St Kilda Film Festival began life as a modest community event in 1984, organised through the good graces of what was then the St. Kilda City Council. Acknowledging that there’s more to civic life than organising the garbage and rate collections, arts supporter Councillor Mary Lou Jelbart set plans in motion. The Council quickly came to the party, underwriting the costs of staging a modest weekend-long event with the hope that it could be then staged as an annual event.
Short filmmakers were starved for recognition, with few available outlets for screening their work. St Kilda, long famous as a hub of arts and entertainment, seemed the natural home for a specialist festival such as this - the first of its kind in Australia. The Festival’s first director, Nigel Buesst, placed great emphasis on ‘uncompromising individuality‘. In the following decades the Festival gradually grew in scope scale and reputation, becoming a unique national competition for Australian shorts.
The Festival has screened films that went on to be Oscar winners and nominees, and Palme D’or winners at Cannes. A short roll call of filmmakers whose earliest works found a home at St. Kilda includes the Blue Tongue Collective (Nash and Joel Edgerton, The Square; Kieran Darcy-Smith, Wish You Were Here), Adam Elliot (Harvey Krumpet), Matt Saville (Noise), Kriv Stenders (Red Dog), the Cairnes Brothers (100 Bloody Acres), Cate Shortland (Somersault), Jane Campion (The Piano, Bright Star) and Richard Lowenstein (Dogs In Space). Clayton Jacobson’s Kenny began its life at the Festival, winning both Best Comedy and the Audience Choice Awards. Soon after the film was expanded to feature length and the rest, as they say, is history.
Short films are not masterpieces when left on shelves and need the oxygen of public exposure to live and breathe. For three decades, St Kilda has provided such an opportunity, enabling audiences to enjoy films which are truly creative and diverse in approach. The Festival also promotes music video, international programs and free sidebar events including the Industry Open Day, daily workshops and forums. Most importantly, the Festival is publicly-owned and remains both a community-based event and also a national competition, which reflects the long tradition of thriving arts and culture in St Kilda – an iconic beachside suburb that has given birth to some of Australia’s most celebrated artists.
Paul Harris, Festival Director