Digital archive provides rare opportunity to view student films

Digital Archive short film, Fitzroy: Coming Up For Air
Peter Dodds’ 1970 documentary Fitzroy: Coming Up For Air provides a window into the changing face of Melbourne in the Seventies. Image: VCA Film and Television

Victorians are being offered unprecedented access to the archives of Australia’s oldest film school.

The collection of short films was started at Swinburne Institute of Technology in 1966 and has been housed at the Victorian College of the Arts, at the University of Melbourne, since 1992, when the school transferred to VCA.

The films, previously unavailable to the public, have been digitally archived allowing university staff, film buffs and the general public online access for the very first time at an upcoming exhibition at the Old Quad.

Completed over three years, the VCA Digital Archive includes the student work of some of Australia’s brightest talents, many of whom are today behind Hollywood’s most successful television shows and movies.

They include Adam Arkapaw (known for his Emmy award winning work as a cinematographer on True Detective, Top of the Lake, Animal Kingdom), Gillian Armstrong (director Little Women, Oscar & Lucinda, and Charlotte Gray), Jill Bilcock (editor Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet,  Road to Perdition), Justin Kurzel (director Snowtown, Macbeth), Robert Luketic (director Legally Blonde, Monster-in-Law) and David Michod (director Animal Kingdom: winner Australian Directors Guild & Sundance 2010).

On the smaller screen, alumni include Emma Freeman (director Offspring, Glitch, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), Glendyn Ivin (director Cracker Bag: winner Cannes 2003, Offspring, Puberty Blues, Gallipoli) and Tony Ayres (director/producer Glitch, Cut Snake, Bogan Pride, The Slap).

Around 500 celluloid films and more than 1200 magnetic tapes have been digitalised.

Filmmaker and Associate Director, Teaching and Learning, at the VCA, Donna Lyon said: “Some of the films are very raw but their lack of polish is refreshing.

“For example, Gillian Armstrong’s first film is a wonderfully experimental film about suburbia. The film already hints at the distinctiveness and edge inherent in one of Australia’s most prolific female feature film directors.”

With VCA Film and Television home to an increasing number of international students, the collection also contains many fascinating stories told either of their Australian experience or based and shot in their home countries.

Night Fare, a 2009 documentary by William Head, shows a taxi driver navigating the streets of Melbourne’s CBD before clocking off and eating dinner in an unidentified Indian restaurant, while Hidden in the Wind (1997) by Carmela Baranowska, covers the historical events of East Timor’s independence from Indonesia.

Many of the films vividly represent the cultural and social shifts, as well as the developing face of Melbourne.

Robyn Boyd: Australian Beauty (2013) by Kerry Gardner is a documentary about the 1960s Australian architect and explores the development of architecture, design and art in Melbourne, while Ettore Siracusa’s Short Story (1970), Peter Dodds’ documentary Fitzroy: Coming Up For Air (1970), and Gillian Armstrong’s The Roof Needs Mowing (1971), all provide insightful looks at Melbourne as a city that is often cold and heartless but not without its charms.

The public have two rare opportunities to view the film collection: Discover the Digital Archive exhibition presented by the Old Quad and the Thursday Nights at Parkville: Lost Shorts presented by the New Student Precinct Project.

The Old Quad exhibition opens today for a month with the Heritage listed building transformed into a custom designed audio-visual space. This unique installation will offer visitors a sleek space to relax and explore the entire archive, as well as a large-scale screening of five selected films.

Philippa Brumby, Operations Coordinator for the Old Quad, elaborates on the unprecedented access offered by the exhibition:

“Visitors are welcome to get comfortable in the space and take a deep dive into the archive with the convenience of using their own device. In addition, visitors may enjoy a cinema-scale projection featuring a diverse selection of films curated by current University of Melbourne students.”

The New Student Precinct Project’s presentation is already underway and will showcase 30 short films.

“In the New Student Precinct Project, we have University students dipping into the archive curating films based on themes of representation and diversity, through to horror collections in anticipation of Halloween,” said Ms Lyon. “What these exhibitions show, is the depth and breadth of the collection and how these films can live on, enticing new audiences beyond their initial context.”