A LIFELONG love of film was sparked within Erin McCuskey in her childhood home.
“My parents would shoot Super 8, four-to-six weeks later the film would arrive, and they would project it,” she said. “It was an opportunity to see ourselves on a whole wall; us kids running around.
“That was a real founding moment for me in my love of the moving image because the lounge room was dark, you could hear the flicker of the projector, and it was a cinematic experience.
“We were a big Irish family and didn’t get the opportunity to go to the movies all the time, so that was our movies.”
As a youngster, McCuskey learnt from her father how to use a film camera, and with a mum and many sisters to follow around at home, she had her own “rockstars” to capture.
Heading to university to study film and media, she gained an understanding of how to shape a story and messages on screen, and has been making movies for decades since.
“My work has progressed enormously in that time but has maintained the themes of family, home, and the expression of that freedom for women.” she said.
“A lot of my films include dancing and twirling because, for me, it’s just so important to dance for those who can’t.
“Over that time, I’ve really honed my ability with layering images, so they’re quite cinematic, they’re very poetic, and they’re designed to engage an audience where they bring their heart to the forefront.
“When people walk out of my films, they’ve had an experience, they’ve felt something. If my films can support someone to feel something, whether that be happy, sad, fear, disappointment, or lots of joy, then I feel like I’ve been successful at my art.”
This week, a 93-minute retrospective of McCuskey’s films, Dancing Shadows, was screened at Thornbury Picture House as part of the Unknown Pleasures: Australian independent cinema series.
Co-curator, film director Bill Mousoulis, described her work as some of “Australia’s great unknown pleasures,” and said she “deserves greater recognition as a filmmaker.”
McCuskey said the event “opens doors” for her.
“Screening a retrospective in Melbourne, for a regional artist, is just so incredibly rare, and I’m so grateful because it allows my name and my work to go beyond the borders of where I work on Wadawurrung country,” she said.
“I’ve screened across the world in various formats and festivals and so on, but to have that recognition in Australia is crucial to an artist’s capacity to build their career.
“Bill Mousoulis calls my film Do Not Go Gentle, a masterpiece, and that’s exciting.”
Ten films are part of the presentation, from early works on Super 8, to her most recent piece, Precious Fragments, created in collaboration with Wadawurrung Traditional Owners, Deanne and Tammy Gilson.
Half of the works featured were also produced in partnership with Ballarat composer Christine Tammer.
With funding support from Creative Victoria and Regional Arts Australia, McCuskey will screen a similar program of works in Dublin, Ireland in September.
“I’m building a three-channel work, which means you have three projectors which create three walls, like a room,” she said. “You can literally sit inside the work, which will be extraordinary.
“The concept around it, Come Home asks, how do we know we belong? My parents were immigrants, and my ancestry is Irish.
“How do immigrants and refugees, and people who travel, claim home? Where is home for people?”
McCuskey is working to establish a reciprocal cultural screen residency, and will aim to bring an Irish artist to Australia next year.