Kannava Essence:
A Tribute to Anna Kannava

by various writers

On the occasion of the screening at Artist Film Workshop, Anna Kannava: Loam and Lingua, on November 22, 2018, curated by Chris Luscri, we asked people who attended the screening to write a few words about the night, what the films evoked for them, and/or their reaction to Anna the person (from whatever they may have known about her).

The screening was introduced by Anna's mother, Frederika Apokidou, and also Anna's friend and collaborator Natalie Vella, who both gave moving tribute speeches. You can read their speeches at the bottom of this page (as well as see other info about the screening). See also Natalie Vella's longer tribute, Seven Years After ... Seven Years Older.

For the record, Anna Kannava was born in 1959 in Cyprus, migrated to Australia in 1974, and died in Australia in 2011, aged 51. More info about her is on the Melbourne Independent Filmmakers website.

Contributions from

Cristina Álvarez López    Frederika Apokidou

Jennifer Chamberlain-Salaun    Koraly Dimitriadis    Anthony Frajman

Nicholas Godfrey    Bruce Hodsdon    Rosemary Mangiamele

Adrian Martin    Bill Mousoulis    Vicky Mousoulis

Ettore Siracusa    Anthi Vassilopoulou

from Cristina Álvarez López:

Vanilla Essence

It was a rainy night in Melbourne when I attended a special screening devoted to the films by Anna Kannava. The room was packed and you could feel how deeply loved and missed she is. The program included four films that were a revelation to me: for their mixture of humour and melancholy, of struggle and wisdom, of coherence and inventiveness. I was impressed at how Anna's personal voice was kept across these films, but was also fused itself with the different approaches undertaken: the experimental frenzy (Kannava You Can'av'er), the autobiographical documentary (Ten Years After … Ten Years Older and The Butler), the fictional comedy (Vanilla Essence). Despite my loose categorisation here, these films don't follow a pre-established model. There's an amalgam of elements knitted together, a strong taste for collage, that takes unique forms in each one of them. Essay, documentary, diary, re-enactment and fiction are conjured and combined in deeply resonant ways. There's an interest in domesticity, in the intimate sphere, in the faces and gestures of loved ones, but there's also a sense of adventure, of experimentation and of formal risk. Beautifully structured, they deal with the everyday, but also have quasi-fantastical digressions, and a pervading dreamlike atmosphere.

As I watched these films, The Wizard of Oz kept popping up in my mind. I don't know if Anna liked this film, but I recognised a bit of Dorothy's journey in Vanilla Essence – with its wonderful visual storytelling and its explosion of colour in costumes and décor; and in Ten Years Older … Ten Years After – a film that fully wrestles with the complicated feelings of leaving and returning home. Built through a delicate superimposition of layers of past and present, Ten Years Older … Ten Years After attests to the irretrievability of time, despite that some things never change. Shot in Cyprus, which Anna left at fifteen with her family to migrate to Australia, this film is a powerful meditation on memory, longing and belonging. I was very moved by The Butler, a portrait of Anna's brother, Nino. This film has one of those unexpected moments of grace that totally won me over – it brought tears to my eyes (not of sadness, but of happiness and liberation). If you ever watch this film, you'll recognise the moment I'm talking about: it may be – and I'm not exaggerating – the best psychoanalytic scene in the history of cinema.

from Frederika Apokidou:

I hadn't watched Anna's films for a very long time. I had deliberately buried difficult and painful situations discussed in these films, The Butler in particular, deep in my heart.


It was with great emotional anticipation that I attended the screenings of the films on Thursday night, 22 Nov. 2018, organised by Artist Film Workshop. I must say that I enjoyed the night very much. It was so good to see and greet so many of Anna's friends who she dearly loved and cherished and to be amongst so many other people.


Mixed feelings overwhelmed me while watching the films. Listening to and watching my beloved daughter Anna relating to our family's past, her dreams and disappointments, and all the efforts she'd put into coping with hard and painful situations, despite being hampered by debilitating conditions which eventually resulted in her passing.


