Opening the black box: The Australian Cinémathèque and BIFF


We survey the history of the Gallery of Modern Art’s black box, and some of the cinematic highlights that the Australian Cinémathèque has projected to loyal audiences since 2006. From 2018 to 2020, QAGOMA will present Queensland’s long-running and much-loved Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) and this is a unique opportunity for the Cinémathèque to showcase a diverse range of films from around the world. 

The Australian Cinémathèque launched in earnest in 2005 with ‘Kiss of the Beast’. This inaugural program centred on the racial, gender and aesthetic associations of man-apes and near-human monsters in film and art, from King Kong, to iterations of the traditional fairytale Beauty and the Beast. Connecting works on screen with those in sculpture, painting and prints, it told a more complex story than a didactic comparison between art and film as distinct media, and set the scene for exhibitions to come with the opening of the cinemas inside the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA).

‘Kiss of the Beast’ at QAG, November 2005 / Photograph: Ray Fulton © QAGOMA

In December 2006, as the new building opened, then Chair Wayne Goss and Director Doug Hall wrote that the Cinémathèque’s ‘art museum context allows for explorations of the dynamic relationship between film and the visual arts’.1 The first of its kind in an Australian art museum, it remains unique twelve years later, although expansion plans in state galleries in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are unlikely to overlook screen programming as an important part of their designs.

The space itself is integral to GOMA’s architecture, the southern ‘black box’ to the river-facing ‘white box’ of the exhibition halls. Cinema A (with a capacity of 220) and Cinema B (with 110 retractable seats) are both equipped with state-of-the-art projection equipment, one of the few remaining facilities in Australia that can screen the full range of movie media, from celluloid to tape, and a wide range of digital file formats. The screening of original film prints is a priority for the Gallery, and a huge drawcard to cinephiles keen to see iconic films in the original analogue format intended by their creators.

GOMA’s ‘black box’ exterior, September 2006 / Photograph: John Gollings © QAGOMA
GOMA’s ‘black box’ exterior, September 2006 / Photograph: John Gollings © QAGOMA

With the Cinémathèque open and GOMA’s expansive galleries more than doubling exhibition space for the institution, exciting synergies emerged. The major exhibition ‘Andy Warhol’ (2009) was an opportunity to present a curated program of the artist’s moving image works, a crucial but less celebrated aspect of his oeuvre. In standalone programming, the Cinémathèque staked a bold claim with ‘Breathless: French New Wave turns 50’, an exhaustive multi-strand survey of the highly influential films of the French Nouvelle Vague movement of the 1950s and 60s. Two years later, the first genre program, ‘Be Afraid: Fear in North American Cinema’, was a frighteningly popular exploration of 50 years of horror, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956 to Cloverfield 2008. Subsequent genre outings took on comic book adaptations (‘Drawn to Screen’), Asian martial arts (‘Action Hong Kong Style’), frontier gun slinging (‘The Western’), the Italian thriller-horror (‘Gothic, Giallo, Gore’) and everything in between.

Cinema Programs

‘Cult Japan’ at Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA, 3 July – 2 September 2015

‘Gothic, Giallo, Gore: Masters of Italian Horror’ at Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA, 8 September – 01 October 2017

UK artist and musician Zan Lyons remixed both the vision and audio of Blade Runner live on stage / Production still from Blade Runner 1982 / Director: Ridley Scott / Image courtesy: Roadshow Entertainment / Photograph: Mark Sherwood © QAGOMA

The centring of cinema allowed for new modes of programming, from intimate pop-ups to ambitious black box–white cube crossovers. ‘Let There Be Rock’, a 2011 series of rock documentaries and concert films, invited notable Brisbane rockers to cover their musical heroes, while UK artist and musician Zan Lyons remixed both the vision and audio of Blade Runner live on stage. A retrospective of Peter Greenaway’s films (his The Draughtsman’s Contract is a common touchpoint for the intersection of visual art and film) was accompanied by a tour de force VJ performance by the filmmaker in GOMA’s Long Gallery for the 2009 Brisbane Festival.

David Lynch: Between Two Worlds

‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’, at GOMA, 14 March – 08 June 2015

Xiu Xiu perform the music of Twin Peaks during ‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’, GOMA April 2015

Chrysta Bell performs ‘Sycamore Trees’ from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks recorded at the opening of ‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’ at GOMA, 13 March 2015

Other director retrospectives have celebrated the careers of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alfred Hitchcock, Pedro Almodóvar, Claire Denis, Derek Jarman, Masaki Kobayashi, Ingmar Bergman and Werner Rainer Fassbinder. A major undertaking with David Lynch in 2015 looked at the entire oeuvre of a renowned director who, besides his famously perverse cinema and TV’s Twin Peaks, has maintained a parallel practice in painting, photography, sculpture and installation. ‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’ was a watermark for gallery-cinema synchronicity that was soon realised in even greater scale in ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, an epic 2017 unpacking of the screen-world of superheroes.

Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe

‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ GOMA, 27 May – 03 September 2017

Installation view of the Throne of Asgard during ‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’, GOMA May 2017

‘Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe’ GOMA, 27 May – 03 September 2017

Dan Cameron is Senior Communication Officer, QAGOMA

1 Australian Cinémathèque brochure, QAGOMA, December 2006, p.5.

Be part of BIFF 2018 at QAGOMA — the new home of Brisbane’s flagship film festival.

Explore the Australian Cinémathèque’s ongoing program of film and video / Delve into BIFF and our past programs

Artistic Director for BIFF 2018 is Amanda Slack-Smith, Curatorial Manager of QAGOMA’s Australian Cinémathèque.

The festival is supported by the Queensland Government through Screen Queensland in association with the Australian Federal Government through Screen Australia.

Feature image: Xiu Xiu perform the music of Twin Peaks during ‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’, April 2015