The 25th August Docuverse event Snapshots#3 took on a reflective tone with our guests Deane Williams, Grace Russell and Stella Barber introducing an Australian Research Council funded collaborative research project: The Cinema Within: National and Transnational Concerns of ‘Utilitarian Filmmaking’ in Australia 1945 – 1980.
‘While Australian cinema is generally defined by the feature filmmaking tradition, at least since the 1970s, ‘utilitarian filmmaking’ represents a significant but barely visible portion of screen culture in Australia.’
Deane Williams introduced this project which runs across the University of Canberra, Murdoch University and Monash University. The project has attached PHD positions, including those held by Grace Russell and Stella Barber.
Deane talked about the mechanics of collaboration between the key researchers, including John Hughes, Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd, Mick Broderick and Ross Gibson. This research delves into a range of archives including the Teasedale Collection from a Western Victorian farming family, Policing and forensics films, road safety films and Woomera nuclear and military footage from the period to reveal ‘new insights into post-war Australia’.
Deane discussed how a definition of the ‘Utilitarian’ film would differ from understandings of the Industrial film form. Part of the project is in narrowing that definition of Utilitarian, outlined as ‘‘client-sponsored, instructional and governmental filmmaking existing outside the conventional theatrical contexts by which cinema is usually defined“.
Deane’s presentation was followed by a screening of “HELLO, MR. WEBB”, ‘an Agrifilm Production’ produced by the Department of Agriculture Victoria (circa 1980). This tongue in cheek film detailed the role and resources of the Film Unit within the department of Agriculture. The film’s host Donald Ewart spoke directly down the lens to their agricultural constituents a suitably reflexive utilitarian film example for this documentary audience.
Stella Barber and Grace Russell then introduced their respective archival interests, their methodologies for gleaning research and their negotiation of any challenges to accessing sensitive archival materials. Apart from their individual approaches to trawling through many hours of archival footage, Stella and Grace reflected on discovering their specific interests in part through the act of spending significant time with the archival material. Outcomes of the project will include articles, chapters, conference exhibition screening session, audio-visual essays and a book.
Following the presentations discussion turned to approaches to wading through many hours of archival material, to discover the significant in what could appear mundane. From insights into daily life, social customs, attitudes of the time and other incidental details garnered from looking around the film frame.
These presentations outlined the early stages of a research project of significant scale, which helps to define a little-known area of Australian film history.
The mid October Snapshots#4 will see Sebastian Chan, Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at ACMI, in discussion with Adrian Miles. Booking details will be posted on the Docuverse Facebook page.
Docuverse is supported by RMIT’s non/fictionLab