In Melbourne we tend to exist either North or South of the Yarra, with very few Melbournians ever truly traversing both sides of this geographical divide. But why should we, when both sides of our city posses everything we could ever need; markets, bars, cafes- all of life’s modern conveniences? But on the north it was felt that something was missing, something that would simply complete this inner urban lifestyle we so desire; that was so until a man named Gus Berger came along and opened The Thornbury Picture House on High Street in Thornbury. This intimate one screen setting focuses in on both classic and new release films. The Melbourne Critique took some time to hang out at the newest addition to cinema houses in Melbourne and to chat with Berger about what inspired this latest venture.
Gus, lets kick things off, why did you set up a cinema in Thornbury?
I think that there was a coming together of a lot of different things. Thornbury didn’t necessarily come first; it was this building that came first. I have always loved the facade, it was one of Melbourne’ s first drive-in garages and it has still got one of the gas pumps. I live in Brunswick and run a lot of film events across Melbourne. Having also taken over the lease of an old cinema called The George in St Kilda and having done it up, I was looking around this area for a building where something a bit more permanent could be done. It needed to fit roughly 60 seats and to have a space for a bar and a bit of a foyer in the front to do something like a permanent home( actually it has, technically, 57 seats.) I have coveted this building and it’s now become a bit of a hub for creative businesses in the area; that was a bonus for me when finally the lease was secured.
As Thornbury Picture House is only a one screen cinema, what are some of the challenges that this presented?
The challenge for me, being a cinema operator and programmer, is to try and get as much content in there with just one screen. Multiplexes are lucky that they can take on any films. I have to be more selective, do more research and get the right film in, hoping it works. So, it involves finding out what films are winning awards at festivals like SXSW ( South By South West in Austin , Texas, in the U.S ).
I hope we can get through this winter and get through MIFF ( Melbourne International Film Festival), where I did quite a bit of moderating and Q and As in the past. I don’t know if I will have time for it this year, but I would love to be doing a screening for MIFF; maybe something rare. We have ideas for trying in some live music here to bring people to us.
With cult films playing every Thursday night, films like Thelma and Louise, Blade Runner (1982), and classics like Malcolm that was actually shot just up the road here in the North, we hope to compliment the area. It, kind of, gives me confidence to get in touch with film makers from the area and getting them to introduce films like Dogs in Space, but we need a good full house for those sorts of screenings.
You were one of the co -founders of Girls on Film Festival, so how important is it to nourish new film makers and in particularly Indigenous and women cinema creatives?
At the moment we are working with two local women film makers one of them is The 5 Provocations of Love and Her Sound, Her Story, getting the makers to introduce their work.
I think it is really important to provide a platform for emerging filmmakers across the board. It is important for women’s stories to get out into the mainstream cause it’s getting harder and harder for them to be seen.
It’s also very important for the Aboriginal stories to be told. Without nourishment, the Aboriginal culture starts to fall away: it is too important not to be nourished and pushed forward. Women filmmakers and Indigenous stories need to be part of our mainstream film culture.
I’m from a documentary background and, to me, the Australian mainstream needs to know what a rich culture we have here in order to become a more cohesive and stronger culture altogether – so let’s look at how strong the traditional ways of life are, which are still taught to kids, and we need to know that it’s alive and well so that we can learn a lot from that.
In terms of GOFF( Girls On Film Festival), I think it’s really important to support films that don’t get a wider release and get local film makers in to show their short films here. We can put it in on a Saturday afternoon, we only need 30 minutes in between films to do it, bump in and out.
Is there a Movie House anywhere in the world that is an inspiration for you?
Yeah it is the Sun Pictures House in Broome, WA. It is one of the longest continuous running ones in Australia. It is all timber paneling, there’s no Eftpos, there’s no bar, its half indoor half outdoor cinema with deck chairs and the screen is outside. Its screen is flanked by these big bougainvilleas, it is just so beautiful. It has to be seen; it feels like stepping back in time.
In the future what’s coming up for the Thornbury Picture House?
Well, members of the Darebin council have been amazing and we are looking at, potentially, being the hub for the Darebin Music Festival coming up in September, as well as, looking at a strand of strong female films. Basically, films with strong female roles or anything about women in music and that kind of thing. I would love to start a “Northside Music festival “.