more. 

But the internet has enabled a deeper level of colonising our bodies and minds with these unprecedented levels of sophisticated technologies disarming our perceptual apparatus. Continuous circular addictive narratives operate in those advertising videos on YouTube and Facebook that go on and on. Ads on weight loss, dieting that never reveal their secret solution, never get to the point, but draw you in. A useful example of this method is Adam Trent’s relentless stencil YouTubes5. Salkic flips this repetitive anticipatory method to expose his own wound, a move uncannily inconsequential and invisible to Surveillance Capitalism’s unprecedented algorithms. 

The Killing of Dirk de Bruyn

In The Killing of Dirk de Bruyn Salkic trains his method on me. In becoming Salkic’s prey, the unease identified in Frightened is amplified inside me. Like Flaus, there were no acting demands made, beyond walking past Salkic at a Gallery Exhibition while Salkic lurked out of view. The curator did ask me at one point what he was doing, but I did not know, although I did catch him working in the screening room close to the screen. I had not seen The Killing of Dirk de Bruyn before this event and did not know it was to be screened. Salkic had asked if he could use my name for a project and I had said yes, and then he told me he would have used it anyway if I had said no. In his film I had sent him an upsetting letter. As a result, his character, relatable to the invisible character who invaded Flaus’s personal space, needs to find me and get rid of me: “I picked up my knife and I, I went to see him” “I want to find him. It is raining heavily, I was so worried, so worried, worried about this letter, this letter was from him, he sent me a letter.”

In all this recall, I am talking to myself, putting phrases together as Salkic’s character does. It also comes to me in this state that seeing what people do when you are not there opens up a dark hole. I am entering a paranoid loop while I am watching the film because it is about me. But it is not about me, it is about Saidin. Where am I in the film? I anticipate seeing myself but I do not. Part of me feels I have entered an online scam. Where and what is the pay-off? What flows from me into him? What flows from him into me?

In this way this film chants a dissociative contested space around migrant identity. There is a moment when I remind myself to read R.D. Laing’s Knots (1970) again. There is a moment of transfer, where I felt connected. I hear the soundtrack of my found footage film WAP (2012) which Salkic rides into his narrative6. Repetitions of “New Australian, your type, later on, point to the ceiling, point to the door” are punctuated with repetitions of “I was standing there, it was frightening.”


WAP is about Australia’s White Australia Policy and repetitively cut up a speech by Arthur Caldwell in the 1950s and sections of Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) and We of the Never Never (1982) to highlight the policy’s difficult and often duplicitous undertones. I describe WAP online as: 

WAP stands for White Australia Policy, a racist policy which limited migration into Australia into the 1950’s. This policy can be read as a marker of the guilt surrounding the Aboriginal genocide that had blotted white settlement of Australia since its inception. This film reframes historic material to allow the voices of the deferred and dispossessed to speak their trauma, speaking often through the bodies and voices of the oppressor to reveal the unspoken truth.6

This is the cut-up strategy that Martin Arnold had used in his Found Footage films to reveal the unspoken through the tics and stutters of his characters. (e.g Passage A L’acte [1993] and Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy [1998]) Arnold explains:

In the symptom, the repressed declares itself. Hollywood Cinema is, as I have already said, a cinema of exclusion, denial, and repression. I inscribed a symptom into it, which brings some of the aspects of repression back up to the surface, or to say it in more modest words, which gives an idea of how, behind the intact world of being represented, another not-at-all intact world is lurking.8

Salkic takes this position a step further. He occupies such ticks and stutters, weaponising them with anticipation as a strategy to outsider empowerment.

(Special thanks to Nicholas Nedelkopoulos in our ongoing dialogue on these ideas.)


  1. Pinkerton, Nick (2014) Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take? Artforum, September 05, 2014.
  2. Toshchenko, Zhan (2018) A New Social Class: From Proletariat to Precariat. Review of Nationalities 8(1):39-51
  3. Flusser, Vilém & Finger, Anke (2003) The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism. University of Illinois Press.
  4. Packard, Vance (1957) The Hidden Persuaders. New York: David McKay.
  5. Trent, Adam (2021) The Stencil Moved Across her Leg. Video. https://www.facebook.com/AdamTrentMagic/videos/810575433670324
  6. de Bruyn, Dirk (2012) WAP: White Australia Policy. Video. https://vimeo.com/110675482
  7. de Bruyn, Dirk (2012) WAP: White Australia Policy. Video. https://vimeo.com/110675482
  8. MacDonald, Scott (1994) Sp… Sp… Sp.. Spaces of Inscription: An Interview with Martin Arnold. Film Quarterly. Vol. 48 No. 1., p.11

About The Author

Dirk de Bruyn has been practicing, writing and curating in the area of experimental film and animation for over 35 years. He is currently teaching Animation and Digital Culture at Deakin University in Melbourne, Victoria (Burwood Campus).

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