At the same time, however, I felt happy and proud of Anna realising once again what great films she's made, films which have been praised and valued by many professionals and critics in the field. 


"For all who knew her or knew of her work, Anna touched the earth gracefully with a self-assured European aesthetic and passion for literary and visual beauty, leaving a conspicuous mark on both Australian and European cinematic landscapes". 

ATOM Awards 2011, 21 October 2011 Best Documentary General Award presented in Memory of Anna Kannava


Part from Anna Kannava Biography:

"I got into Rusden College, now called Deakin University. I got in through an Audition. Had I not made it, I would have not gone into Higher Education. It was official: I was a double Drama student. I had to pick up extra subjects however, so I chose Media Studies which included TV, Graphics, Film and Photography. 
Suddenly I had fallen in love. I knew it was for real. I had discovered Filmmaking."

from Jennifer Chamberlain-Salaun:

Kannava You Can’av’er

Until a friend invited me to a film screening night last week, I hadn’t heard of Anna Kannava.  What a wonderful discovery. In the films I saw, Anna used an auto-ethnographic approach to explore concepts of family, identity, culture and belonging. Her works provided a deeply personal perspective that drew me into her story and life rather than positioning me as a voyeur.  She used long takes evocative of the work of Michelangelo Antonioni. The pace was slow and measured, leaving ample time for me to meander into the story. As I watched Anna and her family walk along a coastline in The Butler, I could feel the wind on my cheeks. I felt as if I were there with them.

Anna’s love for her family, especially for her brother Nino, was beautifully portrayed with sensitivity and a quirky, sometimes comic, edge. Watching the younger version of Anna’s mother, Frederika, smiling and dancing on the screen, as the older Frederika sat two seats away from me, was surreal. It is not often that we get to connect so intimately with another at two points in their life at the same time.

The concept of identity that Anna captivatingly explored in the films, prompted questions about my own identity and history. Watching the ageless legacy of Anna’s films, I could not help but question what I will leave behind and how I will be remembered when I am no longer here.

from Koraly Dimitriadis:

portrait of Anna by Natalie Vella

It had been some years since I viewed her films, not since her death seven years ago. Anna was generous and kind and never complained despite her illness, and this spirit is captured in her work. However, having matured as an artist myself since her death, I have gone from viewing her work as only this to understanding that Anna was a true feminist in her own right. She was what a true feminism should be defined as, telling stories, her stories, in her own way, without prescribing to any formulas or ideas as to what a feminist should be.


She just didn't care about promotion or marketing or putting a persona out there. Her films are her. Authentic and real and honest and so vulnerable and tender, she offers herself up to make her mark, to teach us about migration, longing, displacement, family, love and loss. As a female writer, film and theatre maker operating in today's Australian arts sector, the pressure to be 'a good feminist' as defined by the self-righteous and elitist and politically correct left is omnipresent and lurking.


A lot has changed since Anna's death in the feminism space and I often wonder what Anna would have thought of it all. Maybe the point is however that her films exist, and they can be used to make a commentary on not only her time but our time. Watching her films the other night at the screening all I could think is feminism today has so so much to learn from Anna. This is why works like Anna's need to be urgently and desperately pushed out and seen by the mainstream, because I really fear for what our daughters are learning about feminism, I really do.


from Anthony Frajman:

The Butler







Those are a few thoughts, that spring to mind, watching Anna's films.


Anna's work seems to speak for itself.


from Nicholas Godfrey:

Ten Years After … Ten Years Older

Anna Kannava’s films open a window onto a private world. Artist Film Workshop’s ‘Loam and Lingua’ program was an appropriately intimate affair, beginning with Anna’s mother Frederika reading a letter from her late daughter: “the films I make reflect who I am and why”. The who and the why play out as Ten Years After… Ten Years Older (1986) maps the territory of memory, while The Butler (1997) provides an endearing sketch of Anna’s relationship with her beloved brother Nino, and her own struggle with declining health.


Part travelogue, part home movie, part impressionistic self-portrait, Anna Kannava’s films explore migration, place, identity and family, in personal, yet playful, terms. How fitting it is to see them in Melbourne – Anna’s Melbourne – as the rain drums on the roof, and a tram rumbles down nearby Nicholson street. Accompanied by the creak of chairs, and whispered memories shared between Anna’s family members, her voice, undiminished, speaks to us through the films, guiding us somewhere between a remembered elsewhere and an eternal present.


Kissing Paris

from Bruce Hodsdon:

My encounters with Anna’s films now spread across nearly fifteen years.

Dreams for Life
I have not seen for more than ten, Kissing Paris several times more recently, living up to its resonant title, complementing that of her first feature.

Anna’s films form an engaging chronology her distinctive vision impressionistically grounded for us in culture and family, and an idiosyncratically poetic quest for ‘essence’ bridging to the lyrical and romantic realm of the features.  

from Rosemary Mangiamele:

Vanilla Essence

After attending the AFW screening of Anna Kannava’s films, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on her films, and appreciate her passion for filmmaking at a deeper level, which brought together all her other artistic skills with her quirky sense of humour, and unconventional free spirit. 

To open the evening there was a touching presentation by Anna’s mother, Frederika, and friend Natalie, who gave an enlightening and moving talk about Anna’s background.

At 15, Anna came to Australia from Cyprus, and had a continuing love of her Greek culture, which was portrayed constantly through the characters in her films, and narrative. She expressed herself in many diverse ways, both worldly and personal.

Sadly she died at 51 from lung cancer, but left behind a treasure trove of films (short, experimental, and feature), where her passion for filmmaking brought all her skills together of being an actor, a writer, a director and she had travelled extensively.

Vanilla Essence (1989, 16 mins) highlighted for me Anna’s wonderful sense of humour, and unconventional, unpredictable and original approach to filmmaking. The Butler (1997, 58 mins) was nominated for the best documentary in the 1997 AFI awards, which indicates the level of competence and appreciation by the film community of Anna Kannava’s skills.

from Adrian Martin:


Kannava You Can’av’er

Watching the very moving presentation of Anna Kannava’s work at Artist Film Workshop in November 2018, I was struck by the absolute coherence of her relatively small but impressive and enduring output. The themes and concerns, the stylistic experimentation, the comic touch, the drift between fairy tale and melancholia, the steadfast autobiographical thread, the focus on female experience. In fact, everything is already there in her first, Rusden-made short from 1980, Kannava You Can’av’er (reproduced in its entirety in her best film, The Butler [1997]), in which we hear (under heavy reverb!) Anna speak this haunting refrain: “A woman is a woman is a woman. A woman is a clown”.

It is fortunate for all of us, today, that Anna’s talent, even at that early stage, was evident enough to attract faithful friends, mentors and collaborators such as John Cruthers, Annie Duncan, Graeme Cutts and Brian McKenzie (and in later years, Natalie Vella, Bill Mousoulis and Chris Luscri) who helped some of her many projects to come into being and to stay in circulation.

The passage of years can help rack a particular historical context into focus; today I see clearly how Anna’s work participated in a certain loose ‘family’ of Australian women filmmakers across several decades (some coming out of the Rusden experience), freely mixing narrative, fantasy motifs, live action, silent cinema references, and animation (Virginia Murray’s The Lead Dress [1984] and Liz Hughes’ Cat’s Cradle [1991] also partake of this moment, as does the feature work of Sarah Watts). But Anna’s cinema is powered by a special tension that draws all its facets together.

Kissing Paris

Her vision, her sensibility, is one of eternal, nagging restlessness – always longing for an elsewhere, wherever she is situated. The very first shot of Kannava You Can’av’er shows the (at that moment incomplete) far-suburban highway that – as she comments in The Butler – she would eventually take to move far from home. Overseas travel (of which she did much, using that experience as the basis for both Ten Years After … Ten Years Older [1986] and her final film work, Kissing Paris [2008]) answers to the same yearning for escape, an escape from the various overlapping ‘scripts’ laid down on her by gender, history, expectations, ethnic background, social status.

