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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Wednesday March 25, 2020 

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Thousands of aspiring filmmakers are churning out live action, animated and digital shorts (and other pieces of work), but where do they find an audience? Is DVD the answer, asks Jake Wilson, as the first DISCulture DVD hits the streets.

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.

"new possibilities"

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 devices"

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

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