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 2022


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, Oct 4, 8:15 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices. Tickets here.

Vacant Possession
(1995, 96 mins, Margot Nash)

Intro and Q&A with Margot Nash (from Sydney)

We are pleased to welcome Margot Nash, one of Australia's most legendary independent filmmakers, to UNKNOWN PLEASURES, direct from Sydney, to present her major narrative feature work Vacant Possession. The recent HD remaster will be screened. Nash's film is one of Australia's most powerfully, rigorously articulated films about the sometimes imperceptible collisions of race, class, property and lineage. It is also ravishingly beautiful both visually and sonically. (Chris Luscri)

Leading Australian film-maker, writer, director, essayist, teacher and academic, the multi-hyphenate Margot Nash has carved out a career distinctive for its wide-ranging social analyses and commitment to forging new cinematic territory across documentary, experimental and narrative feature film-making, pointedly working with feminist and Indigenous subject matters at a time when concepts of intersectionality were still on our regressive cultural drawing board. Vacant Possession remains her most widely known work with its star performance from a brilliant Pamela Rabe as Tessa, a woman uncovering secrets in the family home after her mother's death but is also one of our most powerfully, rigorously articulated films about the sometimes imperceptible collisions of race, class, property and lineage. Internationally awarded (it was nominated for 4 AFI Awards including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, and won a Speciale Mention du Jury at the 1996 Films De Femmes festival in Créteil), Vacant Possession is also ravishingly beautiful both visually and sonically, conveying a state of undulating haptic sensuality that imbibes the narrative's explorations of personal and national self-images with the full weight of a re-emergent Australian Gothic. Chris Luscri

Vacant Possession is a film about an empty house, an inheritance inhabited by dreams and memories.

 

Growing up in Australia I never saw, much less met, Aboriginal people until I was an adult. The history books didn't tell the stories of dispossession and destruction of the land, the stories of injustice and racism. While Aboriginal people live with the devastating consequences of colonisation, many of them pity white people because we have no 'place', no dreaming. We don't know where we belong.

 

I wanted to explore notions of house, home, land, place, family and belonging from a white point of view. I wanted to explore the image of the house as a container for dreams and memories and as psychological space that could be possessed and I wanted to tell a story of a dysfunctional white family ripped to shreds by alcohol and the effects of war.

 

I saw the breakdown of family relationships, particularly the mother/daughter relationship, as a metaphor for the breakdown of relationship to land, country and place." Margot Nash

 

"There are moments in Vacant Possession when the past becomes a material presence.... There are stylistic shifts between the more conventional optical representation, where the viewer watches from a safe critical distance, and the kind of tactile looking that resonates with Laura Marks’ concept of “haptic visuality”. Within this theoretical model, our eyes sometimes ‘stand in’ for the sense of touch; images on screen transcend their status as purely visual objects. This offers 'contact between perceiver and object represented… vision itself can be tactile, as though one were touching a film with one’s eyes.'” Gabrielle O'Brien, Sensing the Past: Margot Nash’s Vacant Possession, Senses of Cinema, March 2016.

 

"The film is concerned with the future of black and white relations in this country, not just the past... Each of the main characters is haunted by similar regrets. No-one in this movie is unscarred by the past, but the ones who live here have reached a state of acceptable denial. Tessa hasn’t been able to do that, because she’s been overseas, making a meagre living as a professional gambler. Vacant Possession is an attempt at a new beginning for her character, but not just her’s. The violent storm that ends the film destroys the house, but also brings the races together. Possession, in that sense, has been declared ‘vacant’ once more." Paul Byrnes, Vacant Possession, Australian Screen, accessed 2nd February 2020.

 

“One of the most striking and assured Australian feature debuts of recent years... Above all it is a surrealist-inspired 'dream film' that evokes history of women’s cinema running from Maya Deren to Susan Dermody’s Breathing Under Water (1991)…. Often brilliantly directed – with superb cinematography from Academy Award winner Dion Beebe and a compellingly atmospheric sound track – Vacant Possession is a truly exciting piece of cinema…” Adrian Martin, Vacant Possession, The Age, June 1995.

 

Vacant Possession on Margot Nash's personal website


 

 




Stay tuned for details of further screenings in 2022


The following screening (originally scheduled for 2020 and then 2021)
will happen at some point in 2022, along with others:



Date (2022 sometime) to be advised.
Stay tuned for venue, ticket & booking info.

Two films by John Ruane
Queensland (1976, 52 mins) & Feathers (1987, 60 mins)

Intro and Q&A with John Ruane and editor Ken Sallows

Two of the quintessential, widely acclaimed Australian films of the '70s and' 80s, John Ruane's superb diptych Queensland and Feathers builds upon the structures and possibilities of the miniature to ultimately craft something more mysterious and radically open-ended. Linked across the span of almost a decade by the presence of legendary actor, broadcaster and critic John Flaus, Ruane adeptly uncovers everyday drudgery and quiet desperation. (Chris Luscri)


Two of the quintessential, widely acclaimed Australian films of the '70s and' 80s, John Ruane's superb diptych Queensland and Feathers builds upon the structures and possibilities of the miniature to ultimately craft something more mysterious and radically open-ended. Linked across the span of almost a decade by the presence of legendary actor, broadcaster and critic John Flaus, essaying the same role across both films (a lead in one and a cameo in the next), 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, the films indelibly capture 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. It is no coincidence that Feathers is based on a 'minor' Raymond Carver short story Ruane seems to have learnt that the smaller the scope, the more pronounced the sense of existential anomie. Chris Luscri

 

 

On Queensland --

 

"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



On Feathers --

 

"The latter [FEATHERS] achieved mini-cult status after the AFI Award screenings in July and is already sharply dividing audience opinion. The former is a Film and Television School graduation film. While from very different sources, the two films have a number of common threads — a concentration on the most ordinary and seemingly insignificant moments of life, an exploration of the possibilities of love and of the thousand small accommodations that love demands, and unexpectedly similar versions of a form of masculinity that is locked partly into eternal boyhood." - Liz Jacka, Filmnews, December 1987.

 

"The invisible structures of society lurk in the sub-text of Raymond Carver's American short story, now a short (48 minutes) Australian movie. Writer-director John Ruane preserves the insights, cultural relevance and sardonic tone of the original in his translation to another country and another medium, with fine performances from his principals." - John Flaus & Paul Harris, The Age, 5th February 1988.

 

Feathers' profile on OzMovies





Past screenings in 2022







Tuesday, Sep 13, 8:15 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices. Tickets here. SOLD OUT.

Tribute to Ivan Gaal
(short films, total duration 90 mins)    M

Q&A with Ivan Gaal, moderated by Jake Wilson (The Age).

Hungarian refugee and Olympic athlete, Ivan Gaal settled in Melbourne in the late 1950s, and became involved with radio, photography and the cinema in the ’60s. Since 1970, he has made numerous documentary and educational films. He was also involved with film groups like the Melbourne Film-Makers Co-Op and ATOM/Metro magazine. A collection of his shorts will be shown, including the classics Camberwell Junction (1974, 5 mins) and Ibrahim (1985, 30 mins). (Bill Mousoulis)


Ivan Gaal, like the filmmakers Anna Kannava and Giorgio Mangiamele we have featured recently, came to Australia as a migrant/refugee as a young adult, and slowly but surely built an artistic life for himself. Maybe it was his spirit and his values (fighting iron Russia in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956) that made him carve out a life of "service" to the new community he found in Australia, through not only working for the Victorian Department of Education, but also helping with film groups like the Melbourne Film-Makers Co-Op in the '70s and ATOM/Metro magazine in the '80s. Even recently, I sat in on a panel advising young film students, and there he was, Ivan Gaal, at the age of 84, sharing his wisdom with the youngsters.

 

It is with great pleasure that we present this particular night, to honour Ivan's spirit. Apart from having him in person to talk about his life and films (with Jake Wilson from The Age), we will screen 8 of his 30 or so short films that he has made since 1970. There is an undeniable personal touch to all his films, even the ones that were made for educational purposes. There is a gentle humanism at play, a real love of all humans and their social or emotional situations. There is politics, and criticism. There is visual experimentation and deft editing. Completely unostentatious, Gaal's work is careful yet affirming, and beautifully expressive. – Bill Mousoulis

 

"Ivan Gaal is clearly a thoughtful filmmaker who has reflected long and hard, over his lifetime, on the ways and means of educational cinema. It is its own form, with its own challenges: aesthetic challenges, as well as practical, ‘client based’ ones. ‘Films educate differently to the written word’, he once proclaimed. As he tells it, it is a delicate matter of maintaining a balance: too many ‘distracting film techniques’ or too much ‘pretentious editing’, and the attention of kids in a classroom is lost; but too little attention to form, coupled with a dry presentation of ‘facts and figures’, will always come off second best to the snappy types of televisual entertainment (and news/current affairs) on which the young audience has grown up .... Despite the general neglect that has kept his work shrouded in invisibility, Gaal has managed to be quite prolific – a true craftsman of the film, video and now digital media. Where other talented filmmakers have languished for long years between financed projects, Gaal has kept working, perfecting his mastery of the forms he has used: observational documentaries, fictional re-enactments of reality, lyrical collage or montage pieces carefully set to music, audiovisual portraits and essays. The time-capsule value of his work – the way he has captured the feelings, sensibilities, trends and customs of whatever time and place he filmed – is inestimable ... Ultimately, I would contend that Ivan Gaal is not just a notable craftsman, not just a canny documentarian with an admirable social conscience – but also, and perhaps above all, a poet of image and sound. Time and again, we are struck by the lyrical, expressive rightness of the way he films, cuts, places music or guides a ‘non professional’ performance on screen ... Gaal’s vision is always lucid, humanistic, politically astute and poetically apt." Adrian Martin, Comment, Think, Analyse, Experience and Learn: The Neglected Film Work of Ivan Gaal.

 

Ivan Gaal & Bill Mousoulis radio interview by Melinda O'Connor, On Screen, 3CR, September 3, 2022.

 

Ivan Gaal & Bill Mousoulis radio interview by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis, WYN-FM, September 8, 2022.

 

Ivan Gaal profile, Melbourne Independent Filmmakers website.

 

Ivan Gaal on Wikipedia


Ivan Gaal program of short films

All for the Love of It  (1970, 8 mins, 16mm)
Camberwell Junction  (1974, 5 mins, 16mm)
Jubilee and Beyond  (1977, 15 mins, 16mm)
Eclipse  (1977, 5 mins, 16mm)
The Punter  (1978, 9 mins, 16mm)
Ibrahim  (1985, 30 mins, 16mm)
Icing on the Cake  (2010, 10 mins, digital)
A Man from the Other Side  (2016, 8 mins, digital)     

TOTAL duration 90 mins



The Punter

Ibrahim
A Man from the Other Side

Photos of the screening (full gallery on Facebook)


Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:




Tuesday, July 26, 8:30 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices. Tickets here.

Short films by Mischa Baka & Siobhan Jackson
(2007-2020, total duration 90 mins)    MA15+

Q&A with Mischa Baka & Siobhan Jackson, moderated by
Helen Gaynor (VCA Lecturer & writer/director).

Before they co-directed the indie feature You Can Say Vagina in 2018, Mischa Baka and Siobhan Jackson had made numerous short films, separately. Their work is refreshingly individual, in turns quirky, surreal, edgy, moody, musical. You won't know what's coming next. The program includes Jackson's Donkey in a Lion’s Cage (2013, 14 mins) and Baka's Last Beautiful Friend (2009, 25 mins). (Bill Mousoulis)


The low budget feature You Can Say Vagina stood out in 2018, with its understated quirky humour and atmosphere of awkwardness and innocence. Eventually, it revealed itself as a work of alchemy, between two highly individual filmmakers in their own right, Siobhan Jackson and Mischa Baka. This program presents a selection of their own (short) films, at film school (they were both VCA students) and as independent artists. And they are quite different filmmakers, making You Can Say Vagina a genuine mixture of different impulses.

 

Siobhan Jackson's work is firstly predicated on the bypassing of words. The narrative films like 1, 2, 3 or Donkey in a Lion's Cage are completely without dialgoue. Like all her work, they have a layered soundtrack of music and sometimes other sounds, establishing a disquieting mood throughout. We are presented with what seems like alternative realities worlds of fragmented characters and oblique stories, and landscapes that are rich but mysterious. The films are hard to grasp, but they seep into the subconscious. There are transfigured faces (masks, bandages), surreal objects, unusual actions, and always an abundance of dread. Jackson is clearly an experimentalist, including the use of different visual textures for different films.

 

Mischa Baka's work is quite distinct from Jackson's. He loves music and dance, seen in such "music clip" type films like Walking Shadows and Always, so suddenly, all the time. The editing in these films is always surprising and innovative, and miraculously in step with the choreography of the actors and their dancing (when it shouldn't be, being jarring). Baka loves the human body, and he also elicits great natural but physical performances from his actors (à la Cassavetes). Most of Baka's films are pop and colourful, but Last Beautiful Friend shows his adeptness also in the longer narrative form. More conventional than Jackson's narrative work, Last Beautiful Friend is a penetrating study of several characters, again using unexpected editing. And dare I say that Baka is also a very daring filmmaker, with his explorations of intimacy and sexuality? – Bill Mousoulis

 

Siobhan Jackson: Profile / Website


Mischa Baka: Profile / Website

 

Baka & Jackson radio interview by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis, July 16, 2022.

 

Bill Mousoulis radio interview by Eloise Ross, Primal Screen, July 25, 2022.


Part 1: Siobhan Jackson

Burn  (2016, 1 min)
Sweet Beast  (2014, 3 mins)
Night Night Pretty  (2014, 7 mins)
Float  (2016, 3 mins)
Lift  (2020, 2 mins)
1, 2, 3  (2009, 15 mins)
Donkey in a Lion’s Cage  (2013, 14 mins)                TOTAL duration 44 mins

Siobhan Jackson: Burn / 1, 2, 3 / Donkey in a Lion's Cage

Part 2: Mischa Baka

Walking Shadows  (2014, 4 mins)
Gestures   (2014, 6 mins)
Always, so suddenly, all the time (2015, 4 mins)
I still like to photograph her naked (2013, 6 mins)
Clothes Dance   (2014, 2 mins)
Last Beautiful Friend  (2009, 25 mins)                    TOTAL duration 45 mins

Mischa Baka: Clothes Dance / Always, so suddenly, all the time. / Last Beautiful Friend


Photos of the screening


Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:

 


Tuesday, April 12, 8:10 pm
Thornbury Picture House, house prices. Tickets here. SOLD OUT.

Dreams for Life
(2004, 76 mins, Anna Kannava)

Q&A with Maria Mercedes (lead actress) and Aanya Whitehead (producer), moderated by Simon Wilmot (Deakin Uni).

The debut feature of the late Anna Kannava (1959 - 2011), Dreams for Life is an accomplished work about a woman in her late 30s (Maria Mercedes) recovering from trauma. Minimalist and everyday, the film is poetic and elegant, delving deep into its troubled but beautiful heroine, as she grapples with her past and is challenged by a surprising present, the appearance of a young man (Dai Paterson). (Bill Mousoulis)

Anna Kannava was (and continues to be) an inspiration to many in the Melbourne film scene and also many in the broader community. Born in Cyprus in 1959, she migrated to Australia in 1974, and found her niche at Deakin University (then Rusden College) studying film, acting, fine art. She settled on directing films, and made a number of short and medium-length works in the '80s and '90s, quirky shorts but also personal and inventive documentaries. Two features followed in the '00s, Dreams for Life in 2004 and Kissing Paris in 2008, but her life was tragically cut short at the age of 51 in 2011. She battled with a health condition (scleroderma) for the last 20 years of her life, and when she developed cancer in 2010, it was too much for her body. But what will be remembered forever, by those who knew her, was her passion, determination and her penetrating but generous personality. And she made exquisitely beautiful films, brimming with life (both joy and pain).

Her debut feature Dreams for Life was a surprising work when it came along in 2004, shifting away from the personal and quirky nature of her previous films, and delving into a more controlled art cinema terrain. In a native and intuitive way, she came up with a quintessential "women's film", like the Sydney films featuring voice-over narration (such as Gillian Leahy's My Life Without Steve [1986] or Susan Dermody's Breathing Under Water [1993]}. But her concerns were never feminist or post-feminist. She was an explorer of humanist and existential states, her cinema one of pain and longing, and the joy that can be found in love and adventure. We here at Unknown Pleasures have celebrated her before (we screened Kissing Paris in 2019) and we will continue to celebrate her. – Bill Mousoulis.

“What lifts Kannava's work beyond a kind of suburban neo-realism is a strongly lyrical aura, and an investment in the realm of transfiguring desire. Her films are built on dream-sequences, paintings, music, dance, and a whole, sensual experience of fabrics and textures – a special and intimate 'female aesthetic' proudly claimed .... Kannava is concerned with the small tremors in Ellen's life, the barely noticeable but internally powerful transformations of the spirit. Her solitary gestures of swimming or walking are just as significant as the decisions she must make about relationships. And the film, in its quiet but confident style, embodies this character's 'visionary' experience. Dreams for Life richly extends and fulfils the promise of Kannava's previous work. Cheekily taking its title from a self-help book, Dreams for Life is not afraid to confront the ersatz wisdom of the New Age movement in order to dig deep into the emotional truth of slogans about loving yourself, or coming to the peace with the past. ” Adrian Martin, Dreams for Life review, Film Critic, June 2004.

Bill Mousoulis interviewed about Dreams for Life, by Peter Krausz, Movie Metropolis radio show, April 2022.

Anna Kannava interviewed about Dreams for Life, by Simon Sandall, Reader's Voice, September 9, 2005.

Dreams for Life info page, Melbourne Independent Filmmakers, 2005.

Kannava Essence: A Tribute to Anna Kannava, Pure Shit: Australian Cinema, November 30, 2018.


Photo gallery of the screening (see it on Facebook)


Video of the Q&A discussion at the end:


 


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