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Philip Tyndall
b. Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.

BIOGRAPHY:   Philip Tyndall spent his childhood in Kangaroo Flat near Bendigo, before moving to Melbourne in the early 1970s to attend the University of Melbourne. There he joined the Film Society and became exposed to foreign cinema.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, he travelled overseas taking thousands of photographs, particularly people's faces looking directly at the camera, a stylistic approach that he later extended into his documentaries about artists.


He attended Swinburne Film and Television School in 1985, and made The Rites and Wrongs of Howard Wrightmann. In 1986, Tyndall made Someone Looks At Something about his brother, the artist Peter Tyndall, which won the Best Documentary award at the Australian Video Festival. Over the next three years, he made the documentary feature Words And Silk - The Real and Imaginary Worlds of Gerald Murnane, about the Australian fiction writer's love of writing and horseracing. The film won Best Documentary awards at the St Kilda, San Francisco and Houston Film Festivals. It subsequently was broadcast on SBS television.

From 1999-2002, Tyndall taught 16mm film production and a new arts documentary production course at Deakin University. He also continued to document artist's exhibitions, private art collections, major art events, historic homes, public buildings, and live musical performances. He has been a member of the Documentary selection panel for the Melbourne International Film Festival, was a founding member of the Melbourne Documentary Group, and a member of the Documentary Jury for the 2003 AFI Awards.

See also Detailed Biography.

Words And Silk

CRITICAL OVERVIEW:   Philip Tyndall is a filmmaker who is best known for his documentaries about artists, Someone Looks At Something (1986, 18 mins) and Words And Silk - The Real and Imaginary Worlds of Gerald Murnane (1989, 86 mins). These are both a reflection and an extension of his long-held interest in documentation. Whether through his films and videos, photographs, audiotapes, or his writing, Tyndall has always aimed to record the event, the moment, and the feeling. Of equal importance is his desire to carry out this documentation with accuracy.

In his documentaries about artists and their works, Tyndall throws the conventions of documentary film-making out the window. Rather, he approaches each artist and their art form with an open mind and seeks to find a form or shape for the films, a form which most accurately reflects the approach and style of the artist and his/her work. Consequently, the look and shape of each film vary greatly.

This is a difficult, uneasy approach for which Tyndall requires time - to get to know the artist, and to study their work in depth - as well as trust - in both the artist as subject, and in his own ability to recreate accurately through the filmic medium, the approach and style of his subject, irrespective of their art-form. In his writings about his approach to making art documentaries, Tyndall states that only when there is an empathy and understanding with the artist and their approach can the filmmaker get to the heart of that person's creative spirit. Above all else, his primary intention is to capture that creative spirit and reflect it in the form of the finished film. Further, he believes that documentaries about artists, which do not capture that creative spirit, lack any real depth, and therefore fail.

Words And Silk

The documentary films of Philip Tyndall are finely crafted works that reflect not only the approach and ideas of his subjects, but also many of his own concerns about documentary film-making. These include:

  • the relationship of the filmmaker with the subject, and ultimately with the viewer; this is partially related to his approach of having the subject speaking directly to camera, as opposed to the conventional practice of never looking directly at the camera.

  • the use of "experts" and "witnesses" as interviewees, particularly in documentaries about a living subject; he does not believe the practice of interviewing "those in the know" with their second-hand reminiscences and opinions adds credibility or objectivity.

  • the frame or boundaries of the documentary; the importance of clearly establishing in the viewer's mind the context in which the film is set.

  • the edited versus unedited interview; this relates to his process of research, the building of trust between filmmaker and subject, and the subsequent preparation of interview material on paper with the subject long before the cameras roll. Tyndall argues this practice is more honest, more straightforward than presenting interview footage which has been "chopped up" into some consumerable shape for the viewer.

  • the importance and need for documentation; the "responsibility" of documentarians to record people, places and events. He believes there is an unstated, ongoing need to record and document people (such as artists, the skilled, the aged or the story-tellers), places (the ever-changing rural and urban landscapes, or the interior spaces of homes and buildings) and events (public or private, in the home or in the community) so that this knowledge is not lost from the memory or the culture.

