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To shine a spotlight on local literary magazines, Kill Your Darlings is showcasing the work of exciting publishers across the country. In this latest instalment, we’re branching out into the world of cinema. Meet the recently revamped Rough Cut, an online film publication based in Naarm/Melbourne. We chat with managing editor Indigo Bailey, who shares a recent essay from the website.

Could you tell us about the history of the magazine?

Rough Cut was founded by seven young critics who met as part of Melbourne International Film Festival’s Critics Campus—a mentorship program for emerging film writers—who wanted to push back against the inaccessibility of the film media landscape at the time. Rough Cut has always been about stretching the bounds of ‘criticism’, welcoming new voices, perspectives and approaches to form. Last year (when I was participating in Critics Campus myself), I met one of the site’s founders, Eliza Janssen. At the time, Rough Cut was on hiatus due to the team’s busy schedules. I’d been reflecting on the scarcity of options for long-form and innovative writing on film, and felt it was the perfect time for Rough Cut to be revived, so we struck up a conversation about its future. It was when my co-editor, our commissioning editor Tiia Kelly—a brilliant writer and editor who I’d also worked with on Voiceworks’ Editorial Committee—came on board that it began to feel real.

Right: Rough Cut editors Indigo Bailey and Tiia Kelly. Left: @roughcut_film Instagram.

If you could sum up the magazine in five words, how would you describe it?

Idiosyncratic, thoughtful, curious, playful and sincere.

What kind of writing do you publish?

We publish considered screen criticism, which is well-researched, passionate and often lyrical. We want to challenge the assumption that criticism refers to a separate sphere to ‘art’, and instead see film writing as a continuation and expansion of what cinema offers us. In doing so, we embrace our writers’ distinct voices and aim to commission writers who mightn’t identify as ‘film critics’. As well as reviews, we have published diaries, dispatches, essays and poems—and we are interested in sharing more experimental writing in the future.

Any exciting projects that writers should know about?

We’ve recently launched a new column called ‘Beyond the Frame’, where we share conversations with curators and programmers of film orgs from across the country, spotlighting and celebrating the intricate behind-the-scenes labour that often goes unnoticed.

In addition to our regular programming, you can also expect us to be very active at Melbourne International Film Festival this August.

Where can writers and readers find you?

On our website, or on Instagram and Twitter. Our pitches are also open via our email: [email protected]. You can check out our pitching guide here.

Can you tell us a bit about the piece you’re sharing today?

We’re sharing Sam Twyford-Moore’s ‘Canva-ssing the Room: A Letter from Los Angeles and Nicole Kidman’s AFI Life Achievement Award Ceremony’. In this piece, Sam reflects upon Kidman’s celebrity from a broader perspective informed by his knowledge of film culture between Australia and the States. He’s also chronicling the surrealness of the event and its proceedings.

I think there’s this great mixture of rigour and playfulness here, and a critique of celebrity culture that also exposes the critic’s necessary imbrication in it, which really exemplifies Rough Cut’s long-held desire to contest binaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. Before he wrote his book Cast Mates, Sam was also a very early writer for Rough Cut, and one of the arcs in this essay is also the difficulty of finding a home for it as a freelancer in a media landscape that favours pithy entertainment coverage. So publishing Sam’s piece definitely felt like a serendipitous, full-circle moment for all of us.


‘Canva-ssing the Room: A Letter from Los Angeles and Nicole Kidman’s AFI Life Achievement Award Ceremony’ by Sam Twyford-Moore

Last year I released a book, which was ostensibly a group biography of four Australian actors. The last subject of the book was Nicole Kidman. Before it hit the shelves at home, news broke that Kidman was to be a recipient of the lofty-sounding Life Achievement Award, bestowed upon her by the American Film Institute (AFI). She would be the first actor with Australian citizenship to receive the honour. The roll call of previous recipients was made up of icons only: John Ford, Orson Welles, Lillian Gish, James Stewart, Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Sidney Poitier, De Niro, Streep, Pacino, Beatty, Fonda (Henry and Jane), and so on. The timing was serendipitous with the release of my (admittedly partial) biography of her and so, on a sunny day in Redfern, the book’s publicist and I ordered puffy pink finger buns from a hipster bakery, and, sugar-rushed, brainstormed ways of getting me to cover the event while, at the same time, promoting my book.

