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An arts treasure chest

Jonathan Marshall

In a significant development for Australian artists wishing to access key works, Contemporary Arts Media (CAM) has established an impressive catalogue of international performances, documentaries and training films on DVD and VHS cassette, and is actively seeking to increase its Australian content. The range of artists, among many others, includes Robert Wilson, Robert Lepage, Odin Theatret (an extensive gathering), Julie Taymar, Cirque du Soleil, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (an excellent selection) and Nederlands Dans Theater. The catalogue also includes visual arts, music, film, dance screen and media studies. Jonathan Marshall met with CAM’s director Kriszta Doczy to discuss the range and market for her catalogue.

After teaching theatre for several years Doczy founded the WA-based company Contemporary Arts Media (formerly Hush Videos) in 1993 to distribute materials which could be used for contemporary arts instruction at schools and universities in Australia and overseas. The collection now comprises around 1,500 documentary and instructional videos, DVDs and books. Doczy notes, "I was practicing in the performing arts in the 1970s in Europe", and CAM’s current catalogue reflects, to some degree, the chief influences to which she was exposed at that time. She cites the Polish avant garde of Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski, Japanese Noh theatre and the revival of the early Soviet avant gardism of Vsevold Meyerhold as some of the chief forms she encountered during her career, all of which are now featured in the CAM catalogue. The collection constitutes an implicit canon of contemporary Western and world theatre focusing "on alternatives to realism", she explains, "and this is why much of the Kabuki and Asian theatre is included."

Non-Western styles exerted a critical, formative influence on Western theatre makers such as Antonin Artaud (Balinese dance), Bertholt Brecht (Beijing Opera), Eugenio Barba and others. As such, these styles are now a crucial part of the Western contemporary theatre heritage, their significance extending beyond any patronising anthropological interest. In keeping with CAM’s non-realist focus, the more readily accessible Naturalist theatre does not make up a significant part of the collection. "We have some material on Konstantin Stanislavski and his successors but not much", Doczy says. A video on playwright/director David Mamet and another documenting an early Edward Albee production are rare exceptions.

Doczy herself is passionate about the need for artists to be exposed to historic avant garde sources and training methodologies. "Sometimes I see shows by young people", she explains, "in which they are repeating lots of inventions, lots of elements which have already been widely used over the course of the last 40 years. These students need to come up with an original idea. So they have to see what the generations before have done so as to be able to grow out of it, to step further, and to find their own theatrical or aesthetic language. They must study these works and make their own voice. So it is very important to have this documentation available. How else can you build up a culture?"

Doczy’s background–combined with the availability of extant materials–has caused CAM to focus more on international, rather than Australian, arts. However, the catalogue currently includes audio-visual materials on Melbourne improvisers Born in a Taxi, Brisbane’s Zen Zen Zo, Jimmy Chi’s Bran Nue Dae, mechanistic body artist Stelarc, WA-based performance artist Domenico de Clario, a collection of the 2004 ReelDance Awards finalist and several WA dance makers like co.Loaded and Chrissie Parrott. Probably the most significant new title distributed by CAM is Shifting and Sliding: The feminine psyche in performance, an edited collection of video interviews and production excerpts featuring the work of writer/director Jenny Kemp and choreographer Helen Herbertson, focusing particularly on their collaboration Still Angela (2002). A video of the full production is also on sale. Although some discussion of Kemp’s work is already available in Australian Women’s Drama (Peta Tait, Elizabeth Schafer eds, Currency, Sydney, 1997) and several of Kemp’s published scripts, this is the first widely accessible audio-visual title to deal exclusively with her career.

In order to expand the collection, CAM has also moved into small scale video production. The Chrissie Parrott title, for example, was edited at the company’s Fremantle offices. It features a new interview with Parrott recorded by CAM, edited with extant documentation of productions from Parrott’s own collection. The limited funds available, coupled with the typically low financial returns for such specialist films, means that the audiovisual language and aesthetic of CAM’s documentaries tends to be straightforward. Talking heads intercut with production stills and segments of audio-visual documentation remain the standard format.

Doczy herself attributes this entirely to issues of cost: "The ideal documentary would cost about $100,000 or more to make. So companies tend to team up with broadcasters to produce them and then sell them for television broadcast. But we don’t have a choice. We make low budget, educational documentaries for which $5,000 is the absolute maximum. Otherwise these films wouldn’t be available."

The most recent development for CAM is Doczy’s push to have the company move beyond distributing materials to educational institutions and teachers. She hopes to create a shop where artists and other interested parties can obtain some of CAM’s products, as well as establish a public library. One such open access collection is about to be established in Budapest where the librarians of the Palace of Culture have decided to add CAM’s entire catalogue to their public holdings. Doczy is putting out feelers to found a similar establishment in Australia, most likely based in Melbourne. In the interim she is happy for students and other curious people to make appointments to view selected materials at CAM’s Fremantle offices. "I tell people all the time that they can come here and curl up watching what we have," she says.

Contemporary Arts Media:

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 35

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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