Australian music docos are having a moment.
The global trend in documentaries and literature towards non-fiction and sharing of journeys has not bypassed Australia.
It’s suggested that the pandemic lockdown and trauma saw music fans reach more for engaging with the struggles and life experiences of another individual, especially a cultural hero.
The five Australian music documentaries here also incorporate the buzzword “impact space”, in different ways reflecting how social change can only be achieved through strategy.
Their approach to a keyhole view of pop culture is diverse; from fly-on-the-wall to adopting the grainy home movie look.
Of the five, some got delayed until this year due to COVID, others are finding new leases of life as the entertainment sector reawakens.
1. Age Of Rage – The Australian Punk Revolution
Writer/Director: Jennifer Ross
Producer: Jennifer Ross / Ten Speed Films
Twelve years ago, Jennifer Ross made a decision: “There was so much material on punk overseas and we didn’t have a definitive document about Australian punk.”
She started by contacting people she met in punk clubs during her teenage days.
Through social media buzz, up to 120 offered memories, photos and archives.
Ross ended up with 150 hours of tape, which had to be whittled to one hour and 22 minutes.
Certain themes recur from these interviews.
One identifies how punk scenes differed, through the isolation of Perth and Adelaide, the surf influence of Sydney, the buoyancy of Melbourne and the blatant political oppression of Brisbane.
Another is that Australian punk wasn’t as political as its U.K. cousin, its starting point was more about overcoming personal isolationism and creating a new reality.
But when the mainstream lashed back, many became political in how they effected change.
“Age Of Rage” covers all bases: the ideology, the music, the social issues, the community, the violence, the drugs, the police harassment and the DIY ethos.
It ends as a celebration of how many of its identities “had the gumption and the get-up-and-go with the motivation to change their world and the world around them,” Ross says.
Premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival this month, the doco sends a message of hope and vision to a new generation currently emerging through its own COVID isolation.
2. In Heart’s Wake: Green Is The New Black
Directors: Jake Taylor, Caleb Graham
Producer: Jake Taylor, Earthwalker, UNFD
“Green Is The New Black” chronicles the making of Byron Bay heavy rock band In Hearts Wake’s 100% carbon offset 2020 album Kaliyuga and their journey to become a certified Carbon Neutral Organisation with a search for more sustainable options.
It’s already screened around Australia, and in Los Angeles, Toronto and London.
This month the project takes another step, with the release of its 20-song soundtrack on UNFD which included new songs penned for it.
This month, they embark on a 27-date tour with RedHook, Pridelands and Banks Arcade.
3. Pub: The Movie
Director: Andrew Leavold
Co-Producer: Jonathan Sequeira
Over 30 years, Melbourne cultural provocateur Fred Negro captured St. Kilda’s bohemian and fringe community through his Pub comic and lyrics of his bands I Spit On Your Gravy, Brady Bunch Lawnmower Massacre and Fuck Fucks.
Brisbane filmmaker Leavold captures Negro’s spirit via live footage, photos and insights from Tim Rogers (“most intriguing baffling inspiring character I’ve ever met”), Greg Macainsh and Paul Stewart of Painters & Dockers.
Premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Leavold regards it as a historical document. With the suburb increasingly gentrified, “those pockets of grunge that gave St Kilda its disreputable character, its very essence of being, exist as tiny pockets of True Believers.”
4. This Much I know To Be True Feat. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Director: Andrew Dominik
Producer: Uncommon Creative Studios
Shooting on location in London and Brighton in 2021, Andrew Dominik uses both his technical skills and long-time friendship with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis to tap with power and grace into their relationship as they work on their “Carnage” and the Bad Seeds’ “Ghosteen” albums.
The songs come to life with accompaniment by singers and a string quartet, an appearance by Marianne Faithfull and on-the-go explanations.
Highlights are Cave explaining the process behind ‘The Red Hand Files’—the letters he chooses to answer and the replies themselves – and a visit to a workshop as he creates a series of sculptures depicting the life of the Devil.
After its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, “This Much I Know To Be True” hit global cinemas on May 11 through Trafalgar Releasing.
5. Backyard To The Bowl – 10 Years Of Reminisce
Directors: Joe Nappa, Jack Clemens, Lucas Sagesse
Producer: Joe Nappa, Bruno Vallarino
In April 2011, besties Corey Topp and Mark Middo held a backyard party in Frankston, Melbourne, with 30 friends.
The format was for the 30 to vote for their favourite classic house songs of all time and then mix the top 50 in a countdown format.
Over the years, Reminisce grew with business partners Sean Rault and Hardware Group to play Myer Music Bowl before 10,000 ravers.
An early version of the documentary screened at the March 19, 2022, show with Armand Van Helden, Example, Inner City and John Course.
Says Topp, “The production was awesome, the people behind it took it to a whole new level. The thing with Reminisce is that it has a totally different ambience to the festivals.
“People react loudly when the song they nominated comes up, and obviously the event gets louder and louder as the countdown comes nearer to the end.”
Since then, footage from 2022 was included for its streaming release.