Obscure but worthy Australian films
compiled and annotated by Bill Mousoulis (March 2018)


This list here is an addendum to "The alternate canon of great Australian films" on this website.

And unlike that list, this list is a completely personal one.

It is not a list of my favourite ever Australian indie films (for that, see here), but a list of titles that are (relatively) obscure, but ones that, when I first saw them, made a great impression on me.

Within the "independent" sphere though - no conventional mainstream (or mainstream/indie cross-over) films are allowed in this list, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having "obscure" films here.

There are films from some known directors, but films that are not usually lauded from those directors.

For me, personally, some of these films are as "great" as the films in the main Alternate Canon I have on this site here. It's just that they haven't been as lauded as the other films.

Again, like the main Canon, there is no quality ranking here, or set number of titles - they are simply listed chronologically.


Big Risk

The Spag (1960, 25 mins, Giorgio Mangiamele)
Mangiamele's shorts were funny and realistic, compared to the known feature Clay (1965). This is the first, unreleased version of The Spag, it has great zest and acute observations.

Forgotten Loneliness (1965, 8 mins, Chris Löfvén)
Delightful observational mood-piece of two boys walking around the city, by the then 16-year-old Chris Löfvén. Has great charm and wonder, as it ambles along.

Brittle Weather Journey (1973, 22 mins, Stephen Wallace)
Wallace is an incredibly under-rated mainstream feature director. This short has a beautiful evocation of nature, as we see a group of friends leave the city for a country trip.

Big Risk (1978, 17 mins, Mark Zenner)
A complete outsider, Mark Zenner, who gained some recognition in the Super 8 Group in the late '80s, makes his first short here, on 16mm, as a young man. A truly punky film on the punk scene in Melbourne.

Two Homelands (1979, 30 mins, Michael Karris)
Ostensibly a straight doco about a Greek music concert, director Karris brings in photos and makes the film come alive emotionally, as we see how Greek-Australians have "two homelands".


Sweet Dreamers (1982, 82 mins, Tom Cowan)
Cowan is a key Australian indie film figure, as DOP (of Pure Shit and others) and filmmaker in his own right. This feature about a filmmaker has a gentle and intelligent tone and will one day be re-discovered!

Turnaround (1983, 60 mins, Michael Lee)
After the exorcism of The Mystical Rose, Lee brought spirituality and Christianity back into his life. Turnaround is a remarkable meditation on the Australian landscape, a wonderfully mystical film.

Journey (1984, 7 mins, Marie Craven)
She was "Anne-Marie Crawford" at the time, and this first Super-8 short of hers dazzled everyone at the time, with its poetic imagery, especially the shot of a woman looking out to sea.

(The) Taking (of) Place (1984, 15 mins, Daniel Staten-Robinson)
Against the back-drop of the Metaphysical TV Sydney Super-8 filmmakers, this film was a breath of fresh air, even if it was a riff on Duras' India Song. Mesmerising cinema.

Fear of the Dark (1985, 59 mins, Peter Tammer)
And people thought Tammer's Journey to the End of Night was "harrowing"! This odd hybrid of a film combines the themes of murder and acting in an unexpected way. Gripping and chilling.

Fear of the Dark

Yes It Is (1986, 4 mins, Virginia Hilyard)
Sydney Super-8 short film, with the iconic image of mercury cradled by two hands, and the super soundtrack of the Beatles slowed down. A beautiful short film.

Ten Years After ... Ten Years Older (1986, 35 mins, Anna Kannava)
And another 10 years later, Kannava would make her masterpiece, The Butler, but this film is another great meditation on her family, particularly her migration, as she re-visits Cyprus.

The Bowel-Houndromat (1986, 5 mins, Chris Windmill)
Welcome to the wacky world of Chris Windmill! This time round, he films people from a distance and then places voices over the top of them, creating a surreal imaginary narrative.

