“Even 20 years ago, ACMI was very innovative and future-looking. They treated games and television alongside film, and they gave them equal weight and attention in their exhibition and their educational activities.”
Associate Professor Liam Burke, a lecturer in screen studies, says the Australian Centre for the Moving Image has played a key role in our understanding of the importance of the screen.
“I think anyone who attends, whether you’re there for five minutes or five hours, leaves with a more rounded understanding of everything that the screen suggests and covers,” he says.
ACMI is celebrating 20 years of educating and entertaining the next generation of film enthusiasts and filmmakers, after reaching that milestone anniversary at the end of October.
After undertaking a $40 million redevelopment, funded by the Victorian government in conjunction with independent partners, the institution fully reopened in February 2021. This followed a two-year architectural and internal transformation, adding a range of cutting-edge industry innovations. In its new setup, the centre covers film, sound, audio, video games, art, theatre, festivals screenings, interactive elements and more.
CEO and director Seb Chan, who took on the role in August, says that as the centre has evolved, including through the pandemic, there’s been a growth in local support.
“Before the pandemic, maybe half our visitation was tourism, and what we’ve seen as a result of Melbourne’s ongoing recovery is that most of our audience now is local,” he says.
“I think that’s a very exciting thing and, in fact, what we were trying to do through the renewal program was to build a museum and a series of exhibition-based spaces, cinemas and labs that would invite locals to come back multiple times to build a different relationship with us.
“I think what’s been interesting is that, over the period of the former director Katrina Cedric, we very quickly identified that, actually, we serve many different communities and that we had to broaden and diversify those communities as well.”
Situated in Federation Square, the institution is open 364 days a year. Many schools and universities across Victoria have developed close relationships and partnerships with it, liking its future-focused education and the presentations that show our deep celluloid origins.
One of the centre’s key attributes is its ability to be a hub with many facets. It is known for its restoration and preservation of heritage films and imagery, ensuring the retention of pivotal moments in Australian culture. This caters not only to historians, but also as a legacy for future generations and the wider community.
A/Prof Burke said the centre – the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere – had widened its scope in recent years.
“I think what ACMI has done is provide a broader conception for a larger audience about what is screen and what goes into screen production, but also screen consumption as well,” he said.
“It of course hosts many screenings and festivals but more importantly, they bring exhibitions, locally created and from around the world, to create a greater understanding of the behind-the-scenes aspects of film, TV and games,” he said.
“For example, its permanent exhibition, The story of the Moving Image, traces pre-cinematic moving-image technology, right through to virtual (VR), augmented (AR) and extended reality (ER).”
Film and television student Jerrielle Welbeck said being able to access so much at the centre both online and in person added to the value of exhibitions she was excited to see.
“It is so important – regardless of your course or what you’re doing in school. A lot of kids can’t express creative freedom, or even know that they want for that, unless they watch movies or go to events at ACMI that encourage working in any creative medium,” she said.
Media student and ACMI regular Mina Wakefield said the centre provided creative inspiration.
“I think it does just as much as an art gallery would for painters, inspiring the young up-and-comers and showing kids not only the history, but the future, that they may even be a part of one day,” she says.
“It also it specialises in areas that schools and theatres don’t really cover – it’s a wonderful space to show all of the different areas of film, cinematography and digital art.”
Cultural and community factors
Cultural diversity is also important.
Chan said working with all kinds of groups was key. “We’re engaging with different communities in different ways and that includes the community of makers,” he says.
“A really interesting thing we’re all noticing is that creators now are making works that are both experimental and commercial, and sometimes both at the same time. The era of being purely an ‘artist’ feels like it has passed and maybe when that era was celebrated, the people who could afford to be ‘capital A’ artists were much narrower in class, and ethnicity, and gender composition.
“The privilege that allowed those people to solely make art is something that wasn’t equally distributed across our communities.
“So, in recent times, we’ve been doing a lot of very successful work. We just received the data for the last financial year of visitors and they are more culturally diverse than ever before. We’re (also) doing more work with the deaf and disabled community as well, which is very exciting, and very critical.
For me, a good museum is a curiosity machine that makes you more interested about the world you live in – and the things around you
Looking to the future
ACMI has continued to explore new fields and innovations. It was widely praised for the gaming exhibition Game Masters, which welcomed the often-ignored sector of gaming users to the mainstream.
The centre now holds more than 7000 video games within its larger collection of more than 250,000 pieces.
Its future, however, will strongly rest far beyond its physical boundaries.
Burke said the online presence was important. “One of the ways that ACMI has become really innovative and anticipated trends that we’re seeing today, is that while it is a bricks-and-mortar museum, it also has a very active online presence.
“When the renovations happened a couple of years ago to renew ACMI, the vision of it was that you didn’t just go there for two hours once every couple of months, but that there was content accessible to you such as digitised archival materials, posts, etc that you can view at home.
“I suppose what I’d like to see with all of these institutions, whether it be screen education institutions, the festivals or museums, is that they are mindful of not being about just the audiences who are lucky enough to be able to attend in person,” he said.
“Whether that’s filming all their guests’ talks and making them available on YouTube or when they get an exhibition, digitising some of that content and making it available to those who cannot attend. They could expand on their own streaming service where they could do curated seasons of films to coincide with things that are happening in the industry, like the Cannes Film Festival or on a particular social issue.
I think the future of ACMI is a blended or integrated model where you perhaps don’t even see the joins between in-person and online, but they are totally thought about and conceived of as a broader overall package.
Chan said the centre wanted to be “a vital part of every young person’s youth” over the next 20 years.
“I would like to see that people look back and think of how we were able to help capitalise and grow creativity and the diversity of creativity.
“I think we should be like an accelerant on the other creative energies of the city. We shouldn’t just be the place that captures all the creative energies in the city.
“I would hope that we remain at least connected to our part of the world, the Asia–Pacific over the next 20 years, and I think it’s part of our responsibility to connect people outwards.”
ACMI’s 20th anniversary celebrations began on October 29.