Inner West Film Forum – Tribute to Robert Herbert

November 27, 2017 @ 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Membership from $15/$12

Inner West Film Forum – Tribute to Robert Herbert

Presented by AGNSW Film Curator Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd and filmmaker Paul Matereke.

On 28 June 2017 the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ longstanding and much-loved curator of film, Robert Herbert, passed away. Robert was a polymath craftsman: a popular DJ, ikebana master and horologist.

A last bastion of Sydney screen culture; a boldly curated cinémathèque; a free film school in the classics; a truly public institution in its own right. The Gallery’s film program is many things to many people. Without Robert Herbert, there simply could not have been a film program at all. Robert did it all single-handedly: he was at once curator, manager and projectionist. When Robert began working at the Gallery in the late 1990s, the film offerings were limited to the occasional educational art documentary. As a filmmaker himself, Robert was committed to championing cinema as an art form. In late 1999, he staged an inaugural film study day. This program gradually swelled into year-round festival of cinema.

For 18 years, Robert offered his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema’s histories to Sydney audiences for free, three times a week, like clockwork. Responding – often in wildly inventive ways – to the Gallery’s major exhibitions, Robert’s curation ran the gamut from canonical classics and landmark documentaries to experimental films and rarely seen prints sourced with persistence from archives across the globe. While meticulous in his standards of projection and devoted to ensuring films were shown in the format intended by their creators, Robert’s curation was never dull or dour. The program, like the man himself, had vivacious wit and a lightness of touch: Mickey Mouse shorts met modernist masterpieces from Iran, Japan and Russia.

Countless film trunks travelled from the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra to Sydney each week, where they were trolleyed to the projectionist’s booth, each reel carefully tended to, tested and threaded, ready for the show. If film as an art form mattered to Robert, it also mattered to him as a unique collective experience: a magic show in the dark. His devotion to screening celluloid in a digital age was not borne of nostalgia but of a deep desire to offer the best possible cinematic encounters to successive generations of Sydneysiders. The city, and Australian film itself, are much diminished without Robert Herbert in his Domain.

– Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd


Robert studied Fine Arts at the City Art Institute in Darlinghurst and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Film & Television Directing) from the Australian Film Television Radio School in 1991. With fellow AFTRSgraduates, he formed a film production company called Arcadia Pictures. Robert acted as director, and frequently writer, on several award-winning films which screened internationally, from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechoslovakia to the Festival International Du Jeune in France.


Valley of desire

Dir: Robert Herbert 1989

27 min 16mm
Tanya Sparke, Peter Morgan, Marilyn Gotlieb
Scenes from a steamy Tennessee Williams style 50s film, Valley of desire, are found in an old cinema at Nelson Bay on the NSW central coast. Are they from a forgotten Hollywood masterpiece starring Miss Elizabeth Taylor or from a cheap Australian copy starring Miss Shelby Renfrew (Sparke)? The Film Historian (played by Herbert himself) becomes entwined in a tangled web of memory and fiction as he tries to discover the origins of the celluloid images. A faux documentary, Valley of desire explores the notion that our memories are as much personal fictions as fact.

Flight of the bumble bee

Dir: Robert Herbert 1991

3 min 16mm
Robert Herbert’s interpretation of Flight of the bumblebee. Described by the filmmaker as a ‘nature interlude of dramatic twists and turns, featuring young dancers from Bodenweiser and Halliday’s Dancy Academy’.


HE and SHE

Dir: Robert Herbert 1993

26min 16mm

Malicious damage to a fence, trespassing, causing a disturbance in a public place, driving a vehicle unlicensed, driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent, drunk and disorderly. Kay and Billy are not criminals – they’ve just been out on the town.

The celluloid domain

Dir: Paul Matereke 2017 (AU)

22 min Digital Colour Rated G
The celluloid domain is the brainchild of Sydney-based Zimbabwean-Australian filmmaker Paul Matereke. A year in the making, the film centres around the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ unique, all-35mm film program and its exceptionally talented curator, Robert Herbert. As a budding young artist, Paul explores Robert’s 20+ year career in the film industry and uses the knowledge gained to inform his own ambitions.


The Inner West Film Forum Membership available at the Door

* Quarterly $15 ($12 concession) covers three successive months.
* Half-Yearly $28 ($23 concession) covers six successive months.
* Yearly $54 ($48 concession) covers twelve successive months
* All inclusive of the date of purchase.

Bar open from 7.00 p.m.

The IWFF is a non-profit group dedicated to the screening of important and too infrequently seen films and documentaries and providing a community forum for discussion of issues of social, political and cultural concern.

For more details, contact Alex 0449 184 801