Monday, January 31, 2011


Some thoughts on a past project whose process continues to thrive and develop...

A couple of years back, I became involved in a series of documentaries called 'Anatomy' which was being produced by Tony Ayres & Michael McMahon - the director/producer partnership behind films like 'Home Song Stories', 'Walking on Water', 'Sadness' and a wildly prolific array of projects in between.

I'd been working with Tony and Michael for a while - I had written a screenplay for a strange and (I thought) kinda beautiful sci-fi film Tony was working on at the time - long since abandoned - a gothic thriller, the current draft of which I have been nursing for an embarrassingly long time - when 'Anatomy' came up as a possible project. In this project 'Anatomy', the producers approached three directors to each direct a half hour documentary that focuses on the nexus between art and the body or art and sex. The films were 'Muscle' directed by Natasha Gadd, 'Heart' by Amy Gebhardt and 'Skin' which I directed. From the outset, Michael and Tony made clear that, from their position as producers, they wanted the works themselves to be author driven, to be as bold as we wanted, and to aspire to 'art' rather than short documentary. These are difficult times for television documentary and it's testament to their abilities that they managed to get all the funding on board for a project like this. Between Amy, Tash and myself, we each went off and found what we felt was the right way to tell each story, and while each film is very different, I think what makes them exciting to consider is that each is very clearly authored, personal and a challenge from the director to themselves and their subjects. We were allowed a position in which we could flex and feel out the ways we wanted to tell the stories or explore our content and, really, we were left on our own to determine whether these choices were right or not. In the end, my flick felt like an intellectual exploration of a very physical subject. I liked that. It was very different to anything I'd done and, as such, taught me a few things through the mistakes I made or the flaws I saw in it or the surprising successes. This can only be a good thing. And when I look at the work of Tash or Amy, I see really extraordinary films which honored the risks Michael and Tony took in the beginning.

Last year they commissioned a second series and now a third series is under way. In the second series, director Emma Crimmings made the film 'Mind' about writer Tom Cho, Adele Wilkes directed the film 'Face' about her own relationship with the Beautiful Agony website and Andy Canny and Donna McCrum directed the film 'Eye' about photographer Bindi Cole and the sistagirls of Tiwi Island.

from 'Face' by Adele Wilkes

from 'Eye' by Andy Canny & Donna McCrum

from 'Mind' by Emma Crimmings

I got to see this second series of films recently and, without exception, they're fucking sublime. Freedom it seems, is not such a terrible thing in the television documentary. I have a vested interest in that I know all these filmmakers well and love them and love what they do. But, I also had the clarity to see how great these projects are. There is no doubt that it is a beautiful thing that this is our community of filmmakers. We all know each other well and all have now taken on a similar challenge and it's been fascinating to see what each of us has done with the project. I think the films are only getting better, more bold, and more aesthetically intriguing.

ABC will be screening them as of tomorrow night and on into February and, no doubt, I'll do my fair share of spruiking starting from here. Watch them. If you miss them, watch them anywhere else they screen. They are really damned fine docos.

So, now, with these films screening now and ours well and truly under the bed, the third season is being filmed with Alethea Jones, Paola Morabito and Kim Munro directing 'Nerve', 'Hair' and 'Tissue' respectively. It will be interesting to see how far these go, and the series as a whole.

All of this is really a kinda self indulgent way of discussing what I think is the most interesting thing about this project. And that is that these series have been fueled by the faith and investment the producers have made into younger filmmakers. This is by no means a suckjob. The fact is that the energy these producers put into relatively untested and emerging filmmakers is inspiring particularly because it has become so unusual in other quarters of Australian filmmaking. I know a little story about these guys that underscores their approach: While they were in artschool and uni, frustrated at the fortresses of culture in Australia at the time - the closed doors guarded by aging bastions of what was worthy - these filmmakers made a vow with some other art and film school colleagues (including the sublime eX de Medici) that when they ended up in positions of power they would always ensure those doors were left open. Unlike so many other vows people make in times like these, they honoured it. And they continue to honour that vow through projects like these and other projects.

I wish there were clips to link to but until they premiere on ABC tomorrow night 1st February (Eye), Tuesday 8th (Mind) and Tuesday 15th (Face) there is little else to share but good vibes and best wishes for the screenings.

1 comment:

Adele said...

nice words. i share your gratitude for the trust tony and michael have put in the artistic vision of up and coming filmmakers. p.s. i've used the still you took from Face for my facebook event page for the ABC screening. they're sabina's lips. hot!