The 28th Canberra Critics Circle Awards 2018. Canberra Museum and Gallery. ccc-canberracriticscircle.blogspot.com.
It was a room packed with Canberra's best artistic talent - but there could only be one. Producer, director and cinematographer Kim Beamish recently took out the title of 2018 Canberra Artist of the Year at the ACT Arts Awards.
Beamish, the first ever filmmaker to be named Artist of the Year by the Canberra Critics' Circle, was recognised for his observational style, which, the critics said, "bring a much-needed human dimension to the news grabs we see on our TV screens".
Beamish's projects include 2006 documentary feature Just Punishment, centred on the case of Australian Van Tuong Nguyen who was executed in Singapore in 2005 for drug trafficking.
Beamish's 2015 documentary feature The Tentmakers of Cairo, turned the camera on a small community of male artisans. Filmed in Egypt, it won him the US’s Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award for artistic excellence and original cultural storytelling. It also won the Prix Buyens-Chagoll at Visions du Réel, and the El-Rey Award for narrative documentary excellence at the Barcelona Film Festival.
His 2017 feature-length documentary Oyster is an intimate portrait of a small group of oyster farmers in Merimbula affected by climate change.
I sat down with Beamish to chat about current projects, Netflix and the beauty of living in Canberra.
1. What are you working on at the moment?
I have a film called Family that I've been filming since November last year and will continue to shoot until probably November next year.
It's a film about Michael and Krister and their baby girl Eva. A story about a baby girl, her surrogate tummy mummy, her lesbian egg-donor auntie, her two gay dads and a massive extended family of fourth generation Australian-Chinese aunties.
[Through the film] I want to talk about the diversity of family through a same-sex couple who have very diverse families of their own.
We've been lucky in gaining support from Screen Canberra in their first ever CBR Screen Fund. But we can't access any of that money until we raise the rest of the budget. Individuals, businesses and organisations can financially support Family and receive a credit in the film along with a 100 per cent tax deduction on their support. It can be anything from a $1 up. Go to www.documentaryaustralia.com.au and search for FAMILY.
2. Which movies and/or film makers inspired you to become a film maker?
Tom Zubrycki's film The Diplomat was probably the film that made me think that you can make films about real issues without having to sit all the relevant people down and grill them for 60 minutes.
Werner Herzog and his film Lessons of Darkness just blew me away - you never really hear anyone talk in that film. You just watch the mayhem being resolved when oil field after oil field is set alight in Kuwait while the Iraqis pull out of the first Iraq war.
Kim Longinotto and her films Divorce Iranian Style and Shinjuku Boys really influenced the way I want to make films. Concentrating on characters to take you through a scenario or an issue. I sat in a bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo watching these men and really appreciated the work that Longinotto must have put into telling that story.
Pat Fiske's film Rocking the foundations was an eye opener on staying the distance. It taught me that important work takes time; if you hang around long enough you'll get the story. I was obviously privileged to then work with Pat on our film Oyster.
These are all observational films and filmmakers. Truly sitting back and letting the story play out in front of you. And who cares about the whole argument about you manipulating the story once the camera arrives? It's a bit of a, "If the a tree falls in the forest" issue. If the camera wasn't there you'd have seen nothing.
3. Have streaming services like Netflix played a part in the rise of the observational documentary?
I think Netflix has changed the industry as a whole. Allowing access to so many more television series, films and documentaries. Possibly to the detriment of quality. I do, however, worry that Australian content is being squashed by mass-produced American content with budgets often significantly higher than we can raise here in Australia.
On the flip side I think there are some amazing films and series coming out of Netflix. I have a Netflix account and watch a fair bit.
As for observational content - I don't see true observational content on Netflix. I think reality shows and competitive television are assumed as observational as many of the camera and editing techniques they use are taken from the early observational films. There are, however, other video on demand services that do stream observational documentaries - but then how many services can you afford to sign up for?
4. Why do you choose to live and work in Canberra?
Almost 13 years ago I came to Canberra from Melbourne with my wife as she'd scored a government job. I'll admit I wasn't thrilled with the idea of moving to the ACT but knew I had to give it a go.
I grew up in Sydney and spent a good amount of time living in Melbourne, but now I really like Canberra. I know it's a cliche but it has many of the facilities of a city while living in the country.
I'm glad Canberra's growing. I really like that we're getting light rail. I like that we have great restaurants and places to go out. I wish it wasn't so bloody cold at the footy or I'd actually go.
Working here has provided me so many opportunities. I've learnt a lot and contacts I've made here have informed and influenced projects I've done overseas.
My new film Family is predominantly filmed and set in Canberra. It's a Canberran film and I'd love Canberra to get behind it.
5. What does being named the 2018 Canberra Artist of the Year mean to you?
Being awarded the Canberra Artist of the Year is a great honour that I think could have been bestowed on any number of Canberran artists all as worthy or more so than me. It does, however, make you realise that someone is taking notice and that people have enjoyed and taken in my films. Always something you are never really sure of as an artist. Or at least this artist.
2018 Critics' Circle award winners
Music artists: Eloise Fisher, Louise Page, Brian Triglone, Robyn Mellor, Handel in the Theatre, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, The Street Theatre and Goulburn Regional Conservatorium.
Musical theatre artists: Ylaria Rogers, Sophie Highmore, Max Gambale and Canberra Philharmonic Society.
Dance artists: Liz Lea, Alison Plevey and the Australian Dance Party, Michelle Heine, Emma Nikolic and Karen Brock.
Theatre artists: Imogen Keen, P J Williams, Hayden Splitt, Michael Sparks and Karen Vickery.
Writers: Jacqui Malins, Robyn Cadwallader, Chris Hammer, Sam Hawke, Emma Adams and Zoya Patel.
Visual artists: Robert Boynes, Brenda L. Croft, Valerie Kirk, Katie Haynes, Liz Coats, Peter Maloney and Canberra Museum and Gallery.