With the ever-growing availability of digital video cameras, and the
now-general acceptance that video is a viable form of 'cinema,' short filmmaking
in this country as elsewhere has hit critical mass. In every city in Australia,
there are thousands of (mainly young) people making short films. Some of these
are accepted into festivals; some have one-off screenings in pubs; a few show up
on Eat Carpet and similar niche-market TV shows; and the rest, well, the rest
stay where they are, gathering dust in cupboards across the nation.
So it was inevitable that sooner or later we'd see something like DISCulture.
An independent DVD released last month by the post-production facility Edithouse,
DISCulture brings together various kinds of work by Australian visual artists -
music videos, live-action narratives, and digital animation, as well as still
photographs and cartoons. In the future, projects of this kind will almost
certainly become common; already, the organisers of the highly successful
Tropfest film festival have released the 2002 finalists on DVD, distributed free
via coupons in the Sydney Morning Herald.
At least until the technical quality of Internet streaming improves, this
seems like the ideal way for independent filmmakers to bring their work to
public attention. If cheaply-produced DVD anthologies became as readily
available as independent CDs, it might finally enable the ever-growing army of
low-budget short filmmakers to go beyond small-scale one-off screenings and
communicate directly with a wide audience.
Of course there's a down side to this dream, at least for anyone who still
clings to the prejudice that real films (as opposed to videos) are seen in their
integral form only when projected in theatres. Yet even the most blinkered
purist would have to admit that new possibilities are being opened up.
Potentially, a venture like DISCulture could help break down a couple of
barriers - not only between film and video, but between commercially oriented
short filmmaking and gallery oriented digital and video art.
So much for theory. How does DISCulture stack up in practice? Technically,
most of these thirty or so works (mainly videos and digital animations - only a
couple were shot on film) are impressively slick. Just as anyone with a couple
of thousand dollars worth of equipment in their bedroom can now put together a
professional-sounding dance music CD, the facilities that enable high-quality
picture editing, computer graphics, sound design and so on are easier to access
and use than ever before. Perhaps encouraged by the possibilities of the DVD
format, most of these filmmakers give a lot of attention to sound, though many
of them make rather similar choices - all those video-game bleeps and whirrs,
clanks and crackles of static.
The film on the disk that uses a video-clip influenced style most
intelligently is probably Andy Fernendez's 601. It's an economical
science-fiction nightmare, like a J.G. Ballard story set to a techno beat: the
camera roams through a darkened lounge room bathed in the glow of a TV set,
while the narrative unfolds in retrospect through a aural collage of samples
from news reports.
By comparison, most of the live-action narratives play it relatively safe. A
50s Newsreel (directed by Lindsay Adams), parodies a 50s newsreel. ?Romance?
[sic] (Alex Murawski) dwells on relationship angst. Karma And Lemonade (Jonathan
Armstrong), Anchovies (Armand de Saint-Salvy) and Homecoming (Dave Burrows)
feature more or less scurrilous gags. You're reminded that for better or worse,
the majority of Australian short films are made by youthful entrepreneurs bent
on getting ahead in the entertainment industry. Assessing their efforts as
stand-alone artworks - rather than displays of technical know-how and networking
skill - seems largely beside the point.
The same applies to most of the snippets of computer animation - a medium
that suffers from an built-in bias towards tweeness given its easy manipulation
of prefabricated icons. In the past, animators have overcome this problem either
by giving their whimsical characters some human depth (as in the Toy Story
movies) or by adopting a knowing, deconstructive approach (as in, say, the work
of digital artist Troy Innocent). Here, a couple of the video clips push towards
the second option; otherwise, it's mainly cuteness and glib lyricism.
"DVDs can be highly effective packaging
If nothing else, DISCulture demonstrates that DVDs can be highly effective
packaging devices, bundling together a wide variety of media. Additional
features include photos taken during the making of several of the short films,
as well as the inevitable director's commentaries. Sometimes this inclusiveness
goes too far: it's hard to fathom how certain items wound up on the disc at all.
Benon Koebsch's soothing slide show Beautiful Images Of New Zealand makes you
scratch your head and look for irony, without success. As for Sally McLean's
poetry recitations, the less said the better.
On their website Edithouse announce that a follow-up to this compilation is
already on the way. But while DISCulture number one may sell a few copies out of
novelty value, future instalments in the series are going to need a lot more
focused editorial guidance - and maybe a stronger marketing hook.
Internationally there have already been various attempts at ongoing magazines
in DVD format, such as the Short: International Release series put out by Warner
Brothers. Locally, it's high time we tried a more grass-roots version of the
same thing: say, a quarterly compilation, intelligently and eclectically put
together, of the most interesting short audiovisual work in Australia and
beyond. Does anyone want to get involved?
Published March 21, 2002