This program presents key works made by filmmakers associated with the Sydney Filmmakers’ Co-operative in the 1970s and ’80s, touching on an alternative history of filmmaking in this rich period and covering films of political activism, social protest, personal expression, sexual liberation and technological and cultural change (Melbourne will be the focus of a follow-up program in 2016).
6:30PM – MY LIFE WITHOUT STEVE
Gillian Leahy (1986) 53 mins PG
Leahy’s celebrated short feature is a passionate exploration of the inner life and everyday world of an “unseen” woman suffering the ache of romantic loss. Brilliantly shot in a Sydney apartment, and situated somewhere between Marguerite Duras and Max Ophuls, it is a “journey into the dazzling dark night of the romantic soul” (Peter Kemp).
Jeni Thornley (1978) 28 mins.
Combining home movies, photographs and footage from films she had acted in and worked on, Thornley’s highly influential work creates a poetic and incisively critical “found” footage essay on liberation, sexual equality and the public exploration of family life and history. Please note the earlier 6.30pm start time for this program.
8:15 PM – THE LOVE LETTERS FROM TERALBA ROAD
Stephen Wallace (1977) 50 mins
Wallace stumbled upon a series of letters in a Sydney flat in 1972, written by a man living in Newcastle in 1959. The letters chronicle the man’s persistent plea for forgiveness after having severely beaten his wife, and serve here as the structural narrative against which the screen drama is set. Though the real-life woman, tracked down by a journalist, initially threatened to sue Wallace, she later changed her mind after seeing the film and its treatment of issues of domestic violence. With Kris McQuade and Bryan Brown.
9:20 PM – AGAINST THE GRAIN: MORE MEAT THAN WHEAT
Tim Burns (1980) 76 mins
Burns’ remarkable, dystopic and challenging activist film charts the journey and movements of Ray Unit, a contradictory figure who provides a fascinating conduit through which to survey a range of hot-button issues including home-grown terrorism, woodchipping, national security and the effects of technology on individual freedom.
Helen Grace (1983) 28 mins.
Grace and Erika Addis’ groundbreaking, montage-driven and formally dexterous film playfully explores contemporary politics, screen theory, and images of masculinity and femininity to provide an open-ended argument about history and identity.
Made largely up of alumni of the Beijing Film Academy (the first graduates after China’s Cultural Revolution) the amorphous group that would become known as China’s Fifth Generation of filmmakers sent electric currents through the international festival circuit, revitalising the reputation of Chinese cinema on the world stage.
Including such luminaries as Zhang Yimou, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Chen Kaige, Zhang Zeming, Zhang Junzhao and many others, these fresh-faced newcomers loosened the reigns of their predecessors’ socialist-realist restraint. They began making films using outlandish expressions of colour and movement to draw complex narratives and explorations of character, and turning ideological purity into an anachronism, while some of their particularly audacious works were banned by Chinese censors. Dazzling Western art-house audiences with films such as One and Eight (1983) and Yellow Earth (1984), the groundswell of the Fifth Generation peaked with the award-littered likes of Red Sorghum (1987), Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Farewell My Concubine (1993). The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 dramatically dented the jubilance of this wave but did not stifle it entirely – many of the key directors continued to produce important work, some in self-imposed exile in places such as the United States and Australia, or in the less volatile land of television.
This season, designed to showcase the vibrancy and eclecticism of a cinematic movement as exciting and unpredictable as its homeland, features some of the Fifth Generation’s most celebrated works as well as several less widely seen films that are now regarded as key examples of the movement.
All 35mm prints courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
7:00PM SWAN SONG
Zhang Zeming (1986) 103 mins G
Zhang, twice rejected by the Beijing Film Academy, got sweet revenge as he watched his first feature burn through the international festival circuit, gathering exultant reviews along the way. Determined that Chinese cinema stop aping the cultural traditions of the West, Zhang created an unapologetically subjective vision of China’s societal fissures told through the yawning generation gap between a father and son. This impressive debut is a lyrical and emotional family melodrama that dives head first into the horrible depths of the Cultural Revolution.
Li Shaohong (1995) 115 mins PG
Li’s film concerns the intertwined fate of two prostitutes – one meek, the other bold – in China during the 1950s, after both are forcibly inducted into an official re-education camp by the People’s Liberation Army. Jonathan Rosenbaum called it the “most emotionally complex picture I’ve seen from Mainland China about the effect of the communist revolution on the lives of ordinary people”. Based on the novel by Su Tong (author of Wives and Concubines, subsequently adapted by Zhang Yimou as Raise the Red Lantern) and featuring cinematography by Li’s husband, Zeng Nianping.
Born 1934 in Soroca, Romania (now Moldova), Kira Muratova has made most of her films at the famous Odessa Film Studio.
She was largely unknown outside the Soviet Union until 1987 when, with the advent of glasnost, her films were taken off the censors’ shelves and internationally recognised at film festivals. Idiosyncratic and totally independent, Muratova’s unique vision has remained uncompromised, while influential critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has described her as “the greatest living Russian filmmaker”. Neither seeking political interpretations or moralising, Muratova presents an uncensored, often nihilistic vision of everyday life complete with all its ugliness and cruelty. Breaking away from cinematic conventions, and using experimental techniques such as punctuating fragmented storylines with absurdism, nonsensical behaviour and bizarre montages, Muratova doesn’t allow her audiences to be passive viewers and often assaults them with manically repeated dialogue or sudden shifts in editing, leaving them as lost as the characters onscreen. Her films focus on strong female characters deconstructing gender roles and relations in a society in moral decay.
From her early “provincial melodramas” to her masterpiece The Asthenic Syndrome and later films, this season charts a developing aesthetic of increasingly bizarre works embodied by her latest film Eternal Homecoming – a celebration of cinematic art and its uninhibited creation.
All films on 35mm, prints courtesy of Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre.
7:00PM – BRIEF ENCOUNTERS
Kira Muratova (1967) 98 mins
Shelved for 20 years by Soviet censors, Muratova’s first solo feature contains the building blocks of her experimental style including the use of flashbacks, a lack of clear or conventional narrative, montages of still photographs and audio discontinuities. Focusing on the woman’s realm, and depicting a love triangle between a provincial bureaucrat (played by Muratova), a wandering geologist and a country girl trying her luck in the city, this is nevertheless a documentary-like portrayal of Soviet life highlighting the divide between the urban intelligentsia and the under-privileged peasants.
8:50PM – LONG FAREWELLS
Kira Muratova (1971) 97 mins
Ostensibly the story of the strained relationship between a divorced translator and her teenaged son, who would rather live with his father in Siberia, the “film’s almost unbearable tension… is explored in a series of fluid, inventive sequences, which bring a visual sophistication – with acting and music to match – … [that] show Muratova [to be] streets ahead of her male contemporaries” (Ian Christie). Muratova’s important early feature, scripted by prominent feminist Natalya Ryazantseva, was deemed too aesthetic, personal and elitist by Soviet authorities, and was subsequently banned and its director was ejected from the filmmakers’ union.