Steven Ball
Marie Craven
Solrun Hoaas
Daryl Dellora

Melbourne independent filmmakers

Leo Berkeley
Giorgio Mangiamele
Michael Buckley
Moira Joseph
 
     


John Cumming
(John Stuart Cumming)

b. August 10 1959, Yallourn, Australia.

BIOGRAPHY:   John Cumming has made several short 16mm films and documentaries and numerous videos. He started making Super 8 films at Swinburne Community School, spent 1978 at Swinburne Film and Television School, then studied drama and media at Rusden (now Deakin). The trilogy of short films (Obsession, Recognition, Sabotage) was completed with a small grant from the AFC. Headfirst and Understanding Asperger Syndrome were made on film with some corporate sponsorship. First Time Tragedy, Second Time Farce, collectively produced with Jane Madsen and London video artist James Swinson, had some funding from Film Victoria.

 


Throughout the 1990s Cumming worked with a Hi-8 camcorder on a number of unfunded projects including extensive documentation of the work of an aboriginal historian, linguist, and educator, Robert Mate-Mate, and the poet, Christopher Barnett. The self-reflexive Hollow Centre and Spaces also emerged from this period.

In the 1980s, Cumming was secretary and then chairperson of the Independent Film Action Committee (IFAC), a programmer with Fringe Network and founder of the St. Kilda Filmmakers Association. In the 1990s, he was on the editorial committee of Filmnews, worked with Open Channel, Remote Area Media, Koorie Media Association and, in Adelaide, the filmmaking cooperative Co-Media. From this involvement came extensive articles and presentations on the state of independent film and video culture across Australia. At LaTrobe University recently, he wrote a masters thesis in Cinema Studies that traces shifts in Melbourne independent film and video culture in the period 1968 to 1998 through the work of Melbourne documentary filmmaker John Hughes.  Cumming is currently working on a book for the AFI/ATOM, Moving Image series about Hughes’s films.

Cumming has worked in many areas of the film industry on features, educational, community and corporate films, television commercials and music clips. He operated camera for Daryl Dellora's Against the Innocent (1986), and worked on the Australian scenes in Peter Watkins' epic trans-national anti-nuclear film The Journey (Watkins, 1986). Cumming taught filmmaking at Rusden from 1985 to 1989 and Lectured at the University of Technology Sydney in 1990. In the 1990s he worked at the VCA, was a producer with Navigator films, and taught cinema and media at La Trobe University. He returned to Deakin part-time in 1997 and, from 1999 to 2004, also held a part-time Lecturing position in Media Arts at the University of Melbourne's School of Creative Arts. In 2005 John returned to fulltime lecturing at Deakin. He lives in Footscray with actor and theatre director Yoni Prior. Their son, Reuben, was born in 1999.



 
 
Obsession

CRITICAL OVERVIEW:   The relationship between politics and consciousness and questions of identity are constant themes in my work. It mixes and moves between the conventions of documentary, dramatic and avant-garde filmmaking. Each project is an experiment in the dynamics of realism and artifice: identity captured and identity performed. The trilogy Obsession, Recognition, Sabotage (1981-87, 61 mins) explores ideas about masculinity - as does the collaboration with Peter Tammer Himself-Herself (1994, 75 mins). Obsession ends with a question to the audience: "Do you want to get out?" Headfirst (1987-90, 46 mins) and Understanding Asperger Syndrome (2000, 25 mins) deal with identity and social expectation in the context of abnormal brain function. First Time Tragedy, Second Time Farce (1987-89, 75 mins), looks at the construction of national identity, and dissent, around the Australian Bicentennial celebrations.

Process is an important aspect in all these films. Obsession employs in-camera effects to explore the material qualities of celluloid and video. Recognition and Sabotage are ensemble pieces, while Headfirst and First Time Tragedy, Second Time Farce were made collectively. There are elements of scripted and improvised performance in all the films and each had a long gestation through extensive montage and post-production sound work. The unfunded Hi-8 documentary work of the 1990s is highly improvisational but was limited by tape-based editing. Robert Mate-Mate (1993) exists in a draft form only and Christopher Barnett (1994-98) remains incomplete. That decade of privatization, was one of personal and cultural struggle. The Hollow Centre (1999) tries to trace this existentially. The two-screen, film-video performance turns the camera upon the self and etches video back onto film (as in Obsession). Spaces (1999) marks an effort to emerge from this self-referential trap by talking to others. In turn, they sometimes feel that their identity is being trapped.

- John Cumming, June 2004

See also Selected Quotes from reviews


FILMOGRAPHY:

 
 
Recognition

Somewhere Over the Hill (1974, 5 mins, Super 8)

Five Hundred Fiats (1975, 5 mins, Super 8)

All You Need is Love (1976, 3 mins, Super 8 animation)

Spook (1977, 10 mins, b&w 1/2 inch video with Gary James)

White Riot (1977, 3 mins, b&w slide/tape show)

Join the Reaction (1978, 1 min, 16mm)

Nigel from the Hospital (1978, 10 mins, b&w 1/2 inch video)

Two Characters in Search of a Camera (1982, 10 mins, 3/4 inch U-matic video)

What's in Store for '84 (1983, 12 mins, 3/4 inch U-matic video)

Video on Video (1984, 8 mins, 3/4 inch U-matic video)

 
 
Sabotage

Obsession (1981-85, 24 mins, b&w 16mm)

Recognition (1982-86, 21 mins, 16mm)

Sabotage (1983-87, 16 mins, b&w 16mm)

First Time Tragedy, Second Time Farce (1987-89, 75 mins, 16mm, co-dirs. Jane Madsen, James Swinson)

Nurses Strike (1989, 15 mins, Super 8, co-dir. Jane Madsen)

Headfirst (1987-90, 47 mins, 16mm - Producer, Co-directed by a collective of 13 Media students)

Robert Mate-Mate (1994, 20 mins, Hi-8 video/VHS)

Himself-Herself (1994, 75 mins, video, co-dir. Peter Tammer)

Christopher Barnett (1994-98, incomplete, Hi-8)

The Hollow Centre (1999, 10 mins, 2 screens, 16mm & Hi-8 video)

Spaces (1999, 20 mins, Hi-8 video)

Understanding Asperger Syndrome (2000, 25 mins, 16mm/SP-Beta, written and co-produced by Prof. Margot Prior)


SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY:
 
 
The Hollow Centre

Writings on John Cumming's work:

Rodgers, J. "Film forum a chance to see at at freshest", The Richmond Times, 4 October 1985.

Bunbury, S., "A glance through the fringe", The Age, 4 October 1985.

Windmill, C., "Fine fare from the fringe", The Emerald Hill & Sandridge Times, 10 October 1985.

McMurchy, M. and Stott, J., "Obsession/Recognition/Sabotage", Signs of Independence: Ten Years of the Creative Development Fund, AFC, Sydney, 1988, p 87.

Martin, A., "Indefinite Objects: Independent Film and Video", The Australian Screen, Eds. Albert Moran and Tom O'Regan, Penguin, 1989, pp 172 - 190 (cited on p 184).

Wright, G., "Independent film makers in focus", The Melbourne Times, 12 September 1990, p 17.

McNeil, S., "The Nostalgia Thing", Filmnews, October 1990, p 13.

Harris, J., "We all have story to tell", The News, Adelaide, 3 April 1990.

Craven, M., "Silver Delirium/Crimes and Confessions: An Australian film and video retrospective program 1985-1995", catalogue notes.

Cumming, J., "Trilogy of Trouble", Cantrills Filmnotes #91/92, December 1998, p 62-71.

De Bruyn, D., "Traumatising States", Artlink, Vol 19 No 3, 2000, p 50.

Wilson, J., "The Mousoulis vision of independence", RealTime OnScreen #63 Oct/Nov, 2004, p 19. (This national arts broadsheet, is also available at online, as is this particular article.)

Mousoulis, B., "Avant, 50 years of underground filmmaking in Melbourne", Melbourne Underground Film Festival program 2004, p 22-23.

Selected Quotes from reviews


Writings on film by John Cumming:

Cumming, J. (ed), Film & Video Programme, Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival, 1983.

Cumming, J. (ed), META, National Association of Independent Filmmakers, Brisbane, 1984.

Cumming, J. Why be part of an Independent lobby group?", Hands-On, Sydney, 1985.

Cumming, J. "Mini Theories:Film and Video Education in Australia", Artlink, Spring, 1991, pp 26-27.

Cumming, J. "Why Not Fund People Who Make Films", in Filmnews, June 1991.

Cumming, J. "Submission, Federal House of Representatives", Moving pictures Inquiry, 1991.

Cumming, J. "History Matters", Film Views, November 1986.

Cumming, J. Co Media Five Year Development and Management Plan, Co-media and the Australian Film Commission, 1991.

Cumming, J. "Perplexities:Experimenta 1992", Artlink, March 1993, pp 61-62.

Cumming, J. "Independent Film & Video and Community TV" Community and Independent Television, Metro TV, 1993.

Cumming, J. "Hidden Treasures", Filmnews, July 1995.

Cumming, J. "A Century of Cinema", Filmnews, June 1995.

Cumming, J. "Book Review: A History of Experimental Film and Video by A. L. Rees", in Media International Australia: Culture and Policy, No 95 May 2000, pp 277-78.


SELECTED CONFERENCE PAPERS:

Cumming, J. "Ethics of Alternative Arts Structure", Sculpture '85, Melbourne, 1985.

Cumming, J. "Lifestyle and Death in the Australian Film Desert" Indigenous & Regional Strand, Film Policy Conference, Griffith University, Brisbane, 1991.

Cumming, J. "Film Cooperative and Access Video Movements as Trans-National Cultural Practice", Film and History Association 11th Biennial Conference, Flinders University, 2002.

Cumming, J. "From Crystals to Pixels: New technology in the documentary work of John Hughes", 12th Biennial Conference of the Film and History Association of Australia and New Zealand, ScreenSound Australia National Screen and Sound Archive, December 2004.


John Cumming, April 2009.

Contact John Cumming

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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis