Steven Ball
Marie Craven
Solrun Hoaas
Daryl Dellora

Melbourne independent filmmakers

Leo Berkeley
Giorgio Mangiamele
Michael Buckley
Moira Joseph

Lee Smith

BIOGRAPHY:   In the fifteen-year period before his untimely death in 2008, Lee Smith produced an extraordinarily rich body of hand-made, cameraless and abstract film work, as well as making other types of experimental films. Most of the films only exist in their original and highly fragile state.

Alongside working in experimental film, Smith was a key figure within the alternative music scene in Melbourne during the 1980s and 90s, and, as such, was the founding member of a number of now legendary post-punk groups including Junk Logic (with Lisa Gerrard) and then The Leapfrogs and The Morpions, which were part of ‘the little band’ movement. Even though his films were made to be screened silently, Smith would often play pre-recorded sound or perform live electric guitar noise to his films during screenings.


An upcoming program of Smith's films will be presented in different parts of the world, extending from the filmmaker's original notion of adding temporary soundtracks to each film. A range of international artists, composers and musicians were asked to create soundtracks for specific films with the outcomes including musical works from: Frederic Devreese, Nick Cave/Warren Ellis, Steven Ball, Myriam Van Imschoot/Doreen Kutzke, Lisa Gerrard, Marisa Stirpe/Remy Bergner, and others. Lee Smith as well as being an active filmmaker and musician also taught cooking in neighbourhood houses, ran music/singing groups in drop-in centres and worked in transitional residencies for men.



With our greater mobility comes a greater sense of dislocation and an imperative to construct a self-induced centre within ourselves. The ideal has become to be independent, to stand alone, self-actualised. Certainly, such hand drawn film making as this is solidly independent, its low cost allows a cottage type of approach, outside the establishment. it is a tool that can be mobilised to such ends. It is something that can be taken up easily enough, but to carry it through, to weave tapestry, requires Smith's mature persistence of vision. For Smith, working in his flat, the continuous act of drawing onto film, enmeshed in the repetitions of daily life becomes its own grounding. One thing that hits you when viewing Tin Jan Istra is the amount of time that has been spent in scratching, drawing, colouring, and sewing, knitting it together. Frame by frame, step by step, going through the cottage. The making of Tin Jan Istra and Lee's growing oeuvre of work is a sustained act of becoming.”

- Dirk de Bruyn, “Image-Smithing: Lost and Found” Super Eight, Newsletter of the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group Inc., May 1998.

Lee Smith’s remarkable handmade and plaited films combine raw plasticity with a state of visual dynamism rarely encountered in cinema. Parallels and associations with the art and spirit of his namesakes, Jack Smith and Harry Smith, appear subliminally and compellingly recognisable within many of Lee’s film and musical artworks.”

- Marcus Bergner in West Brunswick Sculpture Triennial Catalogue, 2009.

As well as filmmaking, my other main concern is painting. I work mainly with ink and watercolour on paper. I've had a number of exhibitions (and hopefully many more to come). I work in an abstract expressionist way - a kind of 'calligraphic action painting', incorporating my interest in Chinese and Islamic calligraphy. I tend towards a Zen/Buddhist lifestyle of meditation and contemplation, after living a chaotic and turbulent drug-fuelled and ultimately destructive lifestyle for many years. I aim to live a more quiet life, and hopefully to help other people along the way.”

- Lee Smith “Lee Smith writes about his filmmaking”, Cantrills Filmnotes, 87/88, December 1997


with programme notes

Tin Jan Istra (1994, 10 mins, 16mm)
Forms rise, sink and reform in calligraphic gestures interrupted by found footage that is bevelled into submission. A film made entirely from found footage that was scratched and drawn upon. Tin Jan Istra is the name of a tiny village near Trieste where a friend named Branco lived when he was eight years old. The film's images are Branco's journey away from his home village; an alien landscape or dream?

Dirk de Bruyn wrote: “This film exhibits a compacted intensity of colour and movement, a kind of antithesis in look and function to Dorian Gray's picture; it is about finding one's way, rather than losing it. Like Redmond Bridgeman's U.L. the original is more vibrant than a copy could ever be. The intensity of the hand drawn colours on the clear leader remind me of the effect of light streaming through stained glass windows in a darkened church. The impact in moving an audience in the darkened cinema is also familiar and is imbued with a similar sense of personal purpose.”

Alights on a Cloud (1996, 15 mins, Super 8)
A meditative film that looks at the life of a building (and its inhabitants) over a period of three days (and nights) that could be anywhere or anytime.
New temporary soundtrack by Steven Ball, 2022.

Bambina di Luna (1996, duration unknown, Super 8.)
A dream-like narrative set in Luna Park starring Elise McCloud.

Luna Soma (1997, 6 mins, Super 8)
Handcloured and scraped film surfaces that is to be screened at 9 frames per second. “Cinema, like poetry, is about rhythm.” - Abbas Kiarostami.
New temporary soundtrack by Myriam Van Imschoot and Doreen Kutzke, 2022.

Tin Jan Istra

Brookes Jetty (1997, duration unknown, Super 8)
Screened at the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group, April 1997

Pan Am (1997, duration unknown, 35mm)
An abstract film based on the Pan Am logo.

Meadow (1998, 5 mins, 16mm)
Circles and dabs move celestially within this kinetic and visionary filmic gem. “Finally I see the rhododendron in bloom.” - Rene Daumal.
New temporary soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, 2022.

Jdeb (1998, 10 mins, 16mm)
A Sufi-inspired whirling journey of flowing and staccato scrolls that form and reform through a rush and release of swirling vibrant colour. Entirely hand scratched and re-coloured. Reflects Stan Brakhage 'seeing yourself see' through what he termed: closed-eye-vision.
New temporary soundtrack by Frederic Devreese (1929-2020), 2019.

At Five in the Afternoon (1999, 13 mins, Super 8).
A study of light and
architecture in St Kilda, Melbourne. Screened at the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group, July 1999.

Meadow Pan Am

Wax onto Gold (2000, 6 mins, 16mm.)
Numbers and letters stencilled, patterned and scratched directly onto the film surface in this work of pure cinematic alchemy.
New temporary soundtrack by Marisa Stirpe and Remy Bergner, 2022.

Cuna Soma (2001, 8 mins, 16mm).
The moon bounces to the interlacing of scratched and coloured oneiric patterns.

Apple Blossom (2008, 5 mins, silent, 35mm.)
A vast and all-embracing tapestry of abstract filmmaking methods. Using found footage rescued from the rubbish bin of a commercial film laboratory.
New temporary soundtrack by Lisa Gerrard, 2022.

Cathedral (2008, Digital film, 8mins)
Inspired by a painting (1978-80) of the same name by Richard Pousette-Dart. Here skills acquired from hand-made filmmaking methods are brought to digital animation production. Pousette-Dart wrote: “Art is for me, the heavens forever opening up, like asymmetrical, unpredictable, spontaneous kaleidoscopes.”

Luna Soma

All the images on this page originate from Cantrills Filmnotes 87/88, December 1997.


Lee Smith writes about his filmmaking”, Cantrills Filmnotes, 87/88, December 1997.

Image-Smithing: Lost and Found” by Dirk de Bruyn, Super Eight, Newsletter of the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group Inc., May 1998.




At Five in the Afternoon, sound piece by Lee Smith and Steven Ball

Profile written and compiled by Steven Ball and Marcus Bergner

© Lee Smith, May 2024.

Contact for Lee Smith's work: Marcus Bergner

Back to Melbourne independent filmmakers index page



Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis