A Secret History of Australian Cinema (1970-2000):
Ode to a Feral Cinema

by Adrian Martin

This material was written for the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema in 2003, which showed a retrospective of "alternative Australian cinema" curated by Adrian Martin.

 
 
The Ghost Paintings

I call this my Secret History of Australian Cinema because it is deliberately stuffed with strange, rare and unique films that few people outside of Australia would ever have seen, or even (in most cases) heard of. Actually, to admit a slightly embarrassing truth, even most people within Australia – including those well-meaning bureaucrats in institutions that hand out money for the nurturing of the nation’s cinema – would not have seen or heard of most of these films. And yet these are some of the works which, for me, have made it worthwhile and inspiring to be a critic-cinephile who stays in the fight to create and preserve a film culture in Australia. I hope and suspect they will have some resonance for those currently fighting the same fight in Argentina.

 

I remember a voice on a radio – on a community-based channel that embraced a punk, collective ideology, like Italy’s Free Radio stations. It was 1975, I was 15 years old, and what I heard made a difference to the way I was to understand my culture in the years to come. The voice I was hearing belonged to a truly inspirational figure in my secret Australian cinema, a critic, teacher, actor and activist named John Flaus. (He even appears in one of the films of this program, Yackety Yack, more or less playing himself.) Many years later he would write: “1975 was the crossroad”. In another history – the official history – Australian cinema had just begun its much-applauded ‘renaissance’ in 1975. Picnic at Hanging Rock, a turgid but intriguing ‘metaphysical mystery’ with production values, became a modest, international success, and its director Peter Weir was the first in a (short) line of local filmmakers to subsequently make a (hesitant) career in America. In the decades that followed, a few other internationally successful milestones joined this official history of Australian cinema: films like Crocodile Dundee (1986), Muriel’s Wedding (1994), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Lantana (2001) and Moulin Rouge! (2001).

 

Something began for Australian cinema in 1975 – that is what the rest of the world saw, and what it still dimly remembers – but something, also, was lost. That is what John Flaus was saying on the radio, already, in 1975. He remarked that if you really wanted to see a composite picture of Australian society at that time – Australia with its many nationalities and languages, its counter-cultures and sub-cultures, its feminism and its anarchism, its lovable everyday lives and its big dreams – you wouldn’t find it in the official Australian movies. No: you would find it in the small films coming from the independent sector, which was very lively at that time: experimental films, political documentaries, funky animations, rough realist dramas, women’s cinema. This was a period in which Sydney and Melbourne had thriving Filmmakers Co-Operatives, and art schools around the country enjoyed the freedom and prosperity under a progressive government of the 1970s that allowed them to incorporate freewheeling film and media courses in their curricula.

 

The spirit that was lost in 1975 did not vanish – far from it. But it went essentially underground in its convolutions, to become part of a secret history. Today – as I discovered trying to put this program together – it is hard even to track down some of the filmmakers and films that belong to this secret history, so little are they valued by the mainstream cultural institutions that are under increasing economic pressure to perform in the market place.

 

 
 
Hostage

However, no crisis in the above-ground film industry can entirely kill this secret cinema. I have been inspired, while compiling this program, by stories of people who made films for virtually no money in a week, or in a small-scale, artisanal way over a period of years. It is not only the youngest, newest generation with their light, cheap, digital cameras and Dogme-inspired concepts who keep the dream alive; just as important are the avant-garde artists from twenty, thirty or forty years ago who still patiently work with collage and montage and scratching on film, finding the electric connections between the vast archaeology of image and sound fragments collected over a lifetime.

 

Likewise, it is not simply high-technological, computer-based multi-media which shows a way into the future of audiovisual art; far more humble and fleeting dispositifs of screen images and performance gestures, pictorial animation and music (such as we see with the group Arf Arf) also offer signposts, illuminations, unforgettable and galvanising moments of poetic activism …

 

Is writing about this secret history also destined to remain secret? You cannot find out very much about the subject in the official ‘journals of record’ like Cinema Papers (which lasted for exactly the thirty year period of 1970-2000) or in library reference books like The Oxford Companion to Australian Film. The critical engagement with this history exists fitfully, in a subterranean way, in forms sometimes as ephemeral as the works themselves: in transient, small magazines, pieces in gallery catalogues, artists’ self-publications … A survey of experimental film I once wrote for a respectable book called The Australian Screen was typically dismissed by one populist-minded, academically prominent reviewer as “a useless account of films that no one can see”. But the very fact that these films are terribly hard to screen and to see, not ‘available to everyone’ like a Hollywood blockbuster, massively increases our obligation to write about them and champion them. For me, the matter is simple and clear: I forbade myself from picking merely ‘worthy’ or ‘interesting’ films in an alienated way; I chose only my favourite Australian films, by artists whom I consider to be among the most significant figures in world cinema.

