A student film produced and shot in Canberra has been selected for the St Kilda Film Festival, an Academy Award-qualifying event for short films, to be held on 1-12 June.
CAPTCHA is a 15-minute science-fiction film produced by a group of University of Canberra students during the 2021 COVID-19 lockdown. The film is described as “a hypnotic journey through a mysterious test facility, following an emotionless test subject as he undergoes a series of strange stimulus-and-response evaluations”.
It features locations from around the capital, including the UC campus, the greenhouses at CIT, Lake Burley Griffin and West Belconnen Pond, and the team worked with several local businesses to source equipment, props and costumes.
The UC students, who have now graduated, are thrilled to have their work displayed at one of Australia’s most respected film festivals. The St Kilda Film Festival has a history of recognising emerging talent and has helped launch the careers of some of the country’s best filmmakers.
“It’s an honour for our student short to be recognised alongside some of Australia’s most talented filmmakers,” producer Lachlan Kendall said. “We put a lot of hard work and passion into the project, as we even continued to refine the edit in post-production for months after graduation to bring it to a professional audiovisual standard we were happy with.”
The film started as an idea conceived by director Matthew Francis.
“It was a reflection of how I felt at the time – attached to media and disassociated from the real world,” Matthew said.
The script began as a project he was working on in his spare time, but then it became part of a university project, which is how he met Lachlan and the rest of the team involved in the film, including Lachlan’s wife Sofia.
While Matthew said the goal was to make the location “non-specific, as if it was nowhere”, the film uses locations throughout the city, with several scenes at the university. The UC’s Faculty of Art and Design and the CIT Horticulture and Floristry Department both provided locations and equipment for the film.
“A lot of it was filmed at UC,” Lachlan said. “There was a lot of the Canberra community help that made the film come to life.
”We didn’t have much money to work with, but organisations like UC and CIT gave their support.”
Several local organisations donated props or allowed their locations to be used. The crew, musicians and graphic design collaborators were also sourced locally and costumes were bought second-hand from the Green Shed.
Props were provided by the Heritage and Conservation Laboratory at UC and PhotoAccess in Manuka. Lachlan said they contacted PhotoAccess to ask whether it had any broken equipment that could be used for a darkroom scene.
“That was great; we had way too much stuff to work with,” he said.
CAPTCHA’s recognition in a national and Academy Award-accredited festival is particularly significant as Canberra’s film scene is relatively small and it is sometimes “a fight to make Canberra known” in the film world.
“The Canberra film scene is small, there’s not much to it,” Matthew said. “But if we made something really big here, that would be an upside.”
Lachlan added: “People generally think the more successful they get, they leave, but this is changing.”
Asked whether they expected the student project to be recognised in one of the country’s most respected film festivals, Matthew said: “I’m super glad that it did. It needs to be seen by people.”
He said he was looking forward to seeing how people responded to it, given it was an “emotionless film about emotion”.
“We didn’t expect it to get to this level but we put a lot of effort into it after it was submitted as an assignment,” Lachlan said. “We edited it for months, and even after that we weren’t expecting it to get to the level of a prestigious film festival.”
Matthew and Lachlan have now turned their attention to new projects: Matthew is working on a short film, which is “getting larger in scale” and involves similar themes to CAPTCHA, but with a focus on “destroying the media and tearing it up”.
Lachlan, meanwhile, is working on a three-minute film, currently in post-production, which he filmed over the rainy weekend in Kowen Pine Forest.
CAPTCHA (2023) is directed by Matthew Francis and produced by Postglacial. It stars Ankush Singh Khanchi, Josephine Gazard and Sofia Kendall.
More information on the St Kilda Film Festival can be found on its website.