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Fig Street Fiasco (1974)


A ‘process video’ that filmmaker Tom Zubrycki made in collaboration with inner-city Sydney residents, this documentary voices the concerns of residents whose houses are tagged for demolition to make way for the proposed North-Western Expressway.

Curator’s notes

Along with The Inner City Tape and We Have To Live With It (also made in 1974), Fig Street Fiasco centres on the struggles of residents affected by the redevelopment plans that swept through many working-class suburbs in inner-city Sydney during the 1970s. Made by the inner-city residents, in conjunction with the Community Media Association, this collaborative video is in many ways a precursor to Tom Zubrycki’s first feature documentary Waterloo, made five years later covering similar issues. Indeed, Zubrycki utilised the networks he established with these resident action groups when he was making Waterloo in 1981.

Fig Street Fiasco covers the crucial final stages where consultation has given way to confrontation, and resident action groups protest alongside other community members to take on the bulldozers and the police. It begins with a powerful collage of images and still frames of confrontations between protesters and police and combines this with two protest ballads over the soundtrack. This works to immediately engage the audience. The opinions and views of residents are then given voice through on-the-spot interviews and voice-overs. It runs for half an hour – a typical length for Zubrycki’s early works – and packs a lot of action, emotion and context into a short space of time. The title comes from the words one protester paints on the side of a house marked for demolition in Fig Street, Ultimo.

These video productions, made by Zubrycki between 1974 and 1979 were intended to be screened in town halls, community centres, at local meetings and even in people’s houses to both raise awareness of the residents’ concerns and to advocate for change on their behalf. Zubrycki refers to these works as ‘process videos’ or collaborative works that were made quickly and on the run, but despite some evidence of their haste (including the limitations of primitive portable video technology and linear editing facilities) Fig Street Fiasco remains a powerful example of the impact that the community video movement had in the 1970s.

This movement made the most of newly developed portable video technology (video portapaks) that allowed filmmakers to experiment and go out on to the streets and cover immediate and intimate stories and local issues of interest. It was its potential for enacting social change that first attracted Zubrycki to the medium. As a sociology graduate from the University of New South Wales, Zubrycki’s interest in people and community is, and remains, a common narrative thread throughout his career, the seeds of which are evident here.

As well as covering issues of urban redevelopment and the impact on working-class residents, the videos Zubrycki made during the 1970s also examined issues affecting marginalised youth such as homelessness and access to education (see Addison Road Drop In [1977]) and Collingwood Community School [1975]).

Early video tape has not fared well over the years. The analogue videos made with these portapaks (1/2 inch open-reel video) are vastly inferior to the digital video technology available today. Due to tape deterioration, there are some drop-outs in this video that appear as white lines across the image. Despite this, Fig Street Fiasco and other similar works remain a testament to the power of the visual medium to enact social change and document important moments (and movements) in history.