 

I hope that the films in this secret history will shock (in the best, healthiest sense) some viewers. They may be surprised to see that Australia has made very political films like Exile in Sarajevo, very austere experimental films like In This Life’s Body and The Illustrated Auschwitz, violent genre films like Hostage, cinephile films like Beyond Fuller, feminist-anarchist films like This Woman Is Not A Car, sex-and-drugs-and-party movies like Going Down, surreal satires like Yackety Yack and Violence in the Cinema, and odes to a wild 1970s counter-culture like The Mystical Rose. These are intense films, films which go to an absolute limit, as much great cinema does. I like Australian films with international connections and cross-cultural dialogues: not only those that question the politics of national identity and trace the dramas of border-crossing, but films like Thread of Voice which plug into a dense network of marginal artistic traditions across the globe and back through history.

 

 
 
The Illustrated Auschwitz

All these films go against a standard image of Australian cinema, which is often viewed as a cinema obsessed with sentimental education: intimate, personal tales of love, of family life, of growing up, of the passing of an old world … Indeed, to see collections of short films gathered mainly from the official film-training schools in Melbourne and Sydney (such as those chosen for the 2002 Australia and New Zealand focus in Locarno) would naturally lead one to consider this national cinema a mellow, bittersweet, comfortably bourgeois affair, not terribly engaged with the world in its depth and breadth … That’s why the most typical title in all Australian cinema is The Year My Voice Broke (1987): with appropriate variations, it could serve as the title for a thousand Australian movies (The Year My Mother Died, The Year We Moved to the Country, The Year I Went to University, The Year They Tore Down the Corner Store … ). Rather than the comfortable rites-of-passage story set within the bosom of the family, I am more drawn to, on the one hand, films that reflect socially marginal, visionary experiences of solitude (like The Ghost Paintings 2) or, on the other hand, films that invent loose, ramshackle, idiosyncratic, dysfunctional-yet-joyous communities (like Kelvin and His Friends and Praise).

 

The enemy, for a cinephile like myself, is always theatre and literature, and their malign, life-draining dominance over the evolution of film. This may be true in many countries, but it is especially true in Australia, where serious, well-intentioned novels and plays usually take the form of schematic morality stories, where conventionally psychologised characters embody certain, clear-cut ideological values – and no suitably cultured spectator is ever in the slightest doubt as to who in the fiction is right and good, and which side of the argument to support … This is also true of many of the official successes of Australian film. But I prefer action, violence, melodrama and bad-taste comedy in Australian cinema, where the whirl of social contradictions are played out energetically, hysterically, and forever ambiguously. This is why my secret history deliberately bridges exploitation cinema and the purist avant-garde, via the least politically correct members of socially engaged, independent filmmaking. For me, it is all part of the same precious continuum: B films in which characters metamorphose in a the blink of a cut, dream-films (like Vacant Possession) where characters are haunted and dispossessed, avant-garde films where characters are mere smudges or blurs in a slip-sliding fiction …

 

Like John Flaus in Yackety Yack, I too have played a film critic in an Australian movie, more or less as myself. It is a charming, very low budget, collectively made romantic comedy called Love and Other Catastrophes (1996). In it, I am the author of a fictitious book on Australian film whose mocked-up cover can be glimpsed: Feral Cinema. I picked that title, and ever since I have sought a pretext to turn the book into a reality. So maybe this is what my secret history is: an ode to a feral cinema, tenacious, cheeky, resourceful, deranged, razor-sharp, and lucid. The Other Australian cinema, forever smouldering in the dark, untended crevices of film culture – and awaiting discovery by the likes of me or you.



The films programmed:

 

VACANT POSSESSION (Margot Nash, 1995)

 
 
Vacant Possession

The abandoned house occupied by the heroine of Vacant Possession has a surrealist aura of the uncanny – and it is also haunted like the houses of horror cinema, with buried, repressed memories taking shape and walking around. Margot Nash dramatises the issue of Aboriginal ownership of the Australian nation – an issue in the news almost daily at the time of the groundbreaking Mabo legislation which established crucial land rights claims for Aborigines. The vacant possession of the title (it is a real estate term) refers to white Australians' uneasy, even illegitimate, claim on their "home", and the spiritual emptiness and emotional dysfunction which result.

