VCA Digital Archive: short documentaries

Still from Heart Land. Charmaine Robbins. 2013. Documentary. Image supplied.
Still from Heart Land. Charmaine Robbins. 2013. Documentary. Image supplied.

The VCA Digital Archive is a living audiovisual record of student films that date back to 1966. The articles in this series respond thematically to the depth and breadth of the collection, which will be available for research from mid-2019. Enjoy

By Betty Milonas

Since the 1960s, film students in Melbourne have been creating short documentaries covering a range stories that reflect our world. While exploring the VCA Digital Archive, we gain an insight into the documentary film collection that celebrates students’ creativity, ambition and determination to tackle challenging issues.

The selected short documentaries curated in this series focus on mental health, social justice, ordinary people, and historical issues that engage with our community and connect with the viewer. The Archive also includes documentaries with humour and stories on everyday life, such as playing mini-golf or baking an award-winning vanilla slice.

These creative and inspiring documentaries by VCA student filmmakers have won awards and screened at film festivals in Australia and internationally.


Deep Waters (2002) – Lucy Paplinska 

A touching and inspirational story of friendship between two survivors – a middle-aged woman suffering from arthritis and an elderly man, a former German prisoner of war from World War II. As we learn about their life adventures and how historical events have shaped their lives, Paplinska uses historical images and emotive sound to highlight their close friendship .

Boaz (1998) – Noami Bishops

Two sons provide a historical narrative of their father Boaz Bischofs Weber’s journey fleeing fascist Germany. The documentary incorporates historical photos, letters, and film to trace Boaz’s life story of escape and arriving in Australia alone.

Terry Eicher: Beyond Duc My (1996) – Jan Dirk Mittman

This well-crafted documentary provides an insight into Terry Eichler’s conscription into the Vietnam War, as a 22-year-old. Some 30 years later, he is still traumatised by his war experience, brought upon by memories of death, tragedy and violence. To overcome this, Terry starts painting his nightmares and flashbacks to help overcome the pain and heal wounds from the past.

Hidden in the Wind (1997) – Carmela Baranowska

An award-winning documentary screened at film festivals, Hidden in the Wind covers the historical events of East Timor’s independence from Indonesia. Subsequently, in 1999, Baranowska released the feature documentary Scenes from an Occupation, depicting the last six months of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. This film is a perfect example of VCA film graduates’ skilfulness in creating short documentaries and their ability to delve deep into important issues.

Winner: Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) Inc Award (1998)

Robyn Boyd: Australian Beauty (2013) – Kerry Gardner

An informative documentary of 1960s Australian architect Robyn Boyd, exploring the development of architecture, design and art in Melbourne. Interviews with Professor Philip Goad, Kerstin Thompson, Professor David Yencken and Penleigh Boyd examine Boyd’s works that inspired a new generation of architects. Footage of historical letters and photos provides an introspective into his life and work that remains part of Australian history.

Social Justice:

Iwerre Atherrame (Two Paths), 1998 – David Selvarajah Vadiveloo

Winner of the VCA FTV Documentary Script Award (1998), a captivating and raw film that follows the life of four resilient Aboriginal school children navigating the challenges of town camp life in the beautiful landscape of Alice Springs. Vadiveloo allows the children, their teacher and community members to discuss the shortage of housing for Aboriginal people in Alice Springs and the future of the Detour School Project.

Machine 402 (1997) – John Gwinner

An informative and emotional film investigating the closure of the Amcor’s Recycling Paper Mill, which was part of the Broadford community for 107 years. Gwinner’s well-constructed film encourages the workers and the community to have a voice, addressing the politics of the mill’s closure.

A State of Peace (2002) – Rachel Maher

A powerful documentary that commemorates the September 11 anniversary, and tells the personal story of an Iraqi woman and her family living in Australia. The family reflect on their struggles during the Gulf War and on their experience arriving in Australia in the early 2000s.

Mareeba: Australia’s Springfield (2005) – Emily Owens

Owens takes us to Mareeba, a town two-hours north of Cairns, previously known for its tobacco-farming business. Following the closure of the business, residents, farmers and police officers stress their concerns about the town’s identity crisis, increased unemployment and youth crime.

I Am Here and You Are Out There (2015) – Leah Sanderson

An honest and raw documentary that follows Wez’s life after spending 12 years in prison. Sanderson met Wez while teaching on the Shakespeare in Prison Project, and documents his life on the outside following his release. Wez talks openly to camera, expressing his daily struggle to find work and adapt to freedom.

Made in Australia (2007) – Amie Batalibasi
Video will be available for research purposes via the Digital Archive Portal (mid-2019)

This award-winning film touches on the lives of five Vietnamese women working at home sewing clothes for major Australian retailers. Batalibasi explores the term outworker: migrants with little or no English skills, working for long hours with low pay and heavy workloads. An eye-opening short, Made in Australia gives these women a voice, and encourages the viewer to connect and learn about their lives.

