an NFSA website

Night (2007)


This documentary is a meditation on the nature of night and how people experience it. It combines beautiful and mesmerising images of the nocturnal with an exquisite and varying symphonic score. People of all ages, sexes and cultures, in voice-over and interview, relate stories of what the night means to them. They speak about memories, love, romance, pleasure, pain, danger, violence, fear, fantasy, rhythms, the moon, work, leisure, intimacy, dreams, nightmares and terrorism.

Curator’s notes

Filmmaker Lawrence Johnston has made award-winning documentaries and dramas such as Night Out (1989), Eternity (1994) and Life (1996). Night is quite a departure for the director, being non-narrative cinema reminiscent of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982) or Powaqqatsi (1988). Rather than having one major theme like 'life out of balance’ or 'life in transformation’ as Reggio’s films have, Night explores different ideas about the night. The film is also episodic in the style of François Girard’s 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993). The visuals at times fade to black with a couple of beats of silence on the soundtrack before the ideas and orchestral score change gear. Night leaves space for an audience to reflect on what is being said and to take pleasure in the magical scenes and the glorious score.

The images in Night cover urban, suburban, rural, iconic and wild outback spaces. They are beautifully shot in real time, time lapse and slow motion photography and weave together seamlessly. Among the most memorable are the full moon above Uluru, a shadowy figure walking down an empty street, the fireworks on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, amusement parks, and views through the windows of bookshops, offices and bars.

The credits state that all of the location footage was shot with available light and no computer-generated effects were used in the film. No doubt this was a big challenge for director of photography Laurie McInnes. McInnes has extensive experience with time-lapse photography and her work on Night is magnificent. McInnes was both director and cinematographer on the exquisite short film Palisade (1987), which explores the nocturnal life life of a shift worker, including his dreams, and was filmed at night in and around Sydney. Palisade (1987) won the Palme d’Or for Best Short at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.

The big symphonic score by Cezary Skubiszewski is beautifully conceived and switches tempo and instrumentation for different ideas of ‘night’. His music for the grand finale, accompanying images of the fireworks on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is a tour de force. The multi-award winning Skubiszewski has composed the music on many fiction features and mini-series such as The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1998), Two Hands (1999), La Spagnola (2001) and After the Deluge (2003).

Director Lawrence Johnston has always been fascinated with the night. ‘There is this wonderful thing that happens when darkness falls and permeates our lives, which affects the way we look at the world, the way we feel our way around in it, visually, psychologically, in our behaviour and the choices we make about our lives at night’. Johnston interviewed 40 people for the film as he wanted ‘a village of voices from the ordinary to the specific’. These voices are featured in voice-over and judicious snippets from ‘talking head’ interviews.

It is very difficult to make a non-narrative film like Night work, especially as it deals with something everyone is familiar with and has their own take on. What is said is not new or earth shattering, but there are some thought provoking moments. One man loves coming home at night but hears a little voice in his head telling him not to get too comfortable because there are things happening in the world out there in the dark. Others talk about the sensuous, fluid nature of the sea in darkness, and how our personalities change when night falls.

Night was the first cinema documentary to be selected by the Film Finance Corporation for its feature film strand. It also screened at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam and the Toronto, Melbourne and Brisbane International Film Festivals. Night was released in Australian cinemas on 7 February 2008. On 3 November 2008, Cezary Skubiszewski’s score for Night won the 2008 Screen Music Award for Best Music for a Documentary.