The 2019 Fashion Film Awards: Romantic Cine-Poetry

By Joanna Elena Batsakis

This piece was written as part of the Fashion Writing Program 2019

A young man lies on a floor completely covered with pink and yellow roses. He is wearing tortoise-rim glasses, brown suit pants and a tuxedo jacket embroidered with pink roses. He looks like a poet caught between two dimensions. His clothes speak to a Victorian era but the sound of his voice suggests that he also belongs to the contemporary world.

Through voice over we hear him speak, “We took walks at night, sometimes we could see Venus above us. It was the Shepard’s star, the star of love…” To those who are fans of the legendary rock musician Patti Smith, these words immediately sound familiar. As the camera cuts to a close-up of the man reading from a book with a red cover that is Smith’s legendary autobiography Just Kids. We recognise that this young poet before us is the cult English actor Charlie Heaton, known internationally as Jonathan Byers from Netflix’s Stranger Things. But for now, when observed on the cinema screen, Heaton is the star of the fashion film The Performers Act III: Charlie Heaton, directed by Albert Moya in collaboration with GQ and Gucci.



For the fifth consecutive year, VAMFF and RUSSH Magazine have collaborated to present the Fashion Film Award, the longest-running and leading platform in Australia for the exposure of local and international creative talent. This year, ten films were selected as winners of the Fashion Film Award and each film was screened in full large-scale cinema projection at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne. The screening was followed by a Q&A run by ACMI’s own James Nolan with three of the winning directors – Henry Thong, Georgina Solomon and Helen Clemens, and featured a pre-recorded interview with the renown documentary filmmaker Kathryn Ferguson.



As described by RUSSH’s Arts Editor Victoria Pearson who introduced the screening, fashion films have become a creative way for designers and brands to explore their identities and transcend traditional advertising to provide unique perspectives about the future of fashion with the assistance of high-quality production regularly seen in cinema and music videos. Pearson’s introduction also announced some very exciting news: the majority of the winners of the Film Award were female identifying – an announcement that was met with great applause.

Each of the ten films screened were dazzling visual feats that showcased how designers and filmmakers collaborated together to create films that aimed to diversify the contemporary cultural landscape through language, genre and diverse choices in casting. These jury-selected films were individualistic and creatively diverse. International films such as Autumn de Wilde’s four film instalments created for Prada titled The Postman Dreams 2 saw the iconic American independent actor Elijah Wood situated within comical, laugh-out-loud situations across the Los Angeles cityscape with a distinctive Italian flair. Locally, Australian fashion films like IRVSBL (directed by Ramon Watkins) presented us with a reinterpreted version of early ‘90s fashion and hip-hop with glamour, pounding house music and frivolity mixed together. Zoofari (directed by Ribal Hosn) presented us with an introspective spoken-word performance by Gemma Ward. Henry Thong’s Makers Who Inspire: Paul Vasileff was an extremely intimate and spellbinding documentary portrait about Vasileff and his desire to create haute couture in his home state of Adelaide.



The stand-out film from the ceremony was The Performers Act III: Charlie Heaton, in which Moya followed Heaton around Manhattan with a hand-held camera, framing the actor against backdrops of Manhattan’s glistening night-time city-scapes and inside dangerously dark-lit romantic interiors. Moya created a buzzing, infectious visual documentary poem that simultaneously revealed the poetic and tender side to Heaton’s personality while also relying on textures (from rose petals to cotton bed sheets) to camouflage the actor so that he can also exist as the chameleon performance artist he desires to be. Additionally, Moya’s film encouraged feelings of cinephilia to erupt within the viewer; the cinematography immediately recalled memories of Mick Jagger in the cult film Performance (1970) and Andy Warhol’s iconic Screen Tests.

The Q&A session that followed the screenings was an insightful and deeply informative reflection about the uniqueness of fashion films. The pre-recorded interview with Kathryn Ferguson saw her discuss her responsibility as a documentary filmmaker to construct identities in cinema, a moving personal reflection about her work within the international socio-political cinematic landscape. Additionally, Henry Thong’s provided deeply reflective responses to questions surrounding identity within Australian culture and documentary filmmaking communicated to the audience (in a live format) the truly individualistic perspective that saw itself entwined with Vasileff’s own in his documentary fashion film.

The VAMFF Fashion Film Award was a magnificent event. The  films will be shown publicly at Val Morgan cinemas nationwide, Melbourne’s Astor Theatre and Cinema Nova, on RUSSH TV and Virgin Australia’s in-flight Fashion Channel. 

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