Four men operating a film projector

Amateur Cine Societies

World Home Movie Day 2021: Amateur Cine Societies

World Home Movie Day 2021
 Heather Gill

For World Home Movie Day 2021, we are highlighting 3 amateur cine societies through films made by their members.

Amateur cine societies provided enthusiastic home movie makers with opportunities for coming together where they could learn, experiment, compete and make friends. Their shared hobby saw them grow ever more skilful with the language of film – framing, panning, plotting, adding titles, editing, and supplying narration and music.

Victorian Amateur Cine Society

Established in 1936, the Victorian Amateur Cine Society (VACS) had a program that featured guest speakers, technical nights, film screenings and committee nights. They sponsored the participation of 9 other cine societies to attend the Olinda Film Festival in 1952, which proved the catalyst for forming the Federation of Australian Amateur Cine Societies (FAACS), an organisational body for film societies. The VACS building in Fitzroy stills bears their later name, Victorian Movie Makers, despite being sold by the group in 2002.

Alan Bresnahan was an active member of VACS for over 60 years. Below is a clip from his film Singapore Synopsis, shot in 1971:

Alan Bresnahan's Singapore Synopsis, 1971. Please note: this clip is silent. NFSA title: 563237

Bresnahan favoured travelogues, and often added narration and commercially released music to the footage in the belief there was a licence in place for such use. While the majority of his home movies were shot in Australia, Singapore Synopsis is an exception. It was filmed in 1971, the same year Qantas started flying the Boeing 747, making international travel by plane accessible to more Australians. Bresnahan’s footage not only shows a city in transition, but provides insight into the interests of an Australian tourist sightseeing overseas. 

Another member of the Victorian Amateur Cine Society was Ernest Singer – read more about him and view some of his home movies.

Adelaide Filmo Club

Established in 1938 by PT Moody, the Adelaide Filmo Club (AFC) had monthly screenings at their meetings, as well as lectures, practical demonstrations and an annual competition. Their club slogan was 'We film what we see, come and see what we film'. They published a bi-monthly magazine from 1947 called Viewfinder, with issues continuing until 2009. Members took trips around Australia together, caravans in tow. The AFC was one of the 9 founding clubs of FAACS at the 1952 Olinda Film Festival – along with VACS, the Australian Amateur Cine Club (Sydney) and the South Australia Amateur Cine Society. 

AFC members collaborated on The New Car, a comedic film exploring an historical narrative:

The Adelaide Filmo Club's The New Car, 1953. NFSA title: 330695. Please note: this footage was supplied to the NFSA on VHS tape.

The clip starts in the early 1900s with the owners of a new car excited to go on a group picnic. However, their inexperience results in them needing to push the car back home – actually, the historic homestead Cummins in Morphettville, South Australia, where the footage was shot. We then see a man wake up in 1953, moving as if operating the car. His reading material has influenced the dream sequence we have just seen, along with the excitement of the day – a new Jaguar is about to be delivered!

The 1953 film uses its early 1900s scenes to reflect on changes in fashion and technology in the intervening decades. AFC members play onscreen roles in the film, which was also common in their productions. View another clip from The New Car and read more about the film.

Darling Downs Amateur Cine Society

The Darling Downs Amateur Cine Society was established in 1952 and is still active, now known as the Darling Downs Movie Makers. Don Featherstone was a founding member of the original Cine Society and is arguably the most successful and best-known member. There is even a memorial trophy named after him. He worked a number of jobs, but filmmaking proved a constant companion after he purchased a second-hand camera in 1926.

The opening credits of Featherstone's film Bush Critics (below) boasts a 'D for Don' with a feather through the middle, mimicking established film production studios displaying their logo on commercially released feature films. The watercolours used in the opening titles are credited to Don and stylistically match the watercolours featured through the film:

Don Featherstone's, Bush Critics, 1961. Please note: this clip is silent. NFSA title: 62964

The shots directly after the credits in Bush Critics establish the location and the protagonist. As the artist decides what to paint, the changing perspectives cleverly suggest he is being assessed or surveilled by the local inhabitants (while, in reality, they are the ones being filmed).

This film is silent despite the availability for over a decade of magstripe along the non-perforated edge of 16mm films providing synchronised sound. At the end of the clip, we see Featherstone playing with technique, as he almost appears in his own painting when the footage of his painted landscape dissolves into the filmed landscape.

With Bush Critics Featherstone elevates home movies by combining crowd-pleasing shots of koalas with a genuine story arc. This is all the more impressive when you consider that he would have needed to craft the story based on what footage he could record of the koalas. The film was screened by FAACS at their Second Australian Film Program in 1968.

The NFSA preserves 70 films associated with these and other film societies, although the number may be higher as many home movies are not donated by the filmmakers themselves. You can also find films from these societies at state libraries and the Australian Centre of the Moving Image.

Main image: Victorian Amateur Cine Society, 1948. Courtesy: Alan Bresnahan. NFSA title: 594173