 

Many politically correct Australian films – some made by visitors like Herzog and Wenders – have rehearsed a sermon about the barrenness of white settler culture in contrast with the richness of ancient, indigenous traditions. Vacant Possession, however, is an exciting, lyrical, complex piece of cinema, drawing on the strong history of women's independent filmmaking since the ‘70s, of which Nash herself has been such a key part. She seeks a deeply resonant "poetic politics" – part Walter Benjamin, part Christa Wolf – that hopes to draw personal illumination, and social reconciliation, from the tiniest epiphanies of everyday life.

 

 

HOSTAGE: THE CHRISTINE MARESCH STORY (Frank Shields, 1983)

From its furious opening, intercutting the wheels of a truck barrelling down the highway with flashes of the heroine suffering domestic violence, Frank Shields’ Hostage is one of the few tough, lively, ‘exploitation’ films made in Australia. Shamelessly sensationalist and melodramatic, it reaches some of the expressive heights cinephiles know well from the B films of Edgar Ulmer or Samuel Fuller.

 

Christine Maresch's true-life story is Australia's equivalent to America's Patty Hearst saga. It is also, filmically, a striking example of what Robin Wood calls "the woman's nightmare", a modern-day Gothic. Christine finds herself coerced into marrying deranged, suicidal immigrant Walter. Once he has persuaded her, pregnant, to relocate to Germany, she discovers he is part of a neo-Nazi movement. She even becomes his accomplice in Bonnie and Clyde-style robberies. Walter’s psyche is a mass of delusions, like when he eulogises the Baader-Meinhof team: "Now there's a relationship that worked!"

 

Hostage is a superbly directed mélange of personal and collective psychoses, generic conventions and tabloid headlines. And it uses wonderfully the resilience and droll humour of Christine as an iconic Australian working-class woman, fiercely clutching her baby and deflating Walter's absurd ego, even in the middle of a violent spectacle.

 

 

THE MYSTICAL ROSE (Michael Lee, 1976)

If you want to know what the counter-culture of hippie mysticism and the sexual revolution meant to Australia in the 1970s, Michael Lee’s The Mystical Rose is your ticket back to this strange, lost era. Although this key experimental film is minutely built up from small, modest pieces – hand-crafted animation and graphic collages, shots of the everyday world, a handful of sampled chants, spoken texts, and pop/rock songs – its has the accumulative intensity of a grand trance or ‘trip’.

 

In its time, the film was both a personal and a counter-cultural testament – enacting a frenzied, blackly comic, sometimes violent exorcism of the filmmaker’s Roman Catholic upbringing, and a consequent embracing of mental and physical liberation. (Lee’s later films are far more serene, ‘Eastern’ and contemplative.) Get ready for a now highly politically incorrect celebration of the magical Phallus and Vagina! – with the (merciful) addition of self-mocking humour. Seen twenty eight years later, it is still perfectly contemporary in so many ways: the inspired rock-video matching of music to image; the use of ‘found footage’ from silent cinema (Buster Keaton!) cross-edited with Eisensteinian precision; the filtering of lived experience through the meditating mirrors of both traditional mythologies and ‘plastic’ pop culture.

 


KELVIN AND HIS FRIENDS (Brian McKenzie, 1987)


The singular talent and sensibility of Brian McKenzie has been recognised around the world by major filmmakers including Abbas Kiarostami and Chantal Akerman – but his career is still, sadly, largely unknown to critics and filmgoers everywhere. He has made many documentaries since the late 1970s and two narrative features (With Love to the Person Next to Me and Stan and George’s New Life). His single-minded focus is on the everyday lives of ordinary, working class people – their dreams, disappointments, struggles, depressions, repressions. All his work expresses nostalgia for a time when suburban communities supported families, loners and outcasts, when people were free to quietly pursue their eccentric passions. Kelvin and His Friends, perhaps his most remarkable work, is almost literally ‘about nothing’, or at least just what the title says: a guy named Kelvin who speaks about his life, and the friends who give testimonies about him. Slowly we are drawn into the unspoken intensity of these ‘unspectacular’ lives, and come to know the bonds that build between individuals in a fragile, social group. McKenzie’s cinematic style is unostentatious but pure and focused. Eschewing flashy, ‘essayistic’ techniques, his seemingly ‘observational’ mode in fact expresses a rigorous and consistent artistic vision.

 


GOING DOWN (Haydn Keenan, 1983)

 
 
Going Down

One of the richest, unsung traditions in Australian cinema is comprised of messy, unsentimental, streetwise films about subcultural, inner-city lifestyles. These ‘group portraits’ usually involve some mix of drugs, crime, unemployment, anarchist politics, underground music and sexual perversity. Such films explore, in a largely non-judgmental, even deliberately amoral manner, lives that are lived a long way from the values of honour, decency, loyalty and sexual fidelity which are considered normal by straight society.

 

Haydn Keenan’s Going Down is an outstanding film of this type, and certainly one of the most authentic. It provides a vivid ethnography of subcultural Sydney in the early ‘80s, with junkies, artists, Aboriginal activists, students, drag queens, social workers and insatiable partygoers endlessly colliding as they spend a long night searching for a good time. This classic plot device of a ‘long day's journey into night’ gives the film its overall structural drive and energy, inviting the viewer to experience the same whirligig of emotions and situations. Keenan’s anarchic style is a wonderful cross-mix of gritty naturalism and elevated expressive devices, finally freeing itself altogether from the shackles of realism and plunging into merry burlesque – a liberatingly utopian ending for an essentially downbeat, punk story.

 


IN THIS LIFE’S BODY (Corinne Cantrill, 1984)


Corinne and Arthur Cantrill are among the most prolific avant-garde filmmakers in Australia, with a career spanning over forty years. Much of their collaborative work is devoted to abstraction and landscape studies. In This Life’s Body is a little different in that its essentially Corinne’s piece, and is the only Cantrill film concerned with the retelling of a person’s life – Corinne’s own, a richly varied and absorbing story, told at the point when death seemed imminent (almost twenty years later, she is still alive). This ‘intimate epic’, told primarily through a remarkable archive of still photographic images, is a singular achievement, and has far claim to be the greatest film in the entire history of Australian cinema.

 

Rarely has such a minimalist dispositif – photos plus two and half hours of voice-over text – afforded such a maximal emotional effect. The film builds a powerfully resonant metaphor, wherein the most basic properties of the celluloid film strip – its grain, its duration, its ephemerality and fragility – reflect a particular conception of existence as something lived materially, bodily. But this vessel of ‘life’s body’ is not bound to a single identity or destiny; rather, it is discontinuous, relative, forever open to possibilities of transformation.

 


 
 
Praise

PRAISE (John Curran, 1999)

Praise, adapted from a popular novel by Andrew McGahan, embodies what became known in Australia in the late 1990s as 'grunge' culture. The difficult story of Gordon and Cynthia is filled with ennui, alienation and depressive languor. John Curran's direction catches a particularly icky, all-pervasive sense of physical abjection. Everything that happens is addictive and unglamorous, from Cynthia’s skin condition to Gordon’s drinking. Sex is presented as a completely mundane, practical matter. But, in its own, low-key way, it is a love story - and a meditation on the possibilities for romance in the modern world. For all its grubby, everyday detail, it is still a tale of longing, and fleeting grace.

 

In its wry, rambling but ultimately compassionate and non-judgemental approach, Praise recalls cinema’s most intense and intimate portraits of amour fou among guttersnipes. Every detail of style – costume, setting, Dion Beebe's cinematography – is keyed precisely to the shifting, kaleidoscopic emotions of the characters. The rich, rough score is provided by the remarkable Australian band The Dirty Three. But it is Sacha Horler – Australia’s finest young actor – who is the revelation of Praise. She turns a potentially unlikeable character into a sad, moving, often hilarious individual.

 


BEYOND FULLER (Bruce & Barrett Hodsdon, 1972)


The Hodsdon brothers have been central to the development of Australian film culture since the 1960s – Barrett as a scholar, teacher and writer (his recent, important book Straight Roads and Crossed Lines offers a powerful critique of the country’s film institutions and bureaucracies), and Bruce masterminding acquisitions for the National Film and Video Library. Beyond Fuller, one of their few ventures into film practice, is an essay-film ahead of its time. In its day, it was fashioned as a response to reductive debates about screen violence (see Miller’s Violence in the Cinema for another response), but by drawing on the avant-garde tradition of the trance film, it also anticipated theory’s concern with the deep psychological effects of the cinematic apparatus. It is also a true cinephilic document, launching off from a scene in Sam Fuller’s Underworld USA! The film evokes and probes the ‘specular fascination’ of cinema in an associative and poetic manner, eschewing voice-over narration.

 


THIS WOMAN IS NOT A CAR (Margaret Dodd, 1979)

 
 
This Woman is not a Car

An entire history of contemporary Australian cinema can be written by tracking the depiction of cars and their drivers in films. Australia has been obsessed not only with road movies and stunt films, but indeed every kind of domestic, horrific, allegorical and perverse scenario involving humans and cars. It is in this ‘car culture’ that dramas of gender, freedom, lifestyle, violence, class, community, desire and conformity are symbolized and enacted. Margaret Dodd is an acclaimed artist whose sculptural, ceramic constructions have often returned to the national icon of the car and the social life that occurs within and around it. In this film, she offers a vigorous feminist rewriting of a male genre. Ideological fantasies of extravagant male car-worship are juxtaposed with daily, suburban scenes of women’s entrapment. And the climatic scene (long before Cronenberg) of men making love to a car is certainly the most madly erotic spectacle in all Australian cinema.

 


THREAD OF VOICE (Arf Arf, 1993)


Arf Arf is a performance ensemble comprising Marcus Bergner, Frank Lovece, Marisa Stripe and Michael Buckley. They began as musicians in the 1970s punk era, but quickly affirmed their complex affinity to artistic movements including French Letterism. Thread of Voice begins as a documentation of their ‘sound poetry’ pieces – where words and noises both multiply and shed meanings but it quickly confounds all aesthetic categories. Times, spaces, and the transitions between them, are freely, lyrically distorted in a rigorous montage. Gestures and voices forever make discontinuous leaps. It is a film in ceaseless displacement across many registers: direct filming, refilming, animation. The members of Arf Arf suddenly becomes silhouettes in silent film (or a Tati comedy), and the thread of their strange ‘song’ is picked up in England by another collective, the Konkrete Kanticle (whose leader, Bob Brown, died late last year). Forget Moulin Rouge!: Thread of Voice is Australia’s finest mutated musical.

 


THE GHOST PAINTINGS 2 (James Clayden, 2002)


James Clayden has been a major figure in Australian culture for thirty years. He was once described as “the total artist: a dramatist, performer, painter and filmmaker”. The Ghost Paintings is a series of cryptic audio-visual palimpsests - the first was a Super 8 film made in 1986, and Part 3 is soon to be completed. In the context of contemporary cinema, Clayden’s dense style may remind some viewers of Sokurov or Grandrieux – but in fact he first chiselled out this style two decades ago. The Ghost Paintings 2 reveals the fruit of Clayden’s discovery of new, digital technology. While a stereophonic soundtrack weaves a collage of spoken texts, ambient noises and musical fragments, a stream of blurred, vividly coloured images shows bodies in states of suspension and stress. Clayden’s crystalline, abstract vision mixes a brooding air of metaphysical menace with a liberating, fluid sense of theatre, “undoing the layers of the physical world to uncover its essential form”.

 


YACKETY YACK (David Jones, 1974)


In the early 1970s, Dave Jones came from Canada to work at La Trobe University in Melbourne. (He is now D.B. Jones, Professor of Film at Drexel University, Philadelphia.) Jones was part of a film/media department typical of the time, mixing theory and practice, very aware of cosmopolitan trends in culture and politics – and much more oriented towards art and anarchism than ‘industrial’ institutions like the official filmmaking-training schools. In one week, for four thousand dollars, Jones improvised Yackety Yack (sometimes referred to as Yakkety Yak) with his colleagues and friends from Melbourne’s progressive arts scene, shooting mostly in a large concrete basement. It is a brilliant, scattershot satire on the dreams and delusions of radical filmmaking, referencing all the intellectual obsessions of the period: Godardian counter-cinema with its long tracking shots and droning monologues; cinephile reveries on beloved genres and auteurs (courtesy of the legendary critic John Flaus); feminist interventions. In fact, Yackety Yack does for militant film culture what Godard’s La Chinoise did for student Maoism, irreverently contradicting its pious aspirations with authoritarian realities. It is all very politically incorrect, driven by a splendidly absurdist, even ‘screwball’ sense of humour. Australia has not produced another film like it!

 


VIOLENCE IN THE CINEMA … PART 1 (George Miller, 1971)


Beginning as a mock, high-cultural educational documentary offering a lecture by a ‘Dr. Edgar Fyne’ on the sociological effects of media violence, Violence in the Cinema … Part 1 (the last part of the title is a joke: there was no Part 2) takes five and half minutes to reveal its gruesome ‘twist’. The moment that the real action starts marks the true beginning of the career of director George Miller and his collaborator Byron Kennedy. Already in this little jewel of black comedy, Miller’s masterful control of image, sound, editing and space is evident. The real-life Australian ‘media critic’ whose pompous words (originally delivered to an international psychiatric congress!) are appropriated for the film – the still influential and prominent commentator Phillip Adams – publicly wondered in the 1970s about Violence in the Cinema’s ‘uncertain motives’: was it ‘a piece of criticism, surrealism, or satire?’ That’s an easy one to answer: it’s all three.

 


BETWEEN US (Bill Mousoulis, 1989)

 
 
Between Us

‘I think she’s affected me somehow’: this offhand line in Between Us could stand as a motto for the cinema of Bill Mousoulis, a tireless independent whose career since the early 1980s spans six self-funded features (shot on Super 8, 16mm and digital video) and a hundred shorts. Mousoulis’ characters essentially dwell in their solitude; the random, spontaneous encounters they experience in daily life certainly touch and change them, but in small, indirect, sometimes barely visible ways. Mousoulis’ minimalist, unadorned, style is a homage to the spiritualists Bresson and Rossellini, but in tone it is closer to the secular, suburban mosaics of Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang, Iran’s Sohrab Shahid Saless, Kazakhstan‘s Darezhan Omirbaev or Greece’s Dimitris Athanitis. Between Us is about potential relationships, virtual connections, intersecting lives, nagging dilemmas of wish and denial. Its emotion creeps in subtly, especially through the use of live musical performances by local bands Widdershins and These Future Kings.

 


THE ILLUSTRATED AUSCHWITZ (Jackie Farkas, 1992)


The wave of postmodernism that swept the Australian art world in the early 1980s created a movement of Super 8 filmmakers called “Metaphysical TV”. Their work was based on appropriation: collaging, re-editing, treating and restaging fragments from pop culture, mass media and film history. Its attitude was ironic, anti-serious, politically disengaged. Jackie FarkasThe Illustrated Auschwitz, coming a decade after this wave, seems at first like its recapitulation. On the soundtrack we hear the account of a Jewish woman’s experience of the Nazi Holocaust. Seemingly disconnected images flash up, some recycled from the classic The Wizard of Oz (1939). Is this a clever deconstruction of conventional TV documentary form and image-sound ‘illustration’? As we reach its shattering conclusion, we realise that, for once, the postmodern game has become poetic and profound. This daring masterpiece is one of only two films directed by cinematographer Farkas, who trained at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.

 


EXILE IN SARAJEVO (Tahir Cambis and Alma Sahbaz, 1997)


There are many intriguing Australian films which play out, sometimes unconsciously and at several generational removes, the unfinished business of historic migrations. During the great, traumatic upheavals of the 20th century, Australia often represented to refugees and exiles a tabula rasa, a place without history from which a civilisation could be built again. This European vision of Australia as the grand desert has had troubling effects – especially in its casual erasure of the pre-existing Aboriginal culture – but it has also offered rich material for political psychodrama. At the start of Exile in Sarajevo, theatre worker Tahir Cambis regards his homeland of Australia as the cradle of civilisation. Journeying to his mother’s place of origin as an ‘exile’ leads him, in the final months of the 1995/6 war, to discover (sometimes with a secret camera) a torn but vibrant, multicultural society that he comes to see as truly civilised, in comparison with the growing right-wing, monocultural Australia to which he eventually returns. Mixing reportage, humour, irony, tragedy (the astonishing diary of an 8 year old girl who survived a rape/death camp), music, and an unfolding love story (with co-director Alma Sahbaz), Exile in Sarajevo is a remarkable achievement in personal documentary.

 


Adrian Martin is a film and arts critic who lives in Vilassar de Mar, Spain. His latest book is Mysteries of Cinema (Amsterdam University Press, June 2018).



See also:

Upending the Canon  by Ben Kooyman

The alternate canon of "great Australian films"  by Bill Mousoulis

Obscure but worthy Australian films  by Bill Mousoulis




Published March 27, 2018. © Adrian Martin, March 2003