Remembering Chris McGill, filmmaker and friend of the VCA
A memorial service was held last month at the Victorian College of the Arts for the filmmaker and much-admired screenwriting lecturer Chris McGill.
By Professor Jon Cattapan, Director of the Victorian College of the Arts
On 12 November 2017, we celebrated the life of filmmaker and long-time Screenwriting lecturer Chris McGill with a memorial service at our Southbank campus.
I am always saddened when one of our former colleagues passes. It is abundantly clear to me that our current and past academics look upon the Victorian College of the Arts as their other home. Our academics honour us with their allegiance and a style of teaching that is deeply immersive and allows students to learn by making.
Chris McGill was a very fine lecturer and mentor for many Film and Television students over the years. Although I only knew him in passing, I always found Chris to be a deeply erudite soul. It was said at his memorial celebration that Chris had an “in-built bullshit detector”. This is certainly how he struck me.
He had a wry sense of humour and appeared gentle, but he was a firm advocate for hard, critical work and solid testing. He teased the very best out of students. His great passion for films made him an inspiring teacher, a companion in filmmaking, a poet, a writer, and a widely-acknowledged dreamer.
Chris started out in the theatre at Sydney University and directed the first outdoor pageant of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In 1967 he joined Channel 10 where he worked on a variety of programs. The following year he worked with Ian Dunlop on the now famous documentary series Desert People.
As a staff director at Film Australia, he made many international award-winning films, including The Line, No Roses for Michael and After Proust.
In 1972 he worked at the BBC, and then with the Canadian National Film Board for a series on the Cree people. In honour of that work he was made a Cree chief – his honorary name was Wapasco, which means “White Cloud”.
In India, he trained under the Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and in Sweden with the master director Ingmar Bergman. He also worked with Haskell Wexler in America and John Dorner in Europe.
In later years, Chris met with the acclaimed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini in Rome, where Fellini would pretend he was the maid when answering the phone. Apparently, Fellini also told Chris he had an auspicious dream about them meeting – Fellini was very superstitious.
Chris directed and produced a wide range of films, and in 1980 directed Maybe this Time, which was nominated for eight awards, including Best Picture at the AFI awards, and was awarded the Jury Prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. Among many of his scripts that won awards, he wrote the screenplay for Fatty Finn (1980) with Bob Ellis.
Chris worked from 1981 at Swinburne Film School, and when Swinburne folded into VCA Film and Television, he worked as an integral part of our Faculty until 2007.
We, his VCA family, will miss Chris and his ways greatly. We thank him sincerely for his deep commitment to teaching and mentoring. We acknowledge and remember his contribution to Australian film and we are very proud to have played some part in the legacy he leaves behind.
I would like to thank and acknowledge Chris’s wife Penny Black and the McGill family, assisted by Rilke Muir and Nicolette Freeman, for allowing us to present such a meaningful memorial celebration.
Vale Chris McGill, great filmmaker, great mentor and great friend of the VCA.
14 March 1945–6 October 2017
Main image: Chris McGill. Image supplied.