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Christopher Barnett: Cultural Bolshevik

Antenna Festival: These Heathen Dreams


Christopher Barnett, courtesy Antenna Documentary Film Festival Christopher Barnett, courtesy Antenna Documentary Film Festival
In Adelaide and Melbourne in the early 1980s the hard talking, hard living poet Christopher Barnett was a force to be reckoned with—socially, artistically, politically, not that he made these distinctions.

A charismatic public performer, this self-styled “Cultural Bolshevik”—a homage to his hero, Valdimir Mayakovsky (see p42)—and a key collaborator with Nicholas Tsoutas and Peggy Wallach in the All Out Ensemble, Barnett left Adelaide for Fitzroy and then in the mid 80s relocated to Nantes in France where he became notable for co-founding an experimental company, Le Dernier Spectateur, working with the disenfranchised.

The film’s maker Anne Tsoulis writes, “To understand what shaped the artist, we explore his formative years, raised in poverty in a dysfunctional Adelaide family to becoming the teenage poet and enfant terrible. We discover that, at an early age, his Communist ideals helped him to survive his own challenging circumstances.”

The 53-minute documentary includes footage of readings, reunions, a rare homecoming to suburban Adelaide after a 20-year absence and a visit by road in winter to visit Thomas Harlan, a radical documentary maker and translator of Barnett’s Blue Book.

These Heathen Dreams is screening in Sydney’s 2014 Antenna Documentary Film Festival. In The Conversation, 8 Aug 2014, you’ll find Wendy Haslem’s review of the film screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival and in the 29 Nov, 2013 edition you can read Anne Marsh’s appreciation of Barnett, “The greatest Australian poet you’ve never heard of,” on the occasion of the launch of a book of his poetry, titled when they came/ for you: elegies/ of resistance, published by Wakefield Press.


2014 Antenna Documentary Film Festival, These Heathen Dreams, Journey of a Cultural Bolshevik, director Anne Tsoulis, producer, Georgia Wallace-Crabbe, Chauvel Cinema Two, Sydney, 8 Oct, 8pm

RealTime issue #123 Oct-Nov 2014 pg. 55

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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