Steven Ball
Marie Craven
Solrun Hoaas
Daryl Dellora

Melbourne independent filmmakers

Leo Berkeley
Giorgio Mangiamele
Michael Buckley
Moira Joseph

John Cumming


Selected quotes from reviews

Obsession (1981-5)

"In some ways, (this) film is about a man and his car: fixing it, driving it, worrying over it. In others it is a sinister investigation of society's definition of the individual." (Stephanie Bunbury, The Age, 4 October 1985)

"A car is the object of Cumming's desire, a metaphoric vehicle in the journey to psycho-social paradise, but actualisation seems not what it's cracked-up to be. ... The film ends with the question 'Do you want to get out?' It is madness and 'yeah, right here will be fine'." (Jordan Rodgers, The Richmond Times, 1 October 1985)

"The film is beautifully photographed in black-and-white. It also features the best use of video manipulations I have seen in a film." (Chris Windmill, The Emerald Hill & Sandridge Times, 10 October 1985)

"Rarely has the death-loving thrall of driving been rendered with such kinetic allure. Yet the film also uses its subject to mount a grim analysis of the way identity is offered, mass-produced (one could say even mechanised) within our larger social structures. There is a distinctive, metallic humour in the film." (Marie Craven, Silver Delirium, 1995)

Obsession screened at Experimenta (Melbourne1996), Cinematografia Invitada Week of Experimental Cinema, Madrid (Spain 1994), Westworld Stories programme, Metro Mania (MIMA/FTI, Perth 1989), Indian Film and Television Institute (Puna India 1985), London University Extra Mural Studies Department, Sheffield Film Co-op, Sheffield Polytechnic, Humberside College Hull (U.K. 1985), Camera Plurielles (Lyon, France 1985), Collective for Living Cinema (New York, NY, U.S.A 1986), UCLA (California, U.S.A. 1986) and Melbourne International Film Festival (Australia 1985).

Obsession is represented in the film collections of: Screensound Australia and The National Library of Australia.


"In the beginning ... (sic) A wordless political allegory in which the Hero emerges into a surreal terrain - a tract on the terra incognito of male sexuality which traverses the frontiers and archetypes of modern psychological history." (Melbourne Film Festival programme, 1987)

Recognition screened at Oberhausen Short Film Festival (West Germany 1987), Melbourne International Film Festival (Australia 1987). It is represented in the film collections of Screensound Australia and The National Library of Australia.


"Sabotage evolved out of frustration with the inadequacy of political dialogue in the 1980s. In this film, each character's response to the notion of 'sabotage' is different: dogma, action, deception, hypocrisy, incompetence, detachment, subversion. The strategy of the film itself is to sabotage the synchronicity of sight and image." (Megan McMurchy, Signs of Independence, 1988)

Sabotage screened at the Institute of Modern Art (Brisbane, 1989).

Obsession, Recognition and Sabotage were made with financial assistance from the Australian Film Commission (AFC) Creative Development Fund.

First Time Tragedy, Second Time Farce (1987-89)

"Made in conjunction with Jane Madsen and James Swinson, this 75-minute film comprehensively reflects upon the Aboriginal perspective of the 1988 Australian bicentennial celebrations, a notorious event for those who consider that human involvement with the continent started somewhat before 1788." (Geoff Wright, The Melbourne Times 12 September 1990, p 17)

First Time Tragedy Second Time Farce was made with financial assistance from Film Victoria. It was screened at Bristol Rio Cinema and Watermans Art Centre (by Amnesty International) in London (U.K. 1990), the Melbourne Fringe Festival (1989), the Film and History Conference (Sydney, 1989) and broadcast by RTE TV (Ireland 1990). Held in the film collections of The Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islanders, Screensound Australia.


"... offering students the chance to devise a commissioned documentary has allowed them to subtly alter and innovate the documentary form itself, for example when experimental footage is used to create the subjectivity of the brain damaged with stunning results. Through the incorporation of a collective writing and directing role with the brain damaged victims themselves, an improvisation process has allowed them to play themselves as well as dramatised characters, which gives the film a truly Brechtian quality in that the dramatic style never completely masks the political issues being discussed." (Shane McNeil, Filmnews, October 1990, p 13)

"... a haunting and intimate experience imaginatively wrapped." (Geoff Wright, The Melbourne Times 12 September 1990, p 17)

Headfirst was made with assistance from Vic Health, Deakin University and various corporate sponsors. It was distributed by the Australian Film Institute until the demise of AFID and is now held on video in the library of Deakin University. Winner Frames/STA Award for a Student Film/Video, Frames Film and Video Festival, Adelaide 1990.

The Hollow Centre
and Spaces (1999)

These two films screened as part of Ultra-Projections One and Two at Dancehouse in 1999.

The Hollow Centre is a two-screen work comprising a roll of film and a videotape. Images from the video are reprocessed in the film.

"The Hollow Centre evokes a sense of self at a time in one's adulthood when the rich internal life of childhood is found missing. Self eventually appears to us as nothing more than a complex lace of mirrors on the world - a hollow centre." (Christos Linou)

"John Cumming's video/film performance The Hollow Centre, first encountered at an Ultraprojections screening, is like the distilled stutter of an eight year work of self-reflexion. John talks to the camera at various stages of maturity, cut down from hours and hours of self-filming, but there is hardly any talk, any content left, just pregnant moments, before things are started, dredged up, kinda empty from a "hollow centre". But what seeps through this monumental erasurre and denial is that such an heroic monumental act/task has been carried through. It is like a pause that has been contemplated for 8 years, a writer's block made manifest on some timeless personal scale, beyond reason. as in Pop [George King, NZ, 35mm/digital video, 14 mins, 1999] it is what is intimated beyond the achievable. It is an emptiness itself that becomes clear. repeated gesture, repeated stare, smile, waiting, compacted time: this is really a very, very, very long film. It ends with film: a solarised shot of John, hovering silently as only film can at the end of its history. Is this the memory of film and time that is experienced? it is no longer about information and knowledge any more but about its loss and mourning. Film's ghost was captured by John Cumming in March 1999, Melbourne." (Dirk de Bruyn, Artlink, vol 19 No 3, 2000, p 50. )

Spaces is comprised of edited interviews with people from the audience for the Dancehouse screening of The Hollow Centre (many of whom appear on this website): Frank Lovece, Lyn Malone, Robin Plunkett, Ettore Siracusa, Marcus Bergner, Neil Taylor, Yoni Prior, Philip Tyndall, Lee Smith, Steven Ball.

Retrospective of John Cumming's work (2004)

5th Melbourne Underground Film Festival, July 13, 2004

Works screened: Obsession, Recognition, Sabotage, and excerpts from First Time Tragedy, Second Time Farce, Headfirst, and The Hollow Centre.

"John Cumming's film work is marked by a strong interest in form, often resulting in films that are interesting hybrids of various elements. As a director, his hand is both (to quote Godard) "soft and hard", as he effortlessly moves from narrative to essay to documentary, from analysis to poetry to emotion." - (Bill Mousoulis, program notes, see Melb indie film website.)

"(Cumming's) films have few common denominators beyond their virtuosic editing and sound design, and their drive to undermine any single consistent reality, offering the fractured impression of a story rather than the story itself. As this suggests, Cumming is unusually aware of the political underpinnings of form; his comments at a subsequent question-and-answer session implicitly showed up the limits of current debates about the state of local filmmaking, which tend to focus unthinkingly on narrative aspects even when success isn't crudely equated with profit." (Jake Wilson, RealTime Oct/Nov, 2004, p 19.)

Back to John Cumming profile



Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis