Menzies Screening Series (2017/18)

In 2017, I initiated the Menzies Screenings series for the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King’s College London. Partly inspired by the 2016-17 seminar series Screening Australia, which I had co-organised, I curated five screening and discussion events across the 2017/18 academic year. Each session took a broad, critical approach to Australia’s place within the international cinema landscape, and was intended to complement and expand upon some of the themes of the broader Menzies Centre programme.

Although Australia remained the central focus for the initial run of Menzies Screenings, this inaugural selection sought to push beyond the geographical boundaries of the Australian continent to consider how others view us, how we view others, and how we view ourselves in other spaces. I introduced each session with a particular critical and contextual focus, and a feature-film screening was followed by a relaxed, salon-style discussion.

The five screenings in the 2017/18 Menzies Screenings series were as follows:

Menzies Screening #1:
Neo-Colonial Footprints (Walk into Paradise, 1956)
17 October 2017

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Our first session focused on Australia’s ‘neo-colonial footprint’, with a nod to Jane Landman’s book The Tread of a White Man’s Foot: Australian Pacific Colonialism and the Cinema, 1925-62 (Pandanus, 2006), which examines mid-century Australia’s cinematic interactions with its near neighbours.

For this first session, we screened Walk Into Paradise (d. Lee Robinson, 1956), which follows patrol officer Steve McAllister (Chips Rafferty) as he leads an expedition into the ‘unmapped’ highlands of Australian-administered New Guinea. Shot on location, and born out of Australia’s foreign-dominated post-war production climate, Walk Into Paradise was the third feature collaboration between Robinson and Rafferty, and their first co-production with French company Discifilm. For Lee Robinson, such films produced ‘something that was Australian within an international format’, and alongside its depiction of wild savages, colonial control, and the exploitation of natural resources, Walk Into Paradise seeks to highlight the ‘white man’s burden’ at the heart of Australia’s neo-colonial influence on this ‘final frontier’.

Menzies Screening #2:
The Migrant Experience (A Girl in Australia, 1971)
23 November 2017

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The second session reflected upon Australia’s post-war migration boom, specifically those new waves of migrants arriving from southern and eastern Europe. The figure of the ‘New Australian’ had an increasing presence on Australian screens in the 1960s, when feature film production was at a particularly low ebb. Exemplified by the work of Melbourne-based emigre filmmaker Giorgio Mangiamele, and in Anglo-Australian box office hit They’re A Weird Mob (Michael Powell, 1966), much of this representation focused on the figure of the Italian male.

In order to offer a specifically European perspective on the experiences of one such individual, however, I screened Luigi Zampa’s A Girl in Australia (1971), which offers a fascinating variation on a familiar narrative. The film’s original Italian title Bello onesto emigrato Australia sposerebbe compaesana illibata – loosely translated as Nice, honest migrant in Australia would marry eligible compatriot – points toward the films’ narrative preoccupation, whilst situating it in a tradition of Italian postwar comedy focused on the lives of expatriates. Filmed on location in Australia, but largely in Italian, it stars Alberto Sordi as a recent migrant whose unintentionally duplicitous efforts to attract an Italian bride brings the equally duplicitous, but undoubtedly glamorous Claudia Cardinale to Australia, with predictably comic results. Offering a vision of this new land from afar, A Girl in Australia puts a new twist on a significant facet of postwar Australian society, and frames its familiar ‘fish out of water’ narrative with an acutely Italian gaze.

Menzies Screening #3:
Leave No Trace (Tanna, 2015)
8 February 2018

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Our third session focused on recent Australian filmmaking abroad, and the creation of collaborative works in the Asia-Pacific region, in which traces of Anglo-Australian involvement are actively obscured or overwritten. From writer-director Kim Mordaunt’s Laos-set family drama The Rocket (2013) to Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody’s Cambodian road romance Hail (2014), contemporary Australian filmmakers have sought to broaden the palate of nominally ‘Australian’ cinema, articulating regional narratives with seemingly peripheral relevance to the Australian nation.

Far from evolving from the ‘neo-colonial footprint’ of earlier eras, contemporary Australia’s cinematic interactions with its near neighbours often draws upon the so-called Ten Canoes model, inspired by Rolf de Heer’s landmark collaboration with David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr and the indigenous communities of Arnhem Land. That collaborative approach is particularly evident in the film selected for this session, Tanna (d. Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, 2015), a Shakespearean tale of star-cross’d lovers living in traditional Melanesian communities on the island of Tanna, at the southern fringe of the Vanuatu archipelago. In a society built upon arranged marriages, Wawa (Marie Wawa) and Dain (Mungau Dain) are a young couple from rival tribes who strive to break free from tradition and marry for love. Based on real events, and produced in collaboration with the community in the village where co-director Bentley Dean and his family lived for several months, Tanna is a work of sublime beauty that received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

Menzies Screening #4:
A Politics of Discouragement (Journey, 2015)
24 April 2018

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The fourth Menzies Screening focused on Australia’s recent migration policies, and the highly contentious telemovie Journey (2016), a feature-length drama directed by Iranian-Canadian Mohammad Ghorbankarimi and produced by Sydney-based company Put It Out There Pictures. Directly financed by the Australian government to the tune of $A6m, the film is an overt attempt to discourage people from attempting to reach Australia by boat, and is intended to “educate and inform audiences…about the futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hard-line policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters.”

Produced exclusively for television screenings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, Journey exists as an unabashed work of 21st century propaganda. The ethical implications of creating dramatic fiction intent on changing peoples attitudes to migration represents a brave new frontier in Australia’s perpetual struggle against unwanted immigration, against the backdrop of one of the most significant global refugee crises in recent memory.

Menzies Screening #5:
Echoes of Empire – Screening and discussion w/ Sonal Kantaria + Saeed Taji Farouky
24 May 2018

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The fifth and final Menzies Screening for 2017/18 saw me joined in conversation with two London-based photographers and filmmakers – Saeed Taji Farouky and Sonal Kantaria – both of whose works touch upon the history and legacy of Empire, and who have each made short film works in collaboration with Aboriginal Australians.

A brief introduction to their past work and the broader intersections of Empire, was followed by a screening and discussion of the two films. Saeed’s short drama They Live in Forests, They Are Extremely Shy (2016) tells the fictionalised story of an Indigenous Australian man (played by the late Yolngu/Murrungun actor Tom E. Lewis) invited to London for the Colonial Exhibition of 1886, where he has an unexpected encounter that brings home the reality of the colonial endeavour. Sonal’s experimental film After the crow flies (2016) developed out of ongoing connections with Aboriginal Elders in Western Australia, and was made in collaboration with Clarrie Cameron, a Nhagardi Elder who navigates the viewer through the stark landscape of his traditional country whilst discussing the effect of colonisation on his peoples and on the shape of contemporary Australia.

The Menzies Screening Series was curated and presented by Dr Stephen Morgan for the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King’s College London, 17 October 2017 – 4 May 2018.

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