Logline: Roarhouse v The State37 RVS 357 is a community arts mockumentary short, made in Melbourne in association with Open Channel Co-Operative Ltd. It was shot over 3 days with cast and crew consisting of former and current Roarhouse Melbourne performers and volunteers. The film draws on its sense of community spirit and the camaraderie that can come from participating in the creative arts.
Synopsis: Roarhouse, Melbourne's notorious community arts platform is on trial. “Guilty or not for changing people's lives.” But who is really on trial? A story about integrity, radical inclusion and the power of the collective as it collides with The State. This is a story about truth, risk and discovery.
Current Status: Completed
Writer & Director: Marjetka McMahon-Krizanic & David de Roach
Producer: Marjetka McMahon-Krizanic
Looking for: Journalists, media interest, film directors and distributors
Made in association with: Open Channel Co-operative Ltd & Roarhouse Melbourne productions
Where can I watch it? Melbourne Documentary Film Festival & West Side Shorts
Congratulations! Why did you decide to direct this film?
In 2014 I returned to Melbourne after taking a six-month hiatus from all Roarhouse activities. I returned feeling conflicted on whether or not I was going to continue working on the project. Since its inception the initiative grew rapidly engaging over 1400 artists and performers of all abilities in the first 6 years. We staged over 150 events and worked with over 70 volunteers and all this on the smell of an oily rag. At the time I found it difficult to get invested interest in the project.
So I enrolled into an Open Channel Media course following my passion for film and storytelling. I wasn’t sure what story I was going to tell until one evening a former Roarhouse performer approached me at a gig. She said “What’s happening with Roarhouse? Are you still running events?” I explained I was between gigs and unsure.
She said “Roarhouse was great, it changed my life. If it wasn’t for Roarhouse I wouldn’t be here following my passion and playing music. It gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my dreams.” I reflected on this comment and began recalling stories that I’d heard, directly and indirectly on what Roarhouse meant to so many people.
I began researching, looking over old media clippings, thank you letters, emails and gig reviews. What I found was a treasure trove of love from performers, audience members and community; affirming the initiative, applauding the diversity in performances and the camaraderie. People felt welcomed, valued and safe to tell their story without fear of judgment.
It felt right to focus my attention on documenting a story on Roarhouse and present it in a way which would capture the vibrancy and spirit of this magnanimous collective. It also gave me the opportunity to re-connect the community and engage as many former and current performers as cast and crew.
Why is the film called Roarhouse v The State?
The idea fell out of the question “Did Roarhouse change people’s lives?” The question seemed absurd and amusing on the one hand and on the other, it carried a certain amount of sincerity worthy of investigation. The more I considered the question, the more I felt there was a deeper more serious purpose here for me, which I needed to unpack through the process of making this film.
The rest seemed to fall into place following a discussion over coffee one morning with my daughter, a law student at the time. I discussed the idea about a small community project taken to court by the State, she thought it was fun and together we brainstormed and the concept grew from there. I wrote the script in a few weeks and sent it through to my co-director, David de Roach. He loved it. It then became a working progress between the two of us.
Setting the story in one of the most archaic institutions seemed appropriate. The collision between these two entities; grey suits v/s the defendants; a bunch of charismatic, self-advocates was the right juxtaposition for these two very disparate realities. The perfect metaphor in which to represent the vast space that often exists between bureaucratic systems and the people they represent.
Why did you decide to make a mockumentary?
Using this metaphor gave us room to navigate a landscape in which we could weave a powerful message and vulnerable enough to give us permission to laugh at ourselves and make light of our collective fragility as human beings living in a complex world.
It was the right genre to deliver what can be a heavy subject. The vibe of the film is central to our main tenet; ‘Unity is Strength’. We don’t concentrate on the symptoms and differences that separate us; rather we celebrate what unites us.
How did you involve 1400 artists in this film?
We didn’t involve 1400 artists in the film. This is a reference made in the courtroom-opening scene where gallery and jury members are presented with archived photos and mixed media to illustrate the history of Roarhouse.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The response to the film has been very positive. We have just been invited to screen the film at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and West Side Shorts, which is very exciting.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
After recent government cut backs to mental health social services we hope this film will illustrate the importance of the arts and community to an individual's sense of belonging. The arts have a well-recognised potential to promote health and well-being. One of the arts’ most powerful contributions to health is that they reflect and create an inclusive sense of community.
We want to initiate some discussion around the validity of supporting the survival and encouraging the growth of small community collectives and co-operatives as a response to the needs of those at risk. Vic Health’s own research has shown that belonging to a social network can addresses feelings of disconnectedness. Social connectedness is one of the key determinants of our health, happiness and well-being.
Also we want to encourage conversation around the importance of enabling people at risk to make choices. All too often people in this area are blamed for their own circumstances and so many are treated as though they are unable to make decisions for themselves. By inviting our performers and audience members, those considered vulnerable, into bars and pubs, enabled them to participate in the life of the wider community, engaging in social and political conversations, which was a very empowering and transformative experience for many. Our radical inclusion model was about giving people back their dignity by empowering them with choice.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We’d like a feature article to come from this film. And too, we would like to attract festival directors and distributors who can circulate the film to a greater audience
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
I hope the film will continue raising awareness around mental illness and disability and the work we do as a collective group program in supporting the needs and aspirations of individuals who live at risk.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
With government and NGOs cutting costs and new recovery models being implemented, Drop In Centres and day programmes for the mentally ill are gradually being closed. These were places where people used to congregate with their peers in a safe and welcoming environment. Often they facilitated writing and art programmes, sometimes producing small publications or holding art exhibitions of participants’ work.
With their closure significant support mechanisms will be taken away and a big hole will be left in the lives of many people. And by instituting an individual approach to self management and well-being, the government is implying “You are on your own mate” putting the responsibility of well- being in the hands of those who cannot manage on their own, forcing individuals into further disadvantage and despair.
Sandy Jeffs -”Roarhouse makes a noise”
A key question which might spark a debate about this issue could be -
“How might a collective and group programs approach serve the interests and aspirations of individuals?”