The biennial conference of the Film and History Association of Australia and New Zealand (FHAANZ) provides an opportunity for film historians, theoreticians, filmmakers and archivists to absorb new perspectives and to interact through a variety of presentations and events.
The 16th FHAANZ conference, held in Melbourne 2-5 December, was hosted by Victoria University, La Trobe University and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). In addition to five keynote speakers, a total of 30 panels were organised into three streams tackling the themes Animal Ethics and Human Rights on Screen, Decolonising Screen Memory, and Speculative Screen Histories. The conference opened with a tour of the Screen Worlds exhibition at ACMI and a screening of the animal ethics-related documentary Project Nim (James Marsh, UK/USA, 2011).
Where most of the previous five FHAANZ conferences I had attended ran their panels across widely separated venues, this one concentrated all its panels on a single floor of Victoria University’s Flinders Street campus, enabling plenty of interaction between delegates during breaks. Aside from the Australian faces I’d known before, there was a lively bunch of New Zealanders delivering papers on their early and recent cinema, the history and philosophy of NZ film archiving, and on Maori television.
The most rewarding papers for me were those that explored specific films or genres. Annabel Cooper’s paper on Rudall Hayward’s New Zealand Wars film The Te Kooti Trail (1927) told of the circumstances and outcomes of negotiated Maori involvement in that film, besides exploring the film’s long term and enduring significance for Maori people. James Bennett, with Indigenous Anzacs and Screen Memory, looked at the screen invisibility of the several hundred Aboriginal servicemen who served during the First World War; Stephen Gaunson explored the international characteristics of certain Australian silent-era features; and Mark David Ryan revealed the results of a recent Australian screen industry survey with The Australian Screen Producer: Understanding Screen Production Cultures in a Period of Industrial Transition.
There was acknowledgement of the long-term influence of documentary pioneer and theorist John Grierson on national cinemas (David Newman’s paper, Grierson, New Zealand and the Origins of the National Film Library, and Deane Williams’ The Grierson Cinema), of previously little-known connections between the white and Indigenous people of Yass, NSW, and Charles Chauvel’s feature film Jedda (1955), and the historical and cultural context of the feature-length documentary The Queen in Australia (1954), produced by the Australian National Film Board, later Film Australia.