Unknown Pleasures:
Australian independent cinema


A series of regular screenings featuring the
best of Australian independent cinema,
both classic and contemporary,
with discussions with the filmmakers.
Curators/presenters: Chris Luscri, Bill Mousoulis
Assistant/videographer: Colin Hodson


read more


Upcoming screenings for 2023


INFO FOR SCREENINGS:

Our main venue is the Thornbury Picture House,
at 802 High St, Thornbury.
Tickets are at regular house prices,
and must be booked online at the venue's website.
Check particular info for each session down the page.

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Tuesday, June 20, 8:25 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices. Tickets on sale here.

Dancing Shadows - Works by Erin M McCuskey
(1999-2022, 93 mins, Erin M McCuskey)

Q&A with McCuskey, moderated by Fagyn Gwyther-McCuskey

Erin M McCuskey is a film artist of the highest calibre, utilising dance and music together with archival footage, to create a sensual and experimental aural and visual feast. Her work celebrates families and communities, through a female sensibility, and through the richness of memory and the lands we live on and come from. (Bill Mousoulis)

Erin M McCuskey profile on
Melbourne Independent Filmmakers website.


Film artist Erin M McCuskey's work is indeed one of Australia's great "unknown pleasures". Working mainly from Victoria's largest town, Ballarat, she has steadily and surely carved out a working practice for herself and her collaborators, fusing analogue film (created and archival), music, dance, literature, theatre and a visual artist's perspective into digital cinematic works that are firstly sensual and delightful, and secondly resonantly poetic and deep.

 

Her early work, shot on Super 8 and 16mm, is charming and disarming. Der Bug is like the perfect first film, a memory poem, with archival footage of a mother and young daughter (and females will go on to feature almost exclusively in McCuskey's work). The montage of shots is set to sentimental music, but it works. Said She Found Stars on the Floor is an archetypal Super 8 film, from a time (1999) when Super 8 was still in existence and being screened at festivals (though the new millennium would put paid to that). Archetypal in that it is playful and free and awkward and utterly charming, two kids and their eternal romance. The film features Ballarat musician Patrick McCabe, and next film Stepford Girl features another Ballarat musician, Hap Hayward, with his band Underminers. In effect a music clip, Stepford Girl is again shot on film, and again cutesy, but it then turns into a murderous tale of female empowerment, with actress Amanda Lines very creative with her facial expressions.

 

McCuskey's work comes into full being after a few more years, with her key works all done between 2017 and the present, and a number of them are close collaborations with composer/musician Christine Tammer (indie film legend Peter Tammer's sister). Carnival as Life is an excellent archival film, utilising brilliantly-restored 16mm footage from the '50s to '70s provided by the family of Ballarat identity Jack Anderson. Apart from the inherent value of the footage itself, McCuskey impresses in this film with her formal play with superimpositions and certain visual insertions (frame lines, sprocket holes, etc.), suggesting how ephemeral film and memories are. Twirl de Lux however is the first film where McCuskey truly marks her terrain as a distinctive artist. Tammer's music drives the film forward, as archival footage of female dancers twirling is interspersed with current footage of women twirling, in a joy of expression. And McCuskey the formalist steps in again, with interesting stop-motion animation, exploring the interface between photography and motion picture. It's feminist and freewheeling, and whilst McCuskey's subsequent work will display female joy and connection almost exclusively, Twirl de Lux allows itself a moment of ugliness, with a bunch of men ogling at the women with their "gaze".

 

Do Not Go Gentle is McCuskey's masterpiece, a half-hour meditation on dying. An atmospheric work, it features performance by a number of women, with the formalist director again stepping in with backwards motion this time, of the dancing and movements of the women. With the dark visuals, we have "dancing shadows" as our program title says, and archival images of women with their families come floating in, and our performers look into the camera, united and wise, but also a little sad at the passing of the light. It's a haunting and beautiful work. The most recent film on show, Precious Fragments, is another excellent poetic half-hour work, this time focusing on McCuskey's Irish roots, and also on Australian Indigenous land and culture, and again with a great mix of memories, singing and dancing, and visual experimentation.

