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Marie Craven
Solrun Hoaas
Daryl Dellora

Melbourne independent filmmakers

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Giorgio Mangiamele
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Moira Joseph

Philip Tyndall


Words And Silk

Detailed Biography

Philip Tyndall spent his childhood growing up in Kangaroo Flat near Bendigo. His father sold cameras and photographic equipment in his chemist shop. At the age of seven Tyndall was given a Kodak Brownie Box camera by his parents and began taking photographs of everything - family events, his father's aviary, street processions and athletic meetings. Later he was given a Kodak "Developing Kit" as a birthday present, and he turned the family laundry into a darkroom, processing his own black-and-white photographs.

On Saturday afternoons, he along with his brothers and hundreds of other children went to "the pictures" in Bendigo. Amongst the films that had the biggest impact on him were Earth Vs The Flying Saucers (a 1950s black-and-white sci-fi disaster film), The Ten Commandments (for its special effects with Moses parting the Red Sea), Tarzan's New York Adventure and Snow White and the Three Stooges. He does not remember ever seeing Australian films, although occasionally some adventurer's journey into Central Australia and the outback would be screened - not at the cinema, but at the Town Hall.

Tyndall does however recall enjoying some Australian TV shows, his favourites being about a gang of kids who had adventures in the nearby Australian bush (possibly The Golden Boomerang), and Whiplash, the story of the Cobb and Co stagecoach company set during the gold-rush era. The images of kangaroos and the Australian bush together with the sounds of laughing kookaburras made a strong impression.

Someone Looks At Something

As a child, Tyndall was not particularly aware of the concept of "documentary" films. However he does clearly remember going to "the pictures" and being surprised by a different type of film about the Shah of Iran, which was shown before the main feature. The wealth and colours of this exotic land, which he had never before heard of, surprised him. He does not remember when he next saw a documentary but he was aware that there were different types of films/programs. On TV, his mother liked to watch a new program called 4 Corners. He recalls watching, once after school, a 16mm screening of the Olympics; afterwards the teacher projected the film backwards. This reverse motion screening fascinated him.

At age 13, Tyndall was sent to a Catholic boys' boarding school in Kilmore. In the mid to late 1960s this was a tough, old-fashioned school that excelled in strict discipline. It made heroes of those that achieved in sport, and rewarded them with better quality food. The arts were neither encouraged nor rewarded. Tyndall learnt the piano and played the church organ. Director Fred Schepisi later made The Devil's Playground, based largely on his experiences at the same school. One of Tyndall's few pleasures at this school was the Saturday night film screenings when 360 boys and a dozen Marist Brothers filled the cold, old theatre to watch war and prison break-out films (eg: The Great Escape), westerns (The Professionals), and Elvis films. Films with sexual references were strictly censored.

From school, Tyndall moved to Melbourne in the early 1970s and completed a degree in Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne. There he joined the Film Society and soon became exposed to foreign cinema. He recalls his first viewing of Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel as his awakening to the possibilities of cinema, and an important moment in him eventually becoming a filmmaker. Stanley Kubrick's films, especially 2001: A Space Odyssey, also made a huge impact on him.

The Rites and Wrongs of Howard Wrightmann

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Tyndall travelled extensively overseas, taking thousands of still photographs. His favourite images were always people's faces, with the subjects looking directly at the camera - a stylistic approach that he later extended into his documentaries about artists. On returning to Melbourne in the early 1980s, Tyndall had an experimental music show on public radio station 3PBS-FM. His radio show reflected his particular interest in new Australian music and experimental music. During the same period Tyndall co-founded, wrote music and played in a band, "Red Squares".

Tyndall's interests in photography, film, music and writing merged when he attended Swinburne Film and Television School in 1985. His graduating film The Rites and Wrongs of Howard Wrightmann told the story of an alcoholic writer who had spent his life in a bathtub.

In 1986, Philip Tyndall made the documentary Someone Looks At Something about his brother, the artist Peter Tyndall. The low-budget, broadcast-quality documentary won the Best Documentary award at the 1987 Australian Video Festival. This work was crucial for Tyndall in developing an approach, which he still advocates for documentaries about artists, i.e. "to accurately reflect both the approach and style of the artist and his/her work". Further, he maintains that filmmakers making documentaries about artists and their work should use the film medium itself in reflecting the artist's approach. He strongly believes that such documentaries should not just be mere documentation; nor should they be "radio with pictures".

Words And Silk

Over the next three years, Tyndall expanded on his approach and 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 horse-racing. The film is an interwoven mosaic of still imagery, archival footage, dramatic recreations, and talking head, reflecting the film's fine-line between fact and fiction. The film received the highest award for a documentary at the 1990 St Kilda Film Festival, then in 1991 won Best Documentary, Artist Profile, at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and Best Documentary at Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival. The film subsequently screened on SBS's "Masterpiece" series in the mid 1990s.

In 1999 Tyndall began teaching 16mm film production at Deakin University. In 2001-02 he also taught a new documentary production course, based largely on his own approach to documenting the arts. Over the past five years, Tyndall's involvement in documenting the arts has continued: he has documented artist's exhibitions, private art collections, major art events, historic homes and public buildings, and live musical performances.

Tyndall has continued to be involved in film community organisations, particularly in relation to documentary. Between 1994-96, he was a member of the Melbourne International Film Festival's Documentary selection panel. In the mid 1990s he was a founding member of the Melbourne Documentary Group, and in 2003 he was a member of the Documentary Jury, AFI Awards.

Finally, Tyndall lists Luis Buñuel, Peter Greenaway, Stanley Kubrick, Abbas Kiarostami, Errol Morris, Chris Marker, and Paul Cox amongst his main film influences.

Images David Petersen, Paul Wright and Philip Tyndall.
Philip Tyndall, May 2003
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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis