Five luminous new Australian filmmakers

Lauren Carroll Harris

Depending on your vantage point, watching for the next wave of bold voices in cinema before it crests is dizzying; there’s no single, let alone assured, pathway towards making films in this or any country. What this collection of young, up-and-coming Australian filmmakers shows is that the path into the cinema industry is peripatetic. One filmmaker attended art school, one studied industrial design, one completed a media and communications course in their undergraduate study, one attended a dance college and one did a postgraduate course at an esteemed film school. Their point of unity is their mastery of the short film format. In the breadth and depth of their talent, and in coming to filmmaking from different sensibilities, they are less concerned with conventional ways of making short films than in finding new ways to speak to audiences in diverse cinematic languages. Here, we share excerpts and short films by five artists exciting us with distinctly zigzagging approaches into filmmaking.

Anya Beyersdorf, Gayby (2014)

Education pathway: Masters of Arts (Film and Digital Image), Sydney College of the Arts (2015)

For too long, Tropfest has come to define a particular genre of short filmmaking: though it’s often called the world’s most famous and prestigious festival dedicated to short films, a reliable blueprint has emerged, in which shortlisted works’ comedic conceits are resolved in a single punchline revealed in the film’s final moment. In 2014, Sydney filmmaker Anya Beyersdorf broke the mould with her shortlisted film Gayby. In the context of the Australian film industry, which presently favours neatly defined commercial genres, Beyersdorf has a nonconformist approach to storytelling, integrating moments of magical realism into everyday locales. Often her films’ premises are founded in a real-world situation — in Gayby, a young boy at school bullied for being part of a queer family — which progresses into a dreamworld as the films grow increasingly whimsical and fantastical.

After Tropfest, Gayby was subsequently selected for St Kilda Film Festival, Rhode Island Film Festival and Palm Springs International Shorts Fest. Following her inclusion in this year’s Sydney Film Festival’s Lexus Short Film Fellowship, Beyersdorf’s next project is writing a feature and a short film for Bluetongue films, with Nash Edgerton and Jan Chapman producing.

 

Brooke Goldfinch, Red Rover (2015)

Education pathway: Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications), University of New South Wales, and postgraduate study at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2014)

Sydney writer and director Brooke Goldfinch’s Red Rover was made in 2015, but as a spooky end-of-days drama, it feels more attuned with the atmosphere of 2017 than could have been predicted. Red Rover zooms us into the society of two teen lovers who escape the cocoon of an American religious cult to find a world on the brink of apocalypse. A former journalist, Goldfinch’s skill is in creating and bringing us into very full and lucid storyworlds that connect a particular time and place with a character’s inner world, with a minimum of exposition and dialogue — which might be precisely what good cinema is all about.

The film won the Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival’s Dendy Awards. After graduating from NYU’s prestigious graduate film program at Tisch School of the Arts, Goldfinch shadowed Ridley Scott last year as director’s attachment on Alien: Covenant, and her most recent short is Outbreak Generation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXrPPcjTb9E, which played this year’s SFF Lexus Short Film Fellowship.

 

Lucy Gaffy, The Fence (2014)

Education pathway: Masters of Directing, Australian Film Television and Radio School (2012)

In this short 2014 film, AFTRS graduate Lucy Gaffy seizes on the moment in Australian history when mandatory detention was introduced. Shot from the perspective of Cambodian immigrants living in detention and working at a local factory, we see razor wire unfurl around them and their lives change accordingly: policy become personal. The success of The Fence is that it doesn’t manifest as a social issue documentary, but rather as an intimate, personal portrait of those stuck in the increasingly unbridgeable gap between detention and the outside world. The film has a strongly experiential quality that allows it to cut through macro issues of political rhetoric with a micro-level attention to the character subjectivity of migrant detainees. With few subtitles and a structure that slips forward and back in time, the film plunges us into a world in which old and new traumas are constantly thrown together.

The Fence won Gaffy her second Directors Guild nomination and went on to premiere at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. Gaffy has since been awarded Hot Shots funding through Screen Australia for her proof of concept short Dream Baby.

 

Perun Bonser, Blight (2017), excerpt

Education pathway: NAISDA Dance College (2005)

Western Australian writer and director Perun Bonser’s Blight is a supernatural outback crime/Western about black trackers uniting in solidarity against white police, and to my mind it’s one of the most interesting short Australian films of recent years. With a background and an education in dance, Bonser brings an astute understanding of space, place and his character’s presence within them and a context of films that explore Indigenous themes. It’s this Indigenous cultural knowledge that enables Bonser to subvert the conventions of the Western.

Bonser told RealTime that “the film is partly inspired by the many Indigenous warriors in Australia and the common belief that they were in possession of supernatural powers (maban), powers [such as metamorphosis] that made them impervious to injury. I’m a big fan of genre (horror, action, etc) and surreal Australiana (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Wake in Fright). I really want to utilise Indigenous mythology and spirituality in film to tell idiosyncratic Australian stories, inclining to the contemporary. I think Australia is rich in cultural resources, it’s a shame [they’re] not further utilised.” Blight was produced within Screen Australia and ABC’s Pitch Black short film initiative. We eagerly await the next movement in Bonser’s filmmaking trajectory.

 

Michael Candy, Ether Antenna (2017), trailer

Education pathway: Bachelor of Fine Arts & Industrial Design, Queensland University of Technology (2013)

Though it showed at Melbourne artist-run gallery, Bus Projects, earlier this year, Michael Candy’s Ether Antenna departs from the norms of video art in that it reaches toward narrative: its plot trajectory is undoubtedly odd but present, unfolding as a series of chapters in the life of 10 robots wandering around a peopleless Nepalese landscape. It’s a nimble and witty film that creates a world at the juncture of industry and ecology, roboticism and mysticism; like all the best science-fiction films about artificial intelligence, the robots have souls, but Candy’s are Buddhist and collected by an angel.

Drawing on Eastern philosophy and populated with bipedal, wheeled creatures built by Candy himself and journeying from a pure spring to a polluted riverbank, Ether Antenna is as experimental and wonderful as anything we’ve seen in any cinema this year, and its central character as engaging and empathetic as any Pixar creation. Having completed the film on residency at the Robotics Association of Nepal, Candy told RealTime that “there’s a lot of Nepali text in the film, as it was intended to be a Nepali film. Yet there’s only one scene with dialogue. What happens is one robot says, ‘What is this?’ and the other says, ‘I don’t know.’”

As for the overt layers of symbolism embedded throughout, Candy says that the “film itself is in three parts, [and] each chapter is divided by a solar powered prayer wheel within the chapter’s environment. Chapter one has the prayer wheel rotating clockwise, as all pilgrimages are completed with the gods on your right side…In the second chapter, everything is going wrong, thus the wheel is rotating backwards, and by the final chapter the wheel stands still as it rotates its body around itself since this chapter is set somewhere in the afterlife.”

Michael Candy continues to use industrial technologies to communicate ideas about ecology and spirituality in moving images: his website is a trove of thoughtful, accessible short videos and films combining low-tech inventiveness with intellectual curiosity and deep compassion, and suggesting new possibilities for filmmaking originating within contemporary art.

19 September 2017
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