 

As for Random Number Generator, it is totally out-of-step with all the other work here, being a scream ride through the carnival of casinos and other gambling venues, complete with cabaret-like songs about gambling, written by Christine Tammer. It's also an eerie film, the odd soundtrack also going quiet and weird at times, perfectly capturing the dream-like "drowning" sensation one can have at these gambling venues.

 

McCuskey clearly deserves greater recognition as a filmmaker.

 

Bill Mousoulis

_____________________________


Films in screening order:

 

PART 1: EARLY
Der Bug
(1999, 1:30 mins, 16mm – SD digital)
Said She Found Stars on the Floor
(1999, 3:39 mins, Super 8 – SD digital)
Stepford Girl
(2009, 3:34 mins, Super 8 & 16mm – SD digital)

PART 2: PROJECTION COMPOSING
Twirl de Lux
(2017, 4:59 mins, HD digital, sound/music by Christine Tammer)

Carnival As Life (2020, 6:04 mins, 16mm – HD digital, sound/music by Christine Tammer)
Do Not Go Gentle (2017, 29:59 mins, Centre channel of 3-channel work, HD digital, sound by Christine Tammer)
Random Number Generator (2018, 11:06 mins, Centre channel of 5-channel work, HD digital, sound/music by Christine Tammer)

PART 3: PANDEMIC

Film Flourishes (2021, 1:45 mins, HD digital)

Yearning (2021, 1:34 mins, HD digital, music by Christine Tammer)

PART 4: NOW
Precious Fragments (2022, 28:48 mins, Super 8 & Digital – 2K Digital)

_____________________________

 

Bill Mousoulis radio interview
by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis, WYN-FM, June 9, 2023.

_____________________________

"The poignant, dreamlike quality that transforms facts into wonder are powerfully present."
- Shane Jones, Australian Visual Artist

"In all this, McCuskey's films, her art, call the viewer to dance and twirl, to find their heart again in a love of family and place. She speaks to us through her Gaelic roots, but most of all she speaks through the images of the present and the past, of vaudeville and cinema and performance, all tied and entwined, dousing our imaginations with another possible outcome for art, where art rules and all else is vanquished by beauty and honesty."
- Caleb Cluff, former ABC Journalist & MEAA Board Member

"Erin McCuskey’s visual work is nuanced with a strangeness that beckons and teases memories to appear. Time is the constant, clicking between heartbeat and echoes of generations."
- Bryce Ives, Artistic Director

"A highlight of White Night Ballarat was Do Not Go Gentle. It drew passers-by in with a curiosity that was gently transformed into a close focus. The sensitive composition of personal stories and evocative sounds drew us in for more than just moments: for audiences expecting scale and spectacle, this was one of the most important White Night works in resetting our expectations of what it means to wander through a town at will, to encounter its people in new ways, to reimagine its histories and be welcomed into its present."
- Esther Anatolitis, Editor Meanjin

“The work is haunting and sophisticated.” 
- Peter Tammer, Independent Filmmaker
_____________________________


Twirl de Lux
Carnival As Life
Random Number Generator

Do Not Go Gentle
Do Not Go Gentle
Do Not Go Gentle




Past screenings in 2023







Tuesday, Jan 10, 8:30 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices, book tickets here.

Other Zones: Works by David Cox
Guest programmed by Dirk de Bruyn

Intro and Q&A with David Cox (from USA),
moderated by Dirk de Bruyn

As David Cox is in Australia briefly in January, we are taking the opportunity to engage with this unique migratory talent that continually tests the boundaries of emerging technologies and Cinema to kick off the new year.

David Cox profile on
Melbourne Independent Filmmakers website.