Winner: VCA FTV Margaret Lawrence Social Justice Award (2007)

Mental Health:

Twenty Minutes with Twentyman (2003)  – Anna Wooley

Wooley offers a candid essay on Youth Advocate worker Les Twentyman’s community work with disadvantaged youth in Melbourne. The film captures his struggles through his work, receiving death threats and been physically attacked by his clients. Throughout the film Les provides a candid and reflective approach towards his work, revealing his passionate commitment to helping people in need.

Winner: VCA FTV Documentary Prize (2003).

The Butcher’s Wife (2006) – Kylie McConnell

The Butcher’s Wife is a heartbreaking documentary about survival and the power to overcome domestic violence. Carole – the wife – stabbed her abusive husband to escape a life-threatening situation. The documentary depicts the emotional journey that Carole and her daughter overcame to survive.

I’m a Compulsive Gambler (1996) – Larina Wong

A candid documentary about an accountant and a housewife who struggled with gambling addiction and depression. The documentary captures their inner struggles and turmoil to overcome addiction that not only affected their own lives but the lives of their families and friends. Through therapy and support, they reflect on their journey to overcome addiction.

2:41 Upfield (2004) – Callum Cooper

A creative and experimental short documentary incorporating animation and sound to create an emotional story of a man struggling with mental illness. Coming in at under three minutes, this powerful documentary has screened at various film festivals, including the International Animation Festival (2006) and Melbourne International Film Festival (2005).

The Waiting Room (2006) – Mona Ruijs

Ruijs explores mental illness via interviews and images. The film encourages us to consider families and friends who may suffer from mental illness, and to ask Are you okay? A thoughtful film, The Waiting Room has been screened at film festivals and shown on SBS from 2008–2011.

Ordinary People:

Musictown (2003) – Daniel Fermer

This enjoyable film documents Melbourne’s live music scene. Fermer reaches out to locals and venue owners to discuss local music venues and Fitzroy alleyways that shape our city. The film raises important questions about what happens when urban development takes over and jeopardises our music venues. How does this affect locals, musicians and workers?

Creating a Monster (2016) – Gena Lida Riess

Creating a Monster explores reality television and the psychological impacts this format has on contestants once they leave the show. It features interviews and footage from well-known reality TV shows such as The Bachelor and Married at First Sight. Riess interviews various contestants, who remind us they are just ordinary people absorbed in the constructed world of reality television.

Winner: MFTVD Best Production Award

Heart Land (2013) – Charmaine Robbins

A beautiful short film about two Papua New Guinean-born women reflecting on their heritage, identity and life in Melbourne. Their story is inspiring and reflective as we learn more about their background and how they adapted to their new lives in Australia.

Funny and Quirky:

False Teeth (1968) – Graeme Jackson

False Teeth is an experimental and humorous film about a visit to a dentist. The film incorporates both animation and sharp soundscapes to capture the humour in the creation of dentures.

Mini-golf (1996) – Andrew French

A creative and fun film about mini-golf told through the life of a golf ball, Mini-golf follows the adventures of the golf ball through clever camera work and special commentary by Roy and HG Nelson.

Odd socks (2008) – Rafiq Copeland

Odd socks is a light-hearted and quirky documentary about socks, and the dilemmas of misplacing or losing them. Students, academics and scientists deliberate the mysteries and joys of losing socks, and whether it’s fine to wear mismatched pairs.

The Jolly Jumbuck (1977) – Marlane Pearce

This enjoyable and experimental film from the 1970s follows the adventures of the Jolly Jumbuck truck that travelled to Australian schools, entertaining children.

Triumphant Tale (2007) – Scott Baskett

An uplifting and inspiring film about two previous winners of the Great Australian Vanilla Slice Triumph Competition. The short provides a joyful narrative of the winners’ journey to the yearly competition held in country Victoria.

Betty Milonas holds a Master of Art Curatorship (Minor Thesis) from the University of Melbourne, and has completed curatorial internships at the Museum of Modern Art in the Photography Curatorial Department and New York Foundation for the Arts. She has previously worked with the National Library of Australia on re-housing a private photography collection and was a regular contributor for SciArt in America Magazine. During 2016–2018, Betty was the Short Documentary Curator for the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. She is currently a Visual Arts Committee Member at the City of Yarra.

The VCA Digital Archive series of articles was commissioned as part of a grant from the University of Melbourne, Student Services Amenities Fee. University of Melbourne staff and students and some industry people dipped into the FTV archive and watched films based on themes. The idea was to use the archive as stimulus to curate and create. Some responses are completely creative, others are reviews, others are word art pieces.

The full collection is available for research.