Untitled (1986, ~6 mins, Rolando Caputo)
I think this is the last film Caputo created, a little vignette about a couple not quite getting along any more, silent, with John Cale's "Close Heart" on the soundtrack. Unusual and moving.

Onus On Us (1986, 90 mins, David Cox)
Early Super 8 feature from the energetic David Cox, whilst the rest of us were still making shorts! A great collage and chronicle of the times and the filmmakers around then.

Working Week

Auto-Portrait (1986, ~60 mins, Simon Cooper)
Cooper stamped himself an individual in the cliquey Sydney Super-8 scene of the '80s, creating more conventional works, exploring the city and himself. This is his tour-de-force.

Sabotage (1987, 16 mins, John Cumming)
Legendary film teacher, Cumming also makes films, and his work from the mid-'80s is explosive. Obsession is a classic, but this film also brims with great verve and sheer punky cheekiness.

Working Week (1988, 34 mins, Mark La Rosa)
Rough but great Super 8 narrative about teenagers and suburbia, La Rosa literally grabbing some untrained kids off the street and moulding great performances out of them.

Flower Animation (1988, 4 mins, Nick Ostrovskis)
If he was born 10 years earlier, Ostrovskis would have been as well known as the Cantrills and Paul Winkler. Instead, the Super-8 Group was blessed by his films. This one is a stunner.

In a Few Words (1989, 9 mins, George Goularas)
Goularas (now inactive) was near-genius-like, working instinctively with shards of spaces and bodies, and mysterious sounds and voices. In a Few Words is breathless abstract cinema.

Teenage Babylon

Original Copy (1989, 23 mins, Mark Zenner)
Like Goularas (see above) but older and stronger, Zenner (now deceased) made cryptic, labyrinthian narratives on Super-8, with experimental touches, a bit Ruiz-like let's say. Original Copy is a masterwork.

cine/angst/cinch (1989, 35 mins, Jim Bridges)
An almost unseen Super 8 classic, revealed only a few years after it was made, a striking personal essay film by the director, brilliantly using songs by Loudon Wainwright III on the soundtrack.

Teenage Babylon (1989, 14 mins, Graeme Wood)
One of DOP Wood's few films as a director, and it's a DOP tour-de-force of course, a mock-up of gruesome B&W police footage of dead bodies in cars. Bold (for Australia) and bizarre and beautiful.

For a Better Life (1990, 12 mins, Nicolina Caia)
From a director who didn't seem to go on past her film studies, this is a typical student film in that it explores a family and its emotions, but Caia just has a great sensitive touch, making this film magical.

Italians at Home (1991, 29 mins, Ettore Siracusa)
Not as well known as Siracusa's classic Natura Morta from 1980, this is a great film about Italians, as Siracusa adds an essay-like formalism to the natural depictions of life at home for various Italian persons.

Breathing Under Water

Breathing Under Water (1992, 78 mins, Susan Murphy Dermody)
Not that obscure I guess, but this fully funded narrative feature was a bold film for the Australian industry, clearly experimental, feminist, fantasy-like.

The Berlin Apartment (1986 and 1992, 120 mins, Arthur and Corinne Cantrill)
Avant-garde materialists the Cantrills in Berlin shot lots of beautiful footage of their apartment there, the light, the movements. A great experience to sit through, sometimes projected double-screen.

The Refracting Glasses (1992, 109 mins, David Perry)
Like Breathing Under Water (see above), another fully funded experimental feature, this time from the UBU Films co-founder David Perry, with his collage/essay techniques.

Witness (1994, 7 mins, Michael Buckley)
Great little film from Buckley, portrait of an institutionalised disabled man. The film is inventive, like all of Buckley's work, and very moving.

High Noon Tide (1996-2001, 70 mins, Trevor Rooney)
Experimental narrative feature done on Super 8, from one of the scene's great "outsiders", Trevor Rooney, featuring Rad Rudd, in an anti-narrative that is curious and mesmerising.