Films in screening order:

 

PART I: Super -8 & 1980s
Onus on Us
(excerpts 7 mins) (1988, 90 mins, Super-8)
Panoramicon
(excerpts 4 mins) (1989, 25 mins, Super-8)

PART II: Film animation & puppets
Monuments Far and Strange
(1989, 4 mins, 16mm, B&W, experimental)

Tatlin (1990, 1 min, 16mm)
Puppenhead (1990, 7.5 mins, 16mm, B&W)

PART III: Cyberculture & 1990s

Bureau of Inverse Technology (1992, 7 mins, SD video, Betamax)

Otherzone (1998, 15 mins, 35mm Dolby Surround Sound)

PART IV: Immersive & virtual spaces
The Secret History of Brisbane (2001, 7 mins)
and other works (post 2000), some co-directed by Molly Hankwitz

 


This series of short films maps his trajectory through four phases of work from Super 8 through object animation, cyberculture and right into the cutting edge of Immersive 360
° technologies in his settled family life with partner Molly Hankwitz in San Francisco and productive relationship with Craig Baldwin’s Other Cinema. During the screening, each phase of this four-phase trajectory will begin and end with a running live commentary in typical David Cox style to contextualize the work. There will also be a Q&A at the end of the screening.

 

Of course, from a Melbourne perspective both Puppenhead and Otherzone are of unique interest. Puppenhead because of John Flaus and Heinz Boeck’s participation and its opening up of an international audience through its break-out into the international film festival circuit that enabled Cox’s eventual move to San Francisco. The sci-fi Otherzone, is populated with luminaries from the Melbourne alt-art scene, a work predicting the digital future, in which Cox has actively participated through his research into immersive technologies.

 

As Philip Brophy describes: "Otherzone is a short film based around ideas of speculative sci-fi, cyber-culture and techno-visions of a dystopian future. Written and directed by David Cox, it incorporates David's ideas along these lines and issues, culminating in a rhetorical/allegorical narrative. The film also experiments with contracted narrative form as inspired by computer games (a theoretical area in which David works and researches). Added to this is his early tests of how to integrate computer imagery and computer generated sequences into a filmed environment."

 

 

In preparation for this event we recommend the interview recently published in Senses of Cinema to annotate this Journey: A Joyride Through Technological Change

 

That interview ends with a comment on Julian Assange by Cox “The films of mine that resonate, resonate for the same reasons what he’s done has resonated. People feel they want to reveal what’s behind the curtain. And that’s really what we’re all doing. The films are there to make the world clearer, not more opaque, even if the methods they use are opaque.

 

I end this introduction with a textual quote David and Molly inserted into The Secret History of Brisbane (2001)

 

Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

First time tragedy, second time farce.

                                                          Karl Marx

 

Dirk de Bruyn, guest programmer

 


David Cox and Dirk de Bruyn radio interview

by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis, WYN-FM, January 5, 2023.

 


Puppenhead

Monuments Far and Strange
Panoramicon

Otherzone

Otherzone

Photos of the screening (full gallery on Facebook)



Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:

 


Tuesday, Feb 7, 8:30 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices. Tickets here. SOLD OUT.

Senses of Cinema
(2022, 89 mins, John Hughes & Tom Zubrycki)

Intro and Q&A with John Hughes and Ivan Gaal

Over a decade in the making, John Hughes and Tom Zubrycki’s Senses of Cinema is a vibrant, essential document of Australian independent film practice that doubles as a comprehensive overview of over 60 years of Australian socio-political life, from the 1960s to the present. At its centre is a long overdue investigation of the important role the Australian film co-operatives played within the cultural upheavals of the Left in the period of the '60s to the '80s. (Chris Luscri)

Thanks to Gil Scrine, Antidote Films


Over a decade in the making, John Hughes and Tom Zubrycki’s Senses of Cinema is a vibrant, essential document of Australian independent film practice that doubles as a comprehensive overview of over 60 years of Australian socio-political life, from the 1960s to the present.

 

At its centre is a long overdue investigation of the important role the Australian film co-operatives played within the cultural upheavals of the Left, a movement that spurred by similar (if better known) interventions in London, Vienna and San Francisco included the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op and Ubu Films, the Melbourne Co-op, the Sydney Women’s Film Group and the LGBT-focused One in Seven Collective. Driven by intersecting forces all at once collectivist, experimental, radical and interventionist, the Co-op movements captured vital events in our history, including worker’s rights, the women’s (We Aim to Please!), LGBTQIA+ (Homosexuality: A Film for Discussion) and Aboriginal (Ningla A-Na, Two Laws) rights movement, and the first ever Mardi Gras that culminated in violent police attacks on peaceful citizen protest (Witches and Faggots, Dykes and Poofters).

 

The roll call of film-makers involved in the Co-op movement is formidable film-makers like John and Tom, Phillip Noyce, Gillian Armstrong, Essie Coffey, Margot Nash, Martha Ansara, Christine Johnston, Gillian Leahy, Bert Deling, Kit Guyatt, Peter Tammer, Ivan Gaal, Pat Fiske, Alessandro Cavadini and Carolyn Strachan, and producers including Jan Chapman. Challenging orthodoxies about the role of film-making in Australian society before being cruelly and deliberately quashed by reactionary forces (not least the state and federal screen agencies) in the late '80s and early '90s, the Co-ops speak to an ideal of what Australian cinema once was, and perhaps could be again.

 

As John Hughes himself says — A study of these collectivist institutions unsettle received narratives that tend to focus on feature films and prominent individuals. More granulated cultural memory can have a strategic impact. As we reformulate the past through presentation of forgotten and buried objects and re-examine the material culture – the films, technologies and political practices of an activist underground – these newly discovered pasts vie for a place in history. 

 

Long overdue, Senses of Cinema is, in many ways, the culmination of two lifetime’s worth of investigation, study and reflection, crystallised in a primary document that is or should be utterly necessary viewing for anyone interested in the future of Australian film. [Chris Luscri]

Further reading —
https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2015/australian-film-history/australian-filmmakers-co-operatives/

“A powerful capacity of documentary film is remembrance. For us, a guiding imperative of the Co-op has been to set out for emerging generations of filmmakers a history of Australian independent film culture in Australia that is a radical tradition, characterised by critical and compassionate creative ambition. If Senses of Cinema arouses curiosity among younger filmmakers of the digital era about the ‘invisible archive’ of analogue film and video made and distributed by dedicated and passionate young filmmakers around the Filmmakers Co-ops from the mid ‘60s to the mid ‘80s, the struggle over ten years to get the work out there will have been very worthwhile.”
John Hughes and Tom Zubrycki, Senses of Cinema Press Kit

“Before the Co-op people thought: ’no one wants to see these films; there is no market for them'. What the Co-op proved was that they did, and that there was a market for them and people did want to see those films and I think still do.”
Margot Nash, Senses of Cinema Press Kit

“Hughes and Zubrycki’s documentary borrows its name from the more recent and groundbreaking online film journal, Senses of Cinema. In so doing, it recognises a shared connection between the various facets of non-mainstream, activist, grassroots and experimental screen culture in Australia. It sits alongside the extraordinary group of documentaries devoted to leftist film history Hughes has completed over the past 40 years, as well as the more observational and deeply committed works Zubrycki has created over the same period… Senses of Cinema speaks, in every way, to the importance of collaboration and the necessary recognition and resurrection of often-forgotten parts of our film history and culture.”
Adrian Danks, The best films at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, The Conversation 2022



Ivan Gaal
Albie Thoms
Alessandro Cavadini & Carolyn Strachan

Albie Thoms Sydney Co-op meeting 1973
(still Matt Bulter)
Sydney Filmmakers Coop Banner 1986

Margot Nash / Jeni Thornley / Megan McMurchy
editing For Love or Money (still Sandy Edwards)



Photos of the screening



Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:




Tuesday, Mar 28, 8:10 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices, ticket page.

Queensland
(1976, 52 mins, John Ruane)

Q&A with John Ruane & John Flaus, moderated by Jake Wilson.

One of the quintessential, widely acclaimed Australian films of the 1970s, John Ruane's superb Queensland builds upon the structures and possibilities of the miniature to ultimately craft something more mysterious and radically open-ended. Featuring the indomitable presence of legendary actor John Flaus, Ruane adeptly uncovers the peculiar sense of everyday drudgery and quiet desperation to indelibly capture what the director has called a ‘vanishing breed of Australians’. (Chris Luscri)


HD Restoration by Ray Argall

 

One the quintessential, widely acclaimed Australian films of the 1970s, John Ruane's superb Queensland builds upon the structures and possibilities of the miniature to ultimately craft something more mysterious and radically open-ended. Featuring the indomitable presence of legendary actor, broadcaster and critic John Flaus, Ruane adeptly uncovers the peculiar sense of everyday drudgery and quiet desperation that characterise the lives of many working men and women. Tonally precise yet seemingly affectless, Queensland indelibly captures – through recurrent, attenuated detail – what the director has called a ‘vanishing breed of Australians', a world more rigid, less bound to happenstance and chance than they are to the vagaries of the almost invisibly oppressive Australian cultural logic. From fractured affective relations to the lure of the big, coastal city – with its promise of endless sunshine and a laidback lifestyle – the struggles of Ruane's characters are eminently relatable. To seek an 'elsewhere' – however tenuously – is ultimately an heroic-pathetic goal. Theirs are as much acts of hope and defiance as they are silent, desperate screams against the unyielding, punishingly cyclical train of life. Chris Luscri.

 

"Ruane's characters are familiar Australians on the screen, acted upon rather than acting, waiting for something to happen: Doug and Aub, sad workmates dreaming of making the break from the Melbourne grind to Queensland sun. It is the romantic lure of escape that occupies so many '60s and '70s "road" films... Ruane's wistful theme is the fragility of relationships, goals and dreams. With the help of some excellent playing by John Flaus, Bob Karl, Alison Bird and others, he touches his people with a quality almost Chekhovian at the no-hopers' end of the social scale. We are actually made to care." Colin Bennett, The Age, 26th July 1976

 

"A great example of down-beat everyday realism, of struggling ordinary people. Made by the then student John Ruane (who went on to make Death in Brunswick and other films), this also set the template for the "hour-long" indie films that existed in Australian cinema for the next 20 years or so. The actor John Flaus would also continue to work on student productions after this one as well, generously." Bill Mousoulis, The alternate canon of "great Australian films", Pure Shit: Australian Cinema, 2018.

 

Queensland's profile on OzMovies

 

John Ruane and Chris Luscri radio interview
by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis, WYN-FM, March 26, 2023.



Photos of the screening (full gallery on Facebook)



Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:


Tuesday, Apr 18, 8:20 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices, tickets here.

Journey to the End of Night
(1982, 70 mins, Peter Tammer)

Q&A with Peter Tammer & Video analysis by Adrian Martin

In an extraordinary 60-year body of work, Peter Tammer (who recently turned 80) has shown a depth matched by few other local filmmakers. Journey to the End of Night is probably the most rigorous and penetrative of the various portrait documentaries he has made. Bill Neave, war veteran, haunted by his WWII experiences in Papau New Guinea fighting the Japanese, bares his soul and his trauma, via a deep channeling of the past events, remembering key moments. (Bill Mousoulis)


HD Restoration by Peter Tammer
Q&A with Tammer, plus new (2023) video analysis by Adrian Martin

 

After recently honouring various other of our Australian independent film elders (Ivan Gaal, John Flaus, Margot Nash, John Hughes), we now turn our attention to Peter Tammer, who has recently turned 80. Tammer has had an extraordinary career as both filmmaker and film teacher, forging his own path in both these domains, with his keen intelligence and determination. The result has been films that are truly individual and a group of students who were truly inspired by him.

 

Tammer's work has straddled various forms, but he has specialised in documentaries that are portraits of various people, letting the words and works of these people speak for themselves (A Woman of Our Time, Here's to You, Mr. Robinson, Flausfilm, The Nude in the Window).

 

Journey to the End of Night is probably the apotheosis of this technique, taking it to a deeply psychotherapeutic level. Bill Neave, a war veteran with PTSD, remembers back to his experiences of World War II in the early '40s, almost 40 years later. He seemingly channels, practically re-living, certain key incidents from the war, including harrowing moments of deaths and killings. Tammer intercuts these dark-night-of-the-soul monologues by Neave with diurnal prosaic scenes of Neave and his wife at home, doing ordinary household things. Tammer also brilliantly montages these documentary scenes with excerpts from the French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and passages from the Bible. The formal play does not however disturb the main narrative, it in fact illuminates it.

 

Journey to the End of Night harks back to a time in Australian cinema when radical play with form was in the ascendant, culminating in the early '90s with works like Breathing Under Water (Susan Murphy Dermordy, 1992), The Refracting Glasses (David Perry, 1993) and even the misfire feature of the recently deceased Ross Gibson, Dead to the World (1991). It is safe to say though that Journey to the End of Night is probably the most rigorous and penetrating documentary in Australian cinema history, its radical form matched by its deep content. –Bill Mousoulis.



 

"What begins as seemingly a rambling train of thought from the mind of an aging man, soon becomes something much more. Peter Tammer’s film is a diary of sorts, spoken aloud some 40 years after the fact; a painful first-hand recollection of the horrors of war ... It’s a powerful portrait of a damaged man who has found himself, after war, caught in an endless battle with himself." Glenn Dunks, "Sherpa and beyond: ten of the best Australian documentaries", The Guardian, 28th April, 2016.

 

"In one sense Bill Neave's is the single greatest performance in the Festival; in a more teasing sense, it seems of course scarcely a performance at all. By collapsing past and present, Tammer has created a remarkable sense of forty years of one man's life." Brian McFarlane, Cinema Papers, August 1982.

 

Melbourne Film Festival 1982 - Award For Documentary Excellence

 

Australian Film Awards 1982 - The Jury Prize

 

Peter Tammer and Bill Mousoulis radio interview
by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis, WYN-FM, April 8, 2023.


Trailer of the film:


Video analysis by Adrian Martin, presented at the screening:


Photos of the screening (full gallery on Facebook)



Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:




Tuesday, May 16, 8:20 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices, tickets here.

Anak
(2022, 92 mins, Caleb Ribates)

Q&A with Ribates and Tavis Pinnington, moderated by CJ Welsh.

Anak is the debut feature of a major new voice in Australian film in writer/director Caleb Ribates. The film explores the complexities of migrating to a foreign culture as it slowly shapes the lives of a family of Filipino-Australians living in Melbourne. Ribates demonstrates a beautiful cinematic craft (long takes, fixed camera), as well as a gently perceptive eye full of sharp insights into the socio-racial landscape of contemporary Australia and its effects on a struggling household. (Chris Luscri)


 

Exploring the complexities of migrating to a foreign culture as it slowly shapes the lives of a family of Filipino-Australians living in Melbourne, Anak represents the arrival of a major new voice in Australian film in writer/director Caleb Ribates.

 

Part of a new wave of first generation Filipino-Australian filmmakers that includes Lorenzo Benitez, Vonne Patiag and Unknown Pleasures favourite Matthew Victor Pastor (who here serves as associate producer), Ribates - making his feature debut - demonstrates both a bracingly literate approach to cinematic craft (long takes, fixed camera) drawn from the stately, naturalist rhythms of slow cinema masters like Hou Hsiao-hsien and Lav Diaz, as well as a gently perceptive eye full of sharp insights into the socio-racial landscape of contemporary Australia and its effects on one struggling household.

 

The result is a finely etched family drama of keenly observed insights and discoveries, never more moving than when training its richly empathetic gaze on the experiences of the youngest family member, Carlo (a touching performance by first-time performer Gabe Ramos, all of 6 years old at the time). The result is a striking and emotionally affecting film that stands proudly alongside other major Asian-Australian diaspora dramas like Tony Ayres’ The Home Song Stories and Clara Law’s Floating Life.Chris Luscri.




"Ribates has empathy, an eye, and a sense of how to use actors – both children and adults – for their physical presences." Jake Wilson, "The 15 movies to see at the Melbourne International Film Festival", The Age, August 3, 2022.

 

"Anak suggests Ribates – a VCA graduate and only 21 years of age – as a filmmaker of significant promise on the local scene, with a distinct artistic sensibility and a dedication to telling stories outside of Western culture. Offering a rare, unblinking insight into the struggle of Filipino-Australians within the socio-racial landscape, this micro-budget feature is at once visually striking and emotionally affecting." "Melbourne International Film Festival program notes", July 2022.

 

Caleb Ribates and Chris Luscri radio interview
by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis, WYN-FM, May 11, 2023.







Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:

 


Archive of previous programs - 2018 / 2019 / 2020 / 2021 / 2022