In October 2020, the NFSA presented an online screening of shorts from Blue-Tongue Films – one of the most exciting forces to emerge from the world of independent cinema. The event was followed by a Q&A with two of the collective’s principal creatives, Nash Edgerton and David Michôd, and NFSA Curator Nathan Smith:
While contention surrounds the origins of the name 'Blue-Tongue Films', Nash Edgerton attributes the title to his (and his younger brother Joel's) childhood pet lizard. Nash – a well-known director, writer and stuntperson – makes the point that Blue-Tongue is not exactly a company, with shared profits, or a true cinematic movement that adheres to specific rules and aesthetics (such as Denmark's Dogme 95). Instead, it is a loosely jointed Australian moviemaking collective, comprising old friends who stick together through thick and thin and who perform varying jobs between films.
Key members are Nash and Joel Edgerton, Mirrah Foulkes, Sean Kruck, Spencer Susser, Kieran Darcy-Smith, David Michôd and Luke Doolan. Between them, they have produced many acclaimed features of the past decade, including: Hesher (Spencer Susser, 2010); Wish You Were Here (Kieran Darcy-Smith, 2012); The Rover (David Michôd, 2014); The Gift (Joel Edgerton, 2015) and The King (David Michôd, 2019).
Perhaps Blue-Tongue's most recognised work, however, is Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010), which won an impressive 10 AFI/AACTA Awards and performed brilliantly at the Australian box office. Loosely inspired by Melbourne's 1988 'Walsh Street murders', the film's visuals and narrative convey a tone of naturalism and a fascination with the detail of criminal enterprise.
This approach combines with an expressionistic use of sound and music to deliver what ASO curator Lynden Barber describes as 'an intense drama centred on the psychology and power dynamics at play in a criminal clan'. Jacki Weaver's chilling performance as the head matriarch of the crime family won her an Oscar nomination:
Nash Edgerton's breakout feature The Square (Nash Edgerton, 2008) is a neo-noir crime drama that unfolds in a leafy southern-Sydney suburb. The film focuses on married construction manager Ray (David Roberts), who has as an affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom). After committing a crime, the two become embroiled in a dangerous web of lies and deceit. The film also stars Joel Edgerton, who has since featured in a number of Hollywood blockbusters.
In addition to the Q&A, we also screened several of the collective's well-known shorts, including Lucky (Nash Edgerton, 2005); Netherland Dwarf (David Michôd, 2008); The Captain (Nash Edgerton and Spencer Susser, 2013) and Trespass (Mirrah Foulkes, 2016). You can see glimpses of several of these films in the following trailer:
Another thought-provoking – and indeed sobering – film screened on the night was Miracle Fish (Luke Doolan, 2009), which explores themes of bullying and alienation. The film centres on eight-year-old Joe, attending school on his birthday. After being bullied by other children, he sneaks off to the sickbay, wishing everyone in the world would disappear.
He wakes up to find his dream may have become a reality, though we quickly realise that he has found himself in the midst of a horrific school shooting. Joe then meets the gunman in a classroom – and parallels emerge between Joe and the shooter's own upbringing. The film was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the Academy Awards and can be viewed on the Blue-Tongue website.
By contrast, the short film Florence Has Left the Building (Mirrah Foulkes, 2014), is a funny, heartwarming and at times crude comedy about an unlikely friendship – a friendship sparked through misery and sealed in a shared will to survive.
The story takes place at an annual Christmas Eve concert at the Marigold House Assisted Living Facility. Surrounded by dying friends, the foul-mouthed Florence (Jacki Weaver) wants out. When the facility books two rival Elvis impersonators, she takes the opportunity to escape for one last hurrah.
One of the key takeaways from the various films and the Q&A that followed was the power of collaboration and the importance of surrounding oneself with likeminded creatives who can motivate and assist with the different phases of production. Nash and David, for instance, describe the snowballing effect regarding media attention when three members showcased their films at the Sundance Film Festival one year.
And the two Blue-Tongue filmmakers emphasise that while film promotion is key to festival circuit success, it's much easier to sell a mate's film than one's own. In these ways, the Blue-Tongue experience suggests that in filmmaking, the collective proves greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Main image: James Frecheville, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Joel Edgerton and Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010).