Don't Blink

Lucifer Gets Hammered (1996, 3 mins, Daniel Kotsanis)
A TV set is destroyed - Lucifer gets hammered! A great little film from one of the anarchist outsiders of the Melbourne Super-8 scene, who has seemingly disappeared since.

Black Sheep Gather No Moss (1997, 12 mins, Nigel Buesst)
Indie film legend Nigel Buesst made a number of dry, humorous films, and this one is a delight, as he takes old footage and concocts a narrative over the top of it, via voice-over.

Don't Blink (1998, 18 mins, George Goularas)
After his abstract Super 8 films, Goularas made this full blown 16mm. narrative (independently), a bizarre surrealist romp featuring Bunuelian set pieces. Has to be seen to be believed.

The Captives (2004, 57 mins, Mark La Rosa)
Indie director La Rosa's biggest film, in a determined, self-reliant career. This film is B&W and pushes the Bressonian formalism to a meta-Bressonian degree almost. Needless to say, "captivating".

Forever (2004, 75 mins, Ben Speth)
New York import to Melbourne made a big splash as an indie filmmaker for a few years there! Forever is a sincere yet formalistic slice of realism portraying a mother and her boy.

Sick to the Vitals

Sick to the Vitals (2005, 20 mins, Kim Miles)
Gender diverse filmmaker who has made many off-beat films in the last 15 years. This film is a punky but sublime portrait of stardom and the sick music industry.

Paper and Sand (2006, 17 mins, Sotiris Dounoukos)
Before his debut feature Joe Cinque's Consolation in 2016, Dounoukos made numerous great shorts, this one about an Iranian couple in Australia is probably the best, with its great observation and tenderness.

The Wrath of the Righteous Man (2006?, ~17 mins, Lucien Spectre)
I can't recall the title exactly, The Wrath of the Righteous Man is close I think! Spectre made this and maybe another short or two. Transgressive, wild cinema at its best!

Adelaide (2009, 83 mins, Stephen Banham)
Charming no-budget feature film made in Adelaide, about a group of 20-somethings living and loving. Unassuming film, like a "primitive art" endeavour, from a first-time director.

Shut Down (2011, 9 mins, Nicholas Nedelkopoulos)
Nedelkopoulos is a great experimenter, cheeky as hell, and inventive. This film starts as history, and morphs unexpectedly into a musical, the director's hand firmly on the effects pedal!

Waiting for Sevdah

Eden (2012, 28 mins, James Howard)
Howard is a theatre person, and therefore as a filmmaker he is an "amateur". But his films are extraordinary. This one is a wacky comedy, with caricatures and mad-hatter goings on.

World of Things (2013, ~70 mins, Nicholas Godfrey)
Adelaide academic Nicholas Godfrey ventures into filmmaking occasionally. This is a striking feature, very minimalist and realist, and with many effective set pieces.

EXIT (2015, 27 mins, David King)
Long-time indie filmmaker David King has been making more experimental type films in recent years. This one is a dystopian narrative, fractured and intriguing.

Waiting for Sevdah (2017, 40 mins, Saidin Salkic)
Bosnian refugee who makes experimental self-portrait films in Melbourne. This one is a sublime film featuring his daughter, part silent film, part surrealist film, part transcendental humanist film.

Youth on the March (2017, 82 mins, Mike Retter)
Adelaide indie filmster Retter's 2nd vertical feature, Youth on the March is an inventively-edited portrait of teenagers and their parents. Has a real edge to it.

MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (2018, 81 mins, Matthew Victor Pastor)
Dazzling feature from young Filipino/Malaysian filmmaker Pastor. Millennial dysfunction rules, but Pastor's great observational eye is enlivened by karaoke-like musical interludes of all things. Amazing.

Bill Mousoulis is a Greek-Australian independent filmmaker since 1982, and occasional writer on film.

See also:

Upending the Canon  by Ben Kooyman

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

A Secret History of Australian Cinema      by Adrian Martin

Published March 27, 2018. © Bill Mousoulis 2018