The films of Bill Mousoulis
Doing it his way
by Vicky Tsaconas
Last year, movie maker Bill Mousoulis caused somewhat of a stir by withdrawing one of his films from the Melbourne International Film Festival. He felt that the program notes misrepresented his work. But this year, Bill has agreed to show his first feature, My Blessings, at next month's Melbourne International Film Festival alongside the works of movie great, Theo Angelopoulos. It is a diary film to be screened in the festival's 'Australian Showcase' program.
My Blessings doesn't contain the dreaded 'quirkiness' (high camp, kitsch and superficial) of some recent Australian films. Instead, it is in the realist style Melbourne-based film-maker Bill Mousoulis favours. "I want to create stories which revolve around characters," he says. "I'm interested in exploring the human condition, universal themes, not so much the migration experience."
The film is Mousoulis' character study of a woman living in inner-city Melbourne. It follows filmmaker Jane Friedman over the course of six days, illuminating her thoughts and feelings by making use of a voice-over that corresponds with her diary entries. This intriguing feature, writes the festival program guide, "eschews 90s stylised cinema in favour of a low-key, realist approach. Genuinely independent filmmaking that recalls the minimalist, austere dramas of Robert Bresson."
Sounding like an interesting take on life, imitating art and vice versa, My Blessings contains many similarities between film-maker and film protagonist. Both are independent film-makers, though the fictional character is a woman (Friedman). Mousoulis says that he wanted to make a film about women because he thinks they are under-represented in film and his film is "a sympathetic gesture" to feminist film-makers like Chantal Akerman and Marta Meszaros who are a source of inspiration for him. "It also gave me the opportunity to explore certain emotional terrains more easily than if I was dealing with a male character."
Friedman and Mousoulis keep diaries. Mousoulis explains that the diary notes in the film serve to illuminate Jane's inner life - her thoughts and feelings - during the period of time covered by the film. Similarly they are 'waiting' to hear about the outcomes of their funding applications to government bodies.
The parallels between film-maker and character make My Blessings very personal, just like the work of filmmakers who have influenced Mousoulis (Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard) and what Mousoulis calls "an experiment in getting across reality."
While Mousoulis prefers the realist style, he says he's not too fussed about it. A general audience is okay with realism, but they like happy endings. "I don't give the audience what they want. My films aren't an escape. They can irritate people because of what I'm trying to do with style and form. I throw out challenges to the viewer by questioning the raw material of life. I encourage the audience to think and feel, not sit there and just absorb what's happening on the screen."
A self-taught film-maker, Mousoulis first started making films in 1982. His early work is on Super-8, a film format popular in the sixties and seventies because it was cheap and easy to use. Mousoulisí interest in Super-8 lead to him become a founding member and one-time administrator of the Super-8 Group, an organisation dedicated to the making and promotion of Super-8 films. Like a lot of Super-8 film-makers, Mousoulis is a firm believer in grass-roots, independent film-making, having made films since 1982. "I like to get things going, doing them myself", he says.
Even though Mousoulis considers himself to be "outside" the film industry and likes this to the extent that it enables him to present his vision in his unique way, he is, he says, prepared to "play". But, itíll be on his terms.
© Vicky Tsaconas, July 1997.
This article was first published in Neos Kosmos, July 11, 1997.