Before becoming artist in residence at Open Channel, JOHN KIRK made documentary films on super-8 and worked in the pioneering days of 1/2-inch video. He is concerned with the way video and film-making distort the processes they try to reflect and he works at minimising the effects on people's behaviour on camera.























WHAT do you do about getting money, access to cameras and production equipment? For years I had been trading on the goodwill of friends in colleges and access centres for the use of these, waiting weeks to get at editing gear and getting very frustrated.

So I bought a caravan, a super-8 camera and editor which ran on car batteries — and upped my production output 500 percent. I was making sound films on $200 budgets, just grabbing my camera and seizing oppor­tunities as they arose.

A film on owner building! I was building a bush cabin like my many friends in the country out of a real need for shelter, chainsaws buzzing, bush timber and bolts, second-hand floor boards and windows, and shooting film by day and editing by candlelight at night.

A film about a community where I was on the inside, totally familiar with the subject, and with friends. Both the film and the $1500 building were paid for by the dole. To supplement my income I worked at the wheat harvest and got interested in the west country of NSW.


A friend was visiting at Wilcannia and let it drop to the local priest that her friends at home are building houses. Fr. Grahame Carter is helping the Aboriginal Adult Education Centre get funds to set up a Medical Centre. Their funds fall short of building quotes by ten grand. He asks me. So with little experience we jump in at the deep end and arrive, With the job of co-ordinating voluntary labor.

There are more aboriginals than whites in Wilcannia and most live in tin sheds on the outside of town. Grahame's house is en route to town and is open house all day; people stopping in with kids and shopping. A warm extended family. We get our keep and a bed and hands cracked by concreting and hard work, with most help coming from our black brothers, and at night we play euchre and drink and play country and western music. We find friendship and warm hearts.

The building completed we leave and just then a supplementary grant arrives.





One year later I go back and discover that a portable color video has been bought and three hours of tape on issues such as housing problems, health, alcohol, education and land rights has been recorded by the local people. I view the tapes shoot material to establish the setting and some linking sequences and head back to the city to edit.So Here in Old Wilcannia becomes a compilation tape shot by inexperienced people with whom control of content rests, with editorial decisions on my shoulders. Two months experience gives some insight and you hope it is enough not to betray the essential message.

In between times back home the council slaps demolition orders on our bush homes. This is in the wake of the Terania Creek Rainforest logging protest which has angered members of the local council. The national media lock on to the issue. They shoot for half a day. are sympathetic but the final programme shows the superficial prettinsss of the place, deals with the issues, but does not get to the heart of things — how can it be otherwise?

The Wilcannia tape is different. It reflects a process of consciousness-raising through role playing, examination of one's own life and issues of deep personal concern. People talk in inter- view with friends, not strangers, a basis of trust and shared understanding. These are the human values that community media can promote. They must shine from our hearts.


The family cat always comes when you bang a spoon on the Whiskas tin-. The Sullivans stick together through thick and thin. Mum and Dad. Stereotypes which supposedly reflect our behaviour, but one dimensionally set up, and shot in studio, scripted to formulae, every element tightly controlled. It runs to budget. The over-riding considerations are financial. Money equals time. Production facilities and crew are expensive. The programme must rate or the sponsors don't sell cat food.

Vivienne Binns is a community artist. She works with suburban women helping them document their families' lives using family photo albums. The photos stimulate memory and anecdotes of life come to mind which cut through family role stereotypes and reveal the real person rather than 'Mum' and 'Dad'. This process changes people's perception of each other and promotes com­munication and personal growth. The personal is the political.

Jan McDonald works at West Theatre, a community theatre group at Essendon, Melbourne. Last year they workshopped with housewives to develop a play script upon how they percieved their day to day lives. She views the inter­action as trading theatre skills for content. Roma is the film version of this script and Roma is played by one of the writing group, a housewife.

Both these approaches attempt to go to the source of content, people's life experience, and see the processes of self discovery and growth which come from examining one's own life as the prime responsibility of the com­municating arts. Control of this process is left in the individual's hands. Methods and approaches in other community arts fields translate usefully to audio visual media.


Vivienne and Jan run community arts programmes within communities on a basis of at least a year's programme. They have a defined locality and work in-depth with small groups. They have a commitment to follow through a complete process and see themselves as helping people build community.

Community is people evolving aware­ness through self examination and communication. Their time scale is in years. Most media access centres, however, are service based, providing hire of facilities and short workshop courses. Their emphasis is on craft-tools and media skills. Little emphasis is placed on content in terms of helping people evolve and clarify their perception of their situations.

Tape makers usually come with an issue well researched and worked out and the job is merely to translate these views into a visual format. Programmes which treat issues result in formats not far removed from broadcast docu­mentary models. People producing these programmes are usually the most articulate and highly motivated members of a community. Access is a reality but the presentation of a community and involvement of the personal day to day stuff of people's lives is often by-passed.










We are currently trying to mount a dramatised documentary on prostitute/ client relationships. It will be personal in its focus. The aim is to give over the process of drafting content to those involved first hand on the streets.

To find a mid-term community to relate to led us to prison where pro­stitutes working off fines are grouped together. A drama and scripting work­shop will attempt to promote closeness and friendship and give a chance for input via anecdotes in vernacular language.

This may be a chance to develop open-endedly an examination of our lives through drawing of characters incorporating a range of behaviours drawn from life observation of those

working on the street. This is a first run at a process from which we hope to learn.


The move into high quality color production found me with a car full of gear heading off to shoot a tape. Tripod, ENG camera, video cassette recorder, camera control unit, mains-power adaptor, extension leads, mic stand, and lights.

I try to Imagine myself being intimate with a group of people in a highly lit situation shouldering a heavy camera, groaning while trying to extend my concentration through the camera to the person talking to me.

Maybe night time in a pinball parlor off street in the night life district.

Massive technology equals mass media exposure and 15kg. of video gear braced to a body trailing cables stops the action, and begs the question -what channel are you from?

The familiarity and smallness of super-8 cameras allow immediate contact with people. You are just another tourist or film nut. With black and white portable recorders going out of pro­duction, what other alternatives are there for high resolution low light filming?

Video has great advantages over film when the shooting environment is ideally lit and subjects on location can be controlled. The immediate feed­back and low stock cost/high shooting ratio and immediate editability make it preferable. But where immediate, low

profile shooting in potentially antagon­istic situations is the case, we could look to Super-8 as valid insert material.

So a production strategy is to shoot structured interviews and such on video, cinema verite on super-8, single system sound for transfer to videotape and intercut and edit on 3/4" Umatic, BVU or other broadcast format.

So the choice of production tools is made on the basis of placing minimal barriers to communication in the shoot­ing situation; of looking closely at human values in the face to face inter­action and minimising impingement of video craft and technology in these; and to promoting openness and truth­fulness by removing the self conscious­ness and role playing inherent in media interviewing games.


JOHN KIRK in Access Video Vol 6 No 3 Winter 1980