Saturday, August 31, 2019

Adventures in Melbourne

Between 2 - 18 August, most roads led to MIFF venues, although my stimulating and productive Melbourne stay also set me on an unexpected path with a new series of works on paper. A recent bout of flu, from which I'm just emerging, has delayed this last post about my recent adventures in Melbourne, my first as a visitor, rather than as a resident.

The Plenary, situated on Melbourne's Docklands, was a first-time (and hopefully, last time) venue.  

The Plenary had all the charm of an airport lounge. Nobody I spoke to enjoyed going there.
Still, I'm rather proud of this early evening shot, taken after an afternoon of screenings.

English born director and screenwriter Peter Strickland was a MIFF guest and was
a refreshingly warm, engaging and down-to-earth speaker. I saw several of his films,
and by comparison, found the plots curiously distancing and off-putting and felt little sympathy
 - or any sense of connection for that matter - with his characters.

Below are 15 of my favourite films. (I tried unsuccessfully to limit the list to ten and could easily have added more):

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya
The Nightingale
And Then We Danced
House of Hummingbird
Ghost Town Anthology
A Regular Woman
Ghost Tropic
The Juniper Tree
Talking About Trees
The Swallows of Kabul

Complete details of the above can be found on my MIFF 2019 schedule HERE. I made several alterations to it during the course of the film festival: subtracting, adding and switching session times. An annoying fault in the MIFF app is that not all the changes are reflected in the final list. Adding further confusion, a special MIFF screening I attended late last year is also listed. Nevertheless, it's a record of sorts and I’m still thinking about many of the films I did see. The MIFF Travelling Showcase heads to Ballarat soon, and I hope to catch up with some that I missed.

My MIFF was sandwiched between two noteworthy theatrical events: the dazzling Everything’s Coming Up Sondheim  at Chapel Off Chapel on August 2 and Sunday in the Park With George at the Lawler Theatre, which we saw shortly after MIFF had ended. Stephen Sondheim’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical drama, inspired by the pointillist artist George Seurat and his masterwork, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, could not have been better served than by Watch This, the Melbourne-based company that specialises in his work. To my mind, no one does Sondheim better. Watch This finds the heart in his work like no other company I've seen. The entire cast, led by Nick Simpson-Deeks as George (pictured below) and Vidya Makan as Dot, his model, muse and lover, were sublime, as was every aspect of the production, which we saw twice. Over the years, I've seen other versions of Sunday in the Park With George, but this is the first time I've been moved to tears. On both occasions, I noticed several others discreetly dabbing their eyes. The sold-out Melbourne season was all too short. An interview with Sunday's co-director and Watch This founder Sonya Suares, is HERE. To read a review, go HERE.

Another highlight of my Melbourne sojourn was the Alexander Calder exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, which I caught just before it ended its long run. I absolutely loved this show and only wish I'd had a chance to visit earlier. Calder's sculptures and the mobiles with which he is most closely associated were well represented, but I was particularly enamoured of his wire sculptures.

The small hotel where I lived and worked for the duration of MIFF is nestled directly behind the grand, historic Windsor Hotel. On one particularly memorable occasion, Shane came to Melbourne for the day and took me out to dinner there. He is pictured below, admiring one of the paintings in the hotel's elegant foyer.

Directly below is an overview of the worktable in my hotel room at the close of MIFF. I'm continuing with the drawings back in Ballarat and will post updates in the near future.

Monday, August 26, 2019

R & M McGivern Prize Finalist

Some good news on Friday necessitated a trip to the framer on Saturday. My watercolour Phyllium giganteum homo insecta, 2018, is one of 45 finalists (shortlisted from 460 entries) for the R & M McGivern Prize 2019

Pictured top: Malcom at Omnus Framing with an earlier watercolour in the series, brought along in order to match frames, and the shortlisted work.

The exhibition of finalists will be held across two venues, ArtSpace at Realm and Maroondah Federation Estate Gallery, Ringwood from 23 November 2019 to 2 February 2020. Further details will be posted nearer the time.

Thursday, August 22, 2019


Early progress view of Apiarist, 21 x 15 cm. The subject's hair will be braided in a spiral contour.

Before I post more extensively about MIFF 2019, here is an example of the cross-pollination between certain films and the drawings I made during the festival. 

Apiarist, pictured top, was outlined shortly after the screening of my first MIFF film on 2 August, the exquisite Honeyland (directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, North Macedonia, 2019). Set in the remote mountains of Macedonia, it tells of Hatidze, a beekeeper who cultivates her honey using ancient methods based on close harmony with the natural world, and of the potentially dire consequences when those traditions are disrespected by others.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

My Swan Song to MIFF 2019

Swan Song, ink and gouache on Khadi paper, 21 x 15 cm

As recent visitors to this blog will be aware, recently I balanced a particularly busy MIFF 2019 schedule with drawing in my Melbourne hotel room, AKA, pop-up studio, every chance I got. Completed on the last day of MIFF, the drawing pictured above was my swan song. Given the number of films I saw (52, at last count) I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of work I achieved, when not travelling the world on my Festival Passport. It was a pleasure to share parts of the journey with Gracia Haby, Louise Jennison, Shane Jones, Elaine Haby, Gaye Paterson, Des Cowley, Kirsty and Sue. 

The final day’s fare comprised a talk at the Wheeler Centre by Australian born film director Bruce Beresford, in conversation with Philippa Hawker (the restored print of his Black Robe, 1991, screened on the penultimate day of the festival, was a revelation). I believe the talk was filmed, hopefully in its entirety. In a festival that presented so many fine films, this event was one of the standouts. To learn more about Beresford and his extraordinary achievements (including Breaker Morant, 1980, one of my longtime favourite films, go HERE.

My last two MIFF films were Beanpole (dir. Kantemir Balagov, Russia, 2019), followed by an encore screening of The Nightingale (dir. Jennifer Kent, Australia, 2018), an extremely powerful note to end on.

Progress views of the work I undertook during the Melbourne International Film Festival, peppered with selected highlights from my stay, most, but not entirely film-related, will follow shortly.

Monday, August 12, 2019


Scribe, the drawing currently on the work table in my ‘pop up studio’, anticipated one of yesterday’s MIFF films, The Juniper Tree (Dir. Nietzchka Keene, 1986), a dark medieval fantasy based on a tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. In the guise of a raven, the dead mother of a boy, Jónas, brings him a magic feather. The recently restored film is graced by a luminous central performance from Björk, as the boy’s stepsister, Margit. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

MIFF 2019

No sooner have I left Melbourne, than I’m back again, if only for the 18 days that make up the 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival.

I’m staying in a small hotel in the city centre. It’s rather basic, but very comfortable and ideally situated at the top end of town, away from the noisy, intrusive construction work that’s blighting much of Melbourne, and, most importantly, within walking distance to the majority of MIFF venues.

My personal list of MIFF favourites is growing apace. At its pinnacle (and unlikely to topple) is God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya (Dir. Teona Strugar Mitevskats, Macedonia, 2018). Its droll, perspicacious story and kick-arse heroine (Zorica Nusheva is magnificent in the title role) have already ensured it a place on my list of all time favourite films. In the coming days, I may encounter others that equal it, but it’s unlikely that any will have my heart as this one does. 

A review is here, but be warned, it contains spoilers:

When not attending screenings, I’m usually found in my hotel room drawing. It contains a generous sized table, which is a perfect work surface. I’m making good progress with the new work; it almost feels like I’m undertaking an artist residency. With MIFF thrown into the mix, it’s my idea of heaven.