The Tyranny of (Social) Distance: Virtual Film Clubs and Coping with Covid

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Watching, and chatting about, The Sapphires as part of To(S)D #5

In lieu of the 2019/20 Menzies Screening Series – which was due to commence in late March, but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 epidemic – a small cohort of academics, researchers, and friends of the Menzies Australia Institute have been holding a virtual film club, every Tuesday. What started as a casual way to keep in touch early in lockdown has developed into a weekly link to the world beyond our (often) home-bound bubbles. Just prior to the first ‘screening’, we dubbed it the Tyranny of (Social) Distance Film Club; a nod to (and none-too-subtle bastardisation of) that famous phrase, popularised by controversial Australian historian (and History Warrior), Geoffrey Blainey. The ‘Tyranny of Distance’ was a notion that sought to articulate the particular character imposed on Australia by its distance from Europe, and it seemed an apt name for an Australian film club that takes place online, whilst we are all physically distant from our friends, family, and colleagues.

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POSTPONED: Menzies Screening Series 2019/20

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UPDATE 12/05/2020: For obvious reasons, this year’s Menzies Screenings were all cancelled, and the series postponed. All things going well, I hope to be able to present an extended version of this themed screening series at the Menzies Australia Institute in 2020/21.

Delayed slightly by a hefty first term workload (and two bouts of UCU strike action), I’m pleased to announce that the Menzies Screening Series is returning to the Menzies Australia Institute at King’s College London for a trio of events in early 2020.

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CANCELLED: The Sentimental Bloke in Scotland!

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UPDATE 12/05/2020: For obvious reasons, this year’s Hippodrome Silent Film Festival was postponed to October. Sadly, this has also been cancelled, but I hope to be able to organise a belated centenary screening of the film in London at some point in the future.

On Friday March 20, I will be introducing a very special screening of Australia’s finest silent film, The Sentimental Bloke (1919), at the brilliant Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (HippFest) in Bo’ness, Scotland. Based on CJ Dennis’ vivid, colloquial verse about the lives and loves of working class folk, the film is the product of a brief but fruitful partnership between Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell.

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Any Questions?

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In conversation with Martin Thomas and Béatrice Bijon, co-directors of Etched in Bone

In the midst of a very busy last six months or so (including spending last term teaching five modules across three institutions, AND working a part time job!), I had the distinct pleasure of hosting Q&As after a couple of brilliant documentary screenings.

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Slam: Screening Round-up

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Last Saturday, it was my distinct privilege to host the UK premiere of Slam (Partho Sen-Gupta, 2018) in my capacity as Co-Programmer for the London Australian Film Society.

Slam is undoubtedly a confronting film, but it is also a very important one in the contemporary climate, and one that I was admittedly a little nervous about screening. Thankfully, audience reactions, both to the film, and to the interesting and illuminating panel discussion that followed, were overwhelmingly positive.

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SLAM (2018) – UK Premiere – Aug 10 at Regent St Cinema

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I’m really excited to be hosting the UK premiere of Partho Sen-Gupta’s stunning SLAM (2018) with the London Australian Film Society. The screening – at Regent Street Cinema on the afternoon of August 10 – is presented in collaboration with The Riz Test, and with the support of the Menzies Australia Institute.

The feature will be preceded by a screening of short poetry film Borders (Shagufta K Iqbal / Elizabeth Mizon, 2017, and will include a post-screening panel discussion involving media commentators, scholars, and activists discussing a range of issues, from screen representation to the broader contexts of Islamophobia in Australia and Britain.

I will be chairing the panel, with guests including Shaf Choudry (The Riz Test), Dr Aurelien Mondon (University of Bath), and Shagufta K Iqbal (The Yoniverse).

More info can be found on the LAFS website, and tickets can be booked directly via Regent Street Cinema.

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Menzies Screening Series 2018/19

I’m proud to announce that I’ll be back at the Menzies Australia Institute at King’s College London this academic year, as curator and presenter of the second Menzies Screening Series.

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Following on from our 2017/18 series, which sought to position filmic visions of Australia within a transnational context, this year’s Menzies Screening Series focuses on cinema’s role in perpetuating and solidifying settler colonial regimes, not only in Australia, but also in the fellow ‘White Dominions’ of Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Against of the backdrop of mounting decolonisation, a number of post-war productions by London-based companies highlighted British attitudes towards the life of its settler colonies. Over the course of the year, we will screen three such films – set at various historical moments in the lives of these ‘new nations’ – which hold up settler colonial spaces as not only the last bastion of ‘Britishness’ in the former Empire, but also as figureheads for the newly reconfigured Commonwealth of Nations.

These three British productions will be accompanied by three ‘local’ productions, which emerged from the various national contexts in the 1960s ,‘70s, and ‘80s. Each of these films was created at a time when the former colonies began to assert their own sense of cultural nationalism, one that was often built upon the figure of the white male and the pioneering family. In doing so, they help to demonstrate how settler nationhood persists largely as a continuation of British colonial visions of the ideal (aka ‘white’) nation.

On one level, this group of films depicts discrete settler colonial spaces from varying imperial and national contexts. By placing them in direct dialogue, however, this series aims to offer a closer examination of the subtle dynamics that underpin nations with a shared heritage, but entirely divergent histories of expansion, engagement, and exploitation.

The 2018/19 series will be organised according to settler colonial space, and alternate between British and ‘local’ productions. We begin in Australia, with Ealing Studios’ first contact narrative Bitter Springs (Ralph Smart, 1950) on 13 November 2018, followed by iconic New Wave film Sunday Too Far Away (Ken Hannam, 1975) on 4 December 2018. From there, the focus will shift to Canada, with a screening of Rocky Mountains frontier drama Campbell’s Kingdom (Ralph Thomas, 1957) on 5 February 2019, and the first fiction feature by the Canadian National Film Board, The Drylanders (Don Haldane, 1963) on 5 March 2019. Our series concludes with a focus on Aotearoa New Zealand, with colonial adventure film The Seekers (Ken Annakin, 1954) on 2 April 2019, before the stark vision of Te Kooti’s War offered in Utu (Geoff Murphy, 1984) on 7 May 2019 rounds out the series.

All screenings will be held at King’s College London, and will begin with a short contextual introduction by myself, followed by the film and an open group discussion. These screenings are free, and open to all, but advance booking is necessary. Also, whilst you must register for individual screenings, we would also encourage attendees to attend the entire screening series, where possible, in order to fully engage with the material under discussion and gain a good understanding of the transnational contexts under discussion. After the final screening, we hope to round the series out with a panel discussion and drinks reception, with speakers still to be confirmed.

I look forward to welcoming you to the 2018/19 Menzies Screening Series.