Home, family role models and prescribed destinies, siblings, national cultures, romantic relationships: all of them register for Anna, at some point or another, as stifling, suffocating prisons. Salvation and paradise loom elsewhere: in the past of origins and grandmotherly care in Cyprus; in the memory of one’s own pre-diseased face and body in the mirror; in an erotic sexual love possible in some other, exotic place. And yet – here is the tension – what could be more comforting or more fulfilling than the everyday pleasures of deep family ties, lasting friendships, maternal love, familiar vistas, and domestic routines?

It is all expressed so beautifully in the ending of The Butler, one of the greatest finales that Australian cinema has given us. Anna’s beloved brother Nino is hanging out the just-washed clothes while it rains, because – even if it means they won’t dry quickly – “they’re already wet”, anyway. The gesture is exasperating, funny, crazy and poetic all at once. Life, for Anna, is where you’re stuck – and what you’re stuck with. She dreamed of leaving it all behind; but always returned to scrutinise its unique magic.

from Bill Mousoulis:

Europe, 2009. It would be her last trip there, as her ill health wouldn't allow a further one, in 2010 or beyond.

She loved to explore, and in the two weeks I spent with her and Nino in August 2009 in Prague, every day was an adventure.

She turned 50 when we were there, and on that day we had cake and hot chocolate in a bohemian cafe (on another day, I treated Nino to a whiskey, and Anna admonished me, but Nino loved it). In the cafe, she spotted a Tony Leung lookalike and looked wistfully at him, and I guess she made a wish, in the mood for love.

Life can be tragic for some, but, really, we celebrate Anna, constantly – she was an inspirational figure, as she got the absolute most she could out of her life.

I will carry that image with me forever, that image of curiosity and enthusiasm. She was always looking to walk out that door, to see what was outside.

from Vicky Mousoulis:

Kannava You Can’av’er
entering the space of the AFW
seated, waiting
four of Anna Kannava's films will screen
what a joy.

from that night
burnt to my retina 
the imagine of Anna in KANNAVA YOU CAN'AV'ER
blowing her trumpet

stomping back and forth
furrowed the ground
such imaginary 
tapestry like
weft and warp

for a woman is a woman
and Anna was -
a woman I never met
but her films
are the Essence 
of a woman.

Everything and beautiful.
Daydreams made real

from Ettore Siracusa:

The Butler


Found in the bio notes that she refers to the subject of the ‘personal’ in her films as distressing (I find making personal film very distressing); but she doesn’t elaborate herself about this very significant theme and her troubled relation to her family and the past.


The occasion of the screening was like a memorial with the mother reading last testament of the daughter as if an elegiac scene in a Greek tragedy.


My gaze kept moving from the screen to the mother there watching together with all of us, wondering how she was feeling.


The mother seems to have survived the loss of home better than the daughter. To what extent was the trauma of her illness related to her wishing to return to her past?


I felt I was participant in the sorrow and the tragic circumstances of her illness and subsequent death at a young age.


Death and the vanishing haunted the images of the second film. We can’t help but seeing these films differently – posthumously – as a memento mori or remembrance of her impending death several years later.




The sound recording of the voice-over narration in the first film, (Ten years…) I could hear (imagined) a kind of echo as if her voice was coming to us from some distance away; overcome by this spectral feeling of her voice.



The Butler


Recalled the scene in the first film in which the grandmother tries on her the black dress she has made for her and imagined this scene, in some (poetical) sense, prefigures a scene in the second film when the narrator describes the discomfort and pain of the condition of scleroderma of her skin, as being like the sensation of cloth over her skin and body. It occurred to me to connect this sensation with the a material object of remembrance of her past and the grandmother. The dress was black. The color of mourning and the dead. The black dress prefigures her death.



The body remembers well

I read also that this illness of the skin has to do with connecting tissues in the body and the immune system and this immune system has a memory; Maybe, associations one may suggest there of the biological and the psychological and the personal self–portrait in her film work.



Enacting the personal and the self

The representation of the self in Anna Kannava’s films counters the nostalgia in migrant narratives which supports the multicultural institutional discourse. The attachment to family and home is portrayed in more tragic terms particularly the uses of a first person voice over narration.


Fitting that the two films were shown one after the other, for, the years that separate the production of the two films I thought may be significant; in the first film she returns home and in the second she's (becomes) ill and her brother leaves his house in Australia, to move into her house in Australia. The arrival of her brother embodies her wish (and fiction) to be united with the family. He acts as actor and mirror in her struggle to remember and forget.



Kannava You Can’av’er

The personal as viewer-subject

The representation of the personal and subjectivity in film as a narrative form or strategy, enables the viewer to experience the personal in his or herself, intimately.


It did so for me in so far that it did touch some thoughts about my troubled relations of desire and destruction mentioned in my film ‘Italians at Home’; hence my identification and distance to her sense of loss of home related to impending death and therefore rising to the narrative level of tragedy.


The subjectivity and identification of the personal with my migrant self is enabling and yet not biographical nor psychological, but rather figurative. Sometimes as it happened the other night watching or witnessing the memorial screening of Kannava, I could feel some shame of my lack of strong attachment to the extended family I never had.


I made my first trip back to Italy in 1964 after eight years, at 21. An event charged with profound emotions, to see and embrace my three cousins who were like brothers to me. On my return and reflections I felt that despite their display of affection and love my world had grown away and was so different to their small world, painfully aware that that world had disappeared; instead Italian literature and the arts and the cinema have fed my nostalgia. The things that I treasure and have grown in me. Sicily and its history continues to be an object for artistic discovery and exploration and I am happy that I can be close to it as a foreign, which enables me to experience this past in a different light because I can bring a different insight.


I’ve lived as an outsider on the wings, an observer and at pain to realize the faults and fears of detachment. I’m writing this as a kind of monologue (performance) or inner speech brought out, experienced as a subject and film viewer. Thanks Anna: your personal films bring out the personal in me. I loved the hybridity and sincerity of your voice even if I don’t share the subject of your poetic world and that’s because I’ve never lived the trauma and tragedy of your life and therefore not the subject of my migrant art practice. Thank you, Anna, your films remind me (us) of the love for a vanishing world and for the disappearance of things and the effort and struggle to hold to the past.


from Anthi Vassilopoulou:

The Butler

There was a secret deeply hidden in Anna Kanava's soul and it is still there. It took only a moment to appear as a strong ethereal essence of vanilla to flavour our lives with unique female qualities.

As we screen her films, Anna Kanava shows us that cinema is not only an inexpensive art but, in her movie The Butler, shows us how our real lives are more like fiction and how fiction is less than our real lives. She also shows us that our lives hang simultaneously between tears and laughter.

She knew cinema, having studied cinema seriously, and she left to us her secret of how we can make simple and important movies with just our memories and our feelings.

I am sure she is still watching our lives with her secret cries and sarcastic laughter from her paradise above and still making them into movies.

Anna Kannava: Loam and Lingua retrospective screening
November 22, 2018, at Artist Film Workshop

Vanilla Essence

The following films were screened at this retrospective:

Kannava You Can'av'er (1980, 1 min, 16mm)

Ten Years After ... Ten Years Older (1986, 35 mins, 16mm)

Vanilla Essence (1989, 16 mins, 16mm)

The Butler (1997, 58 mins, 16mm)

Before the films began, Frederika Apokidou and Natalie Vella gave the following tribute speeches:

from Frederika Apokidou:

(words written by Anna Kannava, circa 1988)

The films I make reflect who I am and why. And although they are personal, I believe they are accessible and I hope, visually pleasing. I attempt to make each shot complete like a painting or photograph. I like films that take you into another dimension. Very much like a dream but a controlled dream. And I enjoy films that evoke mood and feelings like memories do.

I was born and lived in Cyprus until I was fifteen, My family migrated to Australia in the mid-seventies. My mother, my brothers Nino and George (ten and eleven) and myself. We were close, we were the only people we knew here. Our family and friends were thousands of miles away. This brought me both strength and sadness.

I was missing the feelings from my youth and my country, then my feelings became those of how I missed the feelings I vaguely remembered. The confusion became an obsession and I went back to make "Ten Years After, Ten Years Older" a personal documentary about how I would feel upon my return to Cyprus ten years after I had left.

I was writing the script and filming at the same time. Six months later when I returned to Australia to see my rushes for the first time and edit the film, I realised the confusion was a simple and natural process. The film was about who I was and where I belonged. It didn't give me an answer but it was important that it posed the question.

Natalie Vella (left) with Frederika Apokidou
at the screening on Nov 22, 2018.

Presently I'm working on a short narrative called "Vanilla Essence". Indirectly it's once again a personal film and although the subject matter and style are very different from "Ten Years" it occurred to me that it's the same idea - the wish to belong and to contribute..

Recently, my brother George and his wife Melissa had a baby boy. He was born in a private room in the Birth Centre. When we visited we stayed all day. It was freezing outside but in the warmth of the building in the afternoon, we all fell asleep. My mum on the couch, Nino on the chair and on the double bed where he was born, the baby was asleep between his mum and myself, his dad lying horizontally at our feet.

As I was drifting off and saw everyone asleep, I thought we were in Cyprus having our afternoon sleep in the heat and Melissa and the baby had always been with us. It was a perfect moment of happiness. It was a harmonious combination of our past in our own old country and the present where the newborn was another member of our family in Australia. 
I thought: The baby is really Australian. 

Some day I might attempt to capture that moment and the feelings.
It would never be the same, It would only be a film.


from Natalie Vella:

(excerpts from Natalie's tribute Seven Years After ... Seven Years Older)

Anna didn’t just wear colourful clothes with mismatched patterns. She was colour. Her love was fierce, but you didn’t dare cross her. Yet even if you did, all was forgiven. Vibrant and opinionated, she was lightning, trapped in a small scrawny body robbed of muscle tissue by scleroderma – the Greek word for ‘hard skin’.

“I began carrying a photograph of my old face in my pocket,” Anna lamented in her second documentary, The Butler. “Then an old friend said to me, ‘you look different, Anna’. I said, ‘I lost my face’. He said, ‘you haven’t lost it. There’s just less of it now’.”

When Anna died, I, along with her dear friend, filmmaker Bill Mousoulis, watched her funeral unfold on Facebook; Bill in Greece, and I in Paris, both too poor to make the trip home. I missed the subsequent retrospectives that followed in her name. There is comfort for the living in being able to say goodbye. Perhaps this was why her death was just a dream to me: unreal.

I don’t believe in ghosts. But if there were a heaven, Anna would be there. I asked Anna once if she could give me a sign if the other side existed. As the clock ticks past the seventh anniversary of her death, I’m still waiting. There have been no ghostly appearances or strange knocking sounds. If there were anyone who could find a way to communicate through another vortex, it would be Anna. But perhaps she doesn’t need to. Anna might be gone and the void left by her unfilled. But in the hearts of those who knew her, those who admired her work, and the new audiences who continue to discover her work, she lives on.

Published November 30, 2018. © Cristina Álvarez López, Frederika Apokidou, Jennifer Chamberlain-Salaun, Koraly Dimitriadis, Anthony Frajman, Nicholas Godfrey, Bruce Hodsdon, Rosemary Mangiamele, Adrian Martin, Bill Mousoulis, Vicky Mousoulis, Ettore Siracusa, Anthi Vassilopoulou, Natalie Vella 2018.