The Lost City of Melbourne wins history award

The Lost City of Melbourne wins history award

The filmmaker behind The Lost City of Melbourne documentary has received a community history award.

Filmmaker and co-owner of Thornbury Picture House and Blow Up Cinema, Gus Berger, won the History Interpretation Award at the 2024 Community History Awards on February 2 for his documentary, exploring Melbourne’s heritage.

The annual ceremony is presented by Public Record Office Victoria in partnership with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, to celebrate individuals who are dedicated to telling local stories through creative and unique history projects.

Mr Berger’s inspiration for the documentary came when both of his businesses were among “the first to close at the start of COVID lockdowns and the last to reopen”, and he began thinking about what he could do creatively to get through “the difficult times”.

“I’ve always been fascinated with and known where all the old cinemas used to be and what happened to not only them, but also the old markets, hotels and pubs,” he told CBD News.

“It was just something that I was working on quite independently and talking to my wife Lou about it, until things were open again and I could conduct some interviews.”

What followed was an extraordinary discovery of some of Melbourne’s most magnificent buildings being pulled down “within a very short period of time” throughout the 1950s and ‘60s.

“It was kind of a bittersweet revelation that came from the discoveries in the film,” Mr Berger said.

“It was amazing to see photographs and film of these incredible buildings, but it was also pretty devastating to come to terms with the fact that they were all pulled down – there was just no heritage legislation and there wasn’t enough public will to stop what was happening.”

Following its premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival, The Lost City of Melbourne had sold out screenings in some of Melbourne’s most iconic cinemas such as The Capitol and the Forum Melbourne theatre.

“I was definitely surprised by how people responded to the film – it really resonated with a lot of people, particularly people who have grown up in Melbourne and have memories of that time,” Mr Berger said.

“I got some lovely feedback and a lot of really sweet emails from people that have seen it and talked about some of the memories that they had of some of the buildings and theatres.”

One of Mr Berger’s favourite discoveries from the film was the story of the Padua Cinema; an Art Deco theatre built in 1930 with a “UFO-style ticket booth that looked like it was floating in the middle of the foyer”.

“There was a local man called Alan Windley who was horrified that this beautiful theatre was being demolished, so he spent a bit of time filming the last few films that were there and he filmed the process of the building being demolished – it’s really powerful footage.”

Following its run in cinemas, Mr Berger has worked with Madman Entertainment to find the film a permanent home on SBS’s streaming service, as well as publishing a book of some of the images he uncovered throughout the filmmaking process.

“The first edition sold out in December just after Christmas which was amazing, and we’re getting a second edition printed at the moment which should be available in April or May,” he said.

“History was never a subject that I did at school but I’ve sort of always been interested in it, so it’s a real honour and privilege to win an award like this.” •

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