Thursday, January 21, 2016

(Re)writing Three Point Turn

You might have noticed that I post usually every three weeks. That's generally the length of time between posts when I feel the itch to write or compose a few words. Not this month.

Redrafting my feature film Three Point Turn to a deadline, I've had to roll my sleeves up and got to work like a farmer at harvest time.

Writing every day is so different to life as I usually live it and so completely different from any other January I've had that it almost feel like I tripped and slipped into a parallel universe.

My other work, all of my other work, has been put on hold. I have children but they have a nanny, aka Stevie, on duty all summer. My only obligation is to write five pages a day.

Sounds so easy! It's. So. Hard. For starters I'm an extrovert. What am I doing sitting in a room alone all day, even half a day? I have come to think of my office – an eco oasis nestled looking out over Merri Creek – as a (very productive) prison. I've started to wonder if I am a genuine masochist.

And I am not writing in total isolation. I have a team, a crack team (executive producer Tony Ayres, producers Tania Chambers and Verity Fitzgerald, director Maziar Lahooti and script editor Matthew Dabner - they are an excellent, smart and kind hearted bunch). I have a lot of good fortune to have them on my side.

Of all the genres of writing I do – blogging, art writing, reviewing –  screenwriting is the most mysterious.

Even on days that it has me completely beat, days when I crawl home, lie prostate on the couch, pinch the area between my eyes and make small moaning sounds, moments I am a suffering animal, it has my attention.

Breakthroughs – writing a good scene, rewriting a scene so it reads better, rearranging scenes so that the plotting is tighter –  are rarer. Those hard-won moments bring me a terrific sense of satisfaction. They are not, however, what keep me rooted to the keyboard.

Curiosity with its little friend Tenacity keeps me writing even when I am beset by doubts and fears. I have an ambition to write a truthful, moving, and elegant story. I just keep at it: trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing until, hopefully, one day, I succeed.

Image: Lee Grant, part of the Sudanese Portraits series.

Monday, December 14, 2015


I'm tapping this out at my dining table surrounded by the detritus of Christmas a little overloaded, over excited and more than a bit over it. I am staggered by the amount of social obligation sandwiched between work responsibilities not to mention a host of free floating ideas from early 2015 that want to assert themselves right now, propelled by a motor that seems entirely independent of my conscious will.

Even as things get hectic both internally and externally I am finding myself undertaking a process of reflection of the year just past (hard-as). Rather than filling me with any particular sorrow, I am mostly overwhelmed by my sense of gratitude for good friends and the enormous care and love that has been shown to me and my peeps (hospital visitors, you especially). Amazingly, there's still been time and inclination for celebration. The very best moment  has been hosting a bbq for family and close friends this past week in the dustbowl of our backyard (water colour scene above captured by guest and artist Piers Lumley).

The kids were the best. Fresh memories of children snaking out the kitchen patiently waiting for a scoop of ice cream in a cone have been keeping me strong through Christmas elf duties that involve malls and the CBD and the mail which includes the Medican Sans Frontiers magazine Pulse. This issue opens with an editorial about the Coalition forces bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanastan. Honestly, fuck those cunts and the havoc they wreck.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


On Friday I heard Courtney Barnett's single 'Depreston' for the first time. I know what you're thinking. Am I living under some kind of rock? I'm last to hear anything and everything, my music know-how so low, since my car radio is tuned to Fox, PBS and Radio National depending on my companions and my own state of mind.

I'd been hearing good things about Barnett's album and its barnstorming ways up charts here and in the States so my response to hearing her now award-winning song surprised me. I liked it but I think I expected a bigger song, instrumentally and its canvas, though press articles about the "telling detail" in her writing should have alerted me to the fact that specificity – being attuned to the spaces, places and emotional texture of life at this point in time as a 30something north sider – is her thing. She sings about going to an open for inspection in the now gentrified former working class suburb of Preston with a light, comic touch, though the subtext of the song is economics.  I wondered whether 'Depreston' has struck a chord with people because of its truthfulness: on the subject of Preston we are in total agreement.

In life we are rarely given the opportunity to feel into another person's inner world, even our family and friends remain essentially mysterious. That inner world is the place where working life intersects with intimacy and love, the place where our bank balance and our aspirations face one another. This is the the land of self-talk, a patter that veers between hopefulness and resignation that circles around questions of self-worth and the material. Some days it veers off towards questions of security and safety, other days it strays towards worries over power and influence but it always begins and ends with the question: how much is enough?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Louisa Bufardeci: The Sea Between A and I

Louisa Bufardeci's exhibition The Sea Between A and I (as in Australia and Indonesia) opened on Saturday at Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. The artworks – all needlepoint on a fibreglass screen – make reference to maritime disasters, sunken boats and the plight of desperate people risking their lives to make the perilous journey across the seas. Bufardeci has used Google Earth to pinpoint the precise coordinates of eight of these tragedies and crafted intense and abstract forms in gradations of blue. They invoke the swirl of meteorological matter, weather charts and thermal imaging, though in this instance in place of heat associated with living, breathing organisms  these works speak of the opposite – death itself.

The real events described in Bufardeci's artworks felt very far away on that sunny Saturday afternoon. I felt very graciously welcomed into the gallery where I was not only offered a Campari after climbing the stairs but the monkeys even had a room set aside for art making. I was surrounded by some pretty lovely people, some of whom I knew. The opening speaker, human rights lawyer David Manne gave a considered, moving address. It was long sure, though not overly, and given the subject matter it felt appropriate: my legs were bearing less stress than the asylum seekers. Manne drew on statistics on the number of displaced persons around the world, recounted the lack of detail in reporting of asylum seeker journeys and drew a line between that and the abstracted language of Bufardeci's needlepoints. For someone who admitted he hadn't written about art since year 11, to my eye some twenty five years earlier, it was a perceptive observation.

If you are wondering whether there is a market for these kind of works, the entire show sold to the NGV before the exhibition opened. Not only was the work well crafted, but topical. I felt very pleased for the artist with whom I share a personal connection (we both have girls in the same class at school). It was only afterwards, on the journey home that I felt growing ambivalence. The work and its backstory forces us to consider uncomfortable truths about the country we live in and the world at large. But in the space that opens up afterwards, what resides there other than Guilt and Shame, and possibly Anger. Is there anything wrong with turning tragedy into art and those art objects into dollars? Is it worse to not make that art? Does not making the art only mirror the silence that characterises the government and media on this 'issue'. I just don't know.

Louisa Bufardeci
The Sea Between A and I
17 October - 11 November 2015
Anna Schwartz Gallery
185 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Gayby Baby

We always get to a film during school holidays. The obvious choice would have been Oddball, the new Australian film about the unlikely friendship between a penguin and a labrador, but Otto – already ten years of age – remembered the trailer for Gayby Baby (Maya Newell, 2015) from our Jim Henson fest at the Nova some time back, and had it in his sights. I could see its appeal. The documentary features four kids aged between 9 and eleven as they navigate life – school work, sibling relationships and passions – in family's with same sex parents. It tells the story of Gus, Ebony, Graham and Matt, and their relationship with themselves, their parents and the world outside their font door as they negotiate acceptance and their own sense of belonging.

In each of the stories Newell has found a satisfying narrative: Gus' campaign to persuade his mums to accept his passion for crazy-ass WWF wrestling; Ebony's audition and hopes to be accepted into a socially progressive performing arts high school; Graham's struggles with literacy, the legacy of a heartbreaking early childhood; and Matt's unenviable situation – working out whether he believes in Jesus when his church considers his mother, a lesbian and full-on Christian, a sin against God.

I was expecting an interesting film but I was surprised by its beauty. Newell's sure sense of craft is evident at every level, from casting to cinematography, editing and sound. Gayby Baby also uses setting to create contrast: messy bedrooms, rain soaked sports ovals, the fecund tropical gardens of Fiji. Newell's approach to narrative – focusing on change and moving between the individual and collective, the private to public – borrows from fiction films to superb effect.

The drama is not in the same-sex relationships: the relationships represented, what we see of them, are all loving and functional. It's in the struggles all parents of children face: negotiating difference, relegating resources, providing support and boundary setting. What stays with me – other than the kids irrepressible sense of fun – is the ordinary and yet moving portraits of family life, the love and hopes that parents have for their children and what effort familial love inspires. Gayby Baby finishes on an uplifting note and the joyful celebration of Madi Gras. No shame. The shame is mine, for this country and its cruel, outdated laws.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Reader lunch: sharing is living

I was reminded of the value of celebration this week. Bringing friends together in the name of an occasion – five years blogging – at the outstanding Cafe di Stasio was memorable fun. I'm pretty certain that a long lunch is the definition of civility. Really. Great company, delicious food, good wine and sparkling conversation is simple confirmation that sharing is living.

 Thanks to Obus, Marmoset Found and Ruby Pilven for their role in making the day extra special. I felt like Santa handing out gift bags with these awesome goodies. If you missed out this time, I'm planning the ten year event already. Be at the ready. If you would like a copy of the limited edition sweetpolka publication (a 24 page trip down memory lane) it can be yours for $10 + postage. Email

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Right To Know

This week I sat in front of 20 Preps studying Journeys and told them the story of our family's migration to Australia from Poland when I was precisely their age. I had their rapt attention. It's that kind of story, which includes our family separated across continents, my father's trip by boat to Africa, my mother's escape from Poland with four small children over the mountains in an unreliable car and our eventual reunion in Vienna before the long journey by plane to Australia. 

My own background as a refugee was one of the reasons I was so glad to participate in Red Cross' exhibition, The Right To Know, which tells eight stories of family separation and reunion thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross Tracing Service. It's difficult not to be moved by the stories of sadness, longing and loss told so achingly concisely. 

Designer Cate Hall and I worked on the project out of her backyard studio calling out measurements to each other against a background of children's voices, and Cate's large, doleful black rabbit hopping silently around the yard.

It was the beginning of winter. There was a birth – beautiful Nina in Adelaide – and the shock of Otto's diagnosis of diabetes to contend with the week the artwork was due at the printers. To be honest I was grateful for the chance to lose myself in meaningful work. I laid out photographs of Emmanuel – his warm, positive and dignified face – alongside quotes that were horrifying in their meaning. His story begins: "I was only 14 years old when my family members were killed, when I witnessed that mass killing." 

Moving graphic elements around millimetre by millimetre in Illustrator and changing pixels sizes in Photoshop, I felt fate's cruel hand: good and bad fortune, historical and geographical forces. What choice do we have but to keep moving forward one foot in front of the other? 

Immigration Museum
400 Flinders Street, Melbourne
Until 25 October 2015