Note: If you’re here, you were connected with Perth’s Film and Television Institute at some point. The FTI in the form that we know it, is being wound up and some of its functions are being taken over by ScreenWest. This is my idiosyncratic tribute to the FTI as it was formerly.
I’m not someone who plans things. Depending on how well you know me, you might be saying “Amen to that” right about now. There was no plan to have anything to do with filmmaking when my friends and I entered our first efforts in the WA Film and Video Festival almost 35 years ago (forerunner of the WASAs). We made experimental films on Super 8 movie film; in-camera editing, falling down sand dunes, raw meat and tomato sauce representing the terrible effects of our filmic violence. Super-8 was the cheapest type of movie film. 8 millimetres in width. You could shoot two-and a-half to three-and-a-half minutes depending on your frames-per-second. We had no money, so shot “longer” at 18 fps. Our tiny epics, like “Meat Axe” were silent films shot on Kodachrome 40; they flickered like old-timey, hand cranked movies, but in colour and without the sophistication.
We found the Film and Television Institute through our high school media teachers who pointed us towards Fremantle and holiday filmmaking classes. In fact, the first time we heard about it, the FTI was the Perth Institute of Film and Television- PIFT. We were taught shot composition, camera angles, not crossing the line, editing, lighting and when we were on video, we learnt about sound. Enthusiastic filmmakers communicated their love of images and storytelling to our teenage selves who wanted to take the piss and create visual mayhem. Jaws, Star Wars and The Towering Inferno were our cultural touchstones. We built tiny sets, stuffed them with matches and blew them to smithereens, then carefully searched those 8 millimetre frames for the explosion bit.
Eventually, we thought we should enter a film festival. Our body of work had extended to dressing in hazmat style raincoats and smashing crockery. One of our parents had a supply of chipped plates, so no useful dishes were harmed in the making of TONY’S GOT A FRUIT SHOP. The other films had equally evocative titles like CUT OPEN MY HEAD and NIGEL SPITS THE DUMMY. We were thrilled to enter our masterpieces in a competition and screen them to the public. We were horrified one time when the projector jammed in Cinema 2 and we watched our film burn. Actually, we only lost six frames, but other filmmakers will have some idea of how awful that felt. The good news was we won a WA Film and Video Award for Best Experimental Script. We never actually wrote a script, but we absolutely appreciated the recognition. This encouraged us to keep exploring something we loved.
The Film and Television Institute provided mentoring, equipment and a focal point for filmmakers of every type for over 45 years. Everyone who was associated with the FTI for any length of time has a story of their own era. Everyone has their own cast of characters who made the experience special to them (only Di is the common thread). I later worked for the FTI and was lucky enough to meet hundreds of creative, passionate, spiky, driven and dedicated film-heads. The FTI was a meeting place for this particular tribe at a time when Perth had limited venues, resources and equipment for us. In a time when the WA film industry was a very different beast from today, the Institute offered a focal point for people who wanted to express themselves or perhaps start their journey to bigger film industries elsewhere.
Sometimes it was a clique. And when I was an employee, I was often told in the tiniest detail all the things we did wrong. Often this was in the backyard through a haze of cigarette smoke or at Clancy’s over a beer; their beer rather than mine, because I didn’t really drink, so don’t worry, I heard every single word.
And that’s how it is with any scene. Everyone has an axe to grind. And we’re all too good to gossip and we all just wish people would focus on the activity that drew us together in the first place. Let’s just focus on the filmmaking, FFS! And yes, some of that filmmaking was fantastic. There are moments, scenes and images that will always be in my memory and I saw them in those edit suites and on the screen in Cinemas 1 and 2. And I know many of you can say the same.
I’ve never know what’s cool or where “the pulse” is. I can see all the reasons the Institute and similar Screen Resource Organisations across Australia disappeared. I have no idea if there was any way or need to save these places. This is beyond my limited abilities. I wrote this because I wanted to say something about a place that was important to me and to thousands of others. Any time a community forms and positive things are achieved, then I feel we should note this all too rare occurrence.
The Film and Television Institute was many things to many people. It kicked off many careers, started (and sometimes ended) friendships, helped people see what they could achieve in the film medium, taught people how to harness their creative spark and tell important stories. For that brief span of forty-five years, it gave us somewhere to pursue our creative passion. And for that I–and many, many others–are grateful.
I haven’t been involved with the FTI for some years because of the different direction I have taken, but for three decades it influenced my creative thinking and for twelve years it was something of a home. I’m going to miss it.