  • the importance of "accuracy" in the documentary as opposed to any notions of capturing the "truth"; he does not believe that documentary is about truth, nor that documentary filmmakers can ever capture or reveal the truth. At best, documentary can only ever be a window, a mirror or a screen.
Words And Silk

Finally, Tyndall is concerned that many of the craft elements which so often define a directorial style in fiction film-making - cinematography, lighting, editing, sound quality, music - are often seriously lacking in the documentary form. While he acknowledges that historically this has been partly due to the comparatively smaller budgets accorded to non-fiction film-making, he also feels that documentary filmmakers in general have not embraced the same aesthetic as their fiction filmmaker counterparts.

Tyndall laments that there are few documentary filmmakers whose work ever reaches the mass audiences achieved through cinema distribution, and that consequently few documentary filmmakers are able to make a reasonable living from their work. He is however buoyed by the recent box-office successes of the documentary films of Errol Morris, Wim Wenders and Michael Moore.

Mr. Bum and Ms. Ruby

247 (1983, 3 mins, Super 8)

The Rites and Wrongs of Howard Wrightmann (1985, 31mins 30 secs, BVU Video)

Just One Of Those Things/Makin' Whoopee - Mr. Bum and Ms. Ruby (1985, 4 mins/3mins, U-matic Video)

Someone Looks At Something (1986, 18 mins, 1" Video)

Words And Silk: The Imaginary and Real Worlds of Gerald Murnane (1989, 86 mins, 16mm)

Words And Silk


Words And Silk: The Imaginary and Real Worlds of
Gerald Murnane

Gold Award, Best Documentary, 1991 Worldfest - Houston International Film Festival, USA
Best Documentary, Artist Profile, 1991 San Francisco International Film Festival, USA
Best Documentary, 1990 St Kilda Film Festival, Australia

Someone Looks At Something (1986)
Best Documentary, 1987 Australian Video Festival


"The Literature Club" - a performance by Gerald Murnane, Philip Tyndall and Peter Tyndall, Experimenta Festival, Melbourne, November 1990

Artwork design by Peter Tyndall


"Novel Time for Author" by Michael Epis, The Sun, 1 February 1989

"Film Crew Traces Author's Life", The Bendigo Advertiser, 4 February 1989

"Words And Silk in production", AFC News, Australian Film Commission, No 72, May 1989

"Melbourne Cup Special" by Paul Harris, Filmnews, Vol 19, No 10, October 1989

"Words And Silk to Screen" by Jane Sullivan, Arts Briefs, The Age, mid October 1989

"Words And Silk: Film Review" by Neil Jillett, The Age, late October 1989

"Words And Silk: Film Review" by Keith Connolly, The Herald, 27 October 1989

"Images of his childhood play in Murnane's work" by Katherine Teh, The Age, 3 November 1989

"Words And Silk: Film Review" by Michael Epis, Cinema Papers, No 77, January 1990

"St Kilda Film Festival - Words And Silk: Film Review" by Bill Mousoulis, Melbourne Super 8 Film Group Newsletter, No 48, June 1990

"Bendigo Inspires Plot for Success", The Bendigo Advertiser, 2 February 1991

Words And Silk

"The Glittering Prizes", The Sunday Age, 3 February 1991

"Words And Silk: Film Review" by Brian Gordon, Golden Gate Awards Winner, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1991

"Words And Silk: Film Review", Gold Award Winner, Worldfest - Houston International Film Festival, 1991

"Words And Silk: Film Review", Vancouver International Film Festival, 1991

"Film Man Honoured", Arts Briefs, The Age, 13 June 1991

"Reject wins Gold Overseas" by Rosemary Neill, The Australian, 19 June 1991

"Houston Likes Murnane", Encore, 21 June 1991

"Philip Tyndall's Words And Silk" by Arthur Cantrill, Gerald Murnane, and Philip Tyndall, Cantrills Filmnotes, No 65/66, October 1991

Words And Silk

"Arts Documentaries: The Challenge for Australia's Film, Television and Arts Bodies", a paper by Philip Tyndall, Aust. Documentary Conference, Canberra, Australia, 1991

"Documentary has a Bendigo Connection" by Susan Bugg, The Bendigo Advertiser, 20 April 1992

"Words And Silk: TV Extra Review" by Tom Gilling, The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April 1992


"The Week In Film: A Review of Words And Silk" by Adrian Martin, ABC Radio National, 26 August 1995

Images David Petersen, Paul Wright and Philip Tyndall.
Philip Tyndall, May 2003

Contact Philip Tyndall

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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis