Last year I met Julien Sena and Romain Levrault, two documentary filmmakers from the Reunion Islands, shortly after they had arrived in Melbourne. They were here to make a documentary about Melbourne street art. I’ve been watching the DVD of the result – Melbourne INK. (Paul Cooper, of Art Truck Design who supported the making of the film, lent me the film thanks Coops). Melbourne INK is screening at ACMI on Saturday, (tickets are still availalable for the screening of Melbourne Ink this Saturday at 4pm).
There have been many documentaries about street art in the past and you have to wonder if another new documentary will contribute anything new. Filmmaking has, in part, defined street art, in the past packaging aerosol art with break-dancing and hip hop music. Melbourne INK is not like this, it lets the artists speak for themselves and it does have a point with a specific focus on Melbourne street art.
The film is book-ended by statements about the attraction of the city for street artists and by the end I felt it had explained these statements about Melbourne. The documentary intelligently edits interviews with artist to create a story in under half an hour. It explains why Melbourne is an important centre for street art, what happens when street artists move into the gallery and the confused/hypocritical response to street art by Melbourne City Council.
There are interviews with HaHa, Drew and Vexta from Blender Studios; Miso and Ghostpatrol at their studio, Mitten Fortress; Rone, Meggs, Reka and Phibs at Everfresh Studios. The gallery directors Andrew Chew of No Vacancy and Andy Mac of Until Never are included to explain some aspects especially the move off the streets and into galleries. The conversations are casual on the couch with HaHa and Drew or sitting at a table with Ghostpatrol and Miso as they tag-team interviews while working on their art. The filmmaker’s voice rarely appears in these interviews except in subtle the monosyllabic indications for the subject to expand on a point.
These interviews continue as voice-overs with shots of street art; the pace of the film is excellent. And there is plenty of excellent footage of art in laneways, along train lines and schoolgirls touring Hosier Lane. There is footage of Drew and HaHa doing aerosol and stencil work. Or the wonderful night sequences of the street artists at work in the street: there is Miso putting up a large paste-up. So that you are not always looking at an artist seated in some studio talking.
It is not idealizing Melbourne’s street art; the contradictions of street art’s illegality and the move into galleries are examined from a number of perspectives. Vexta, in particular, proves to be an insightful interview subject and it is great to hear Rone saying that he doesn’t like everything on the street.
Melbourne INK is a very attractive; starting with the opening title sequence where a wall is built up with paint from many artists to create the title. There is cool soundtrack from The Cinematic Orchestra. But most importantly it is the most informative documentary, and better than any of the books or magazine articles, that I have seen on Melbourne’s street art. I hope that Julien Sena and Romain Levrault will make more documentaries; Melbourne INK would be a good model for a series of documentaries about street art cities.