Such is the demeaning dance that a certain kind of writer—Australian, obscure—needs to perform for people to hopefully read, or at least buy, their work. If you wish to publish a book, get ready to crawl on your knees to any number of doors and weakly knock, asking for entrance so that you can talk about yourself at length. At least, as a biographer, I am most often found talking about others. Still, even for that, an entrance is required, and so knock, knock: would ABC Radio—or TV—have me on to talk about the award and what it might mean for Kidman’s legacy? Could I write another piece, expanding on aspects of Kidman’s career that weren’t already covered by material in the book? Was there a way to get me to Los Angeles to go to the event and sell a piece to an American magazine, the kind of masthead that might impress people at home and so, again, push the book?

Kidman in Moulin Rouge (2001).

It all seemed like a good idea at the time, but then, in the end, the timing was not right, and with good reason. In May 2023—a month before the AFI event, and two months before my book would be out—the Writers Guild of America called a strike (the Screen Actors Guild would soon follow suit). The AFI, acting properly, postponed the event, pushing it into 2024 with no exact date. As a result, my publicist and I gave up on the idea of being able to connect the book with the award.


After a summer of post-publication burnout, I booked a trip to Los Angeles—partly as a holiday, partly as a research trip, and mostly as a chance to watch a bunch of movies in a city steeped in film culture. I trawled the extremely useful retrospective screening listing page and locked in various films at a load of cinemas I hadn’t been to before. I also soon discovered that Kidman’s rescheduled AFI ceremony was now within the exact period that I would be in Los Angeles, and, perhaps, there was a point to reviving the push to cover the event in some capacity. Pitches would need to be readied. Publications approached. Another door to knock on: I sent a tentative email to the general publicity contact for the AFI, seeking media accreditation of some kind.

Over the course of close to five months, I liaised back and forth with a contract publicist, trying to worm my way into the event. I felt low to the ground; snakish. Meanwhile, dispatched pitches came close to acceptance, but only ever close. One masthead said they would send their own reporter (the bane of the freelancer: pitching ideas that then get passed on to staff writers). Most claimed an overexposure of Kidman in the lead-up to the event. The story would simply be too close to a raft of scheduled coverage of Kidman’s miniseries Expats, which, when finally released, no one seemed to watch, or, certainly, talk about. This was despite the fact that Expats was the follow-up directorial effort from Lulu Wang after her critical success with The Farewell (2019).

Kidman in Big Little Lies (2017).

It was understandable if Expats—despite all that press—went unwatched, given the fact that it was a late entry into a seemingly unending era of streaming glut, to which Kidman has been a key polluter (Big Little Lies, The Undoing, Big Little Lies Season 2, Nine Perfect Strangers, Roar, Special Ops: Lioness; the list will, alas, go on). No one can keep up. I try to watch it and it feels ‘unwatchable’—stilted, unnecessary—but then maybe I’m biased by the fact that it tanked my story. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Expats is the fact that it can’t be watched in Hong Kong, where it is set and was (mostly) filmed. Wang and Kidman filmed politically charged scenes in Los Angeles, making reference to the Umbrella Movement of 2014, which has been rumoured to have caused the series to be blocked by Hong Kong’s Office for Film. This was the sort of film-culture-as-political-culture story that interested me most, and here I was bumming about instead trying to cover a frivolous award ceremony. Still, I was at a ‘sunk cost’ impasse and needed to push on.


A major newspaper had said yes to taking the piece, but in the week before the ceremony they claimed they were out of space. The piece was killed. I was now liaising with a publicist about writing up an event without a publication locked in—the freelancer’s version of preparing for a skydive without the guarantee of a plane or a parachute. I didn’t entirely give up pleading my case for the story with local publications. My conceptualisation of what I wanted to write was already not just about Kidman, but also the award she was given, and to try and explain the AFI to an Australian reader. I reworked the pitch and proposed interviewing the head of the AFI, film-historian-turned-executive Bob Gazzale, who began writing and producing the tribute shows before taking over the CEO and President role in 2007, and continued to do so after, he says, ‘because I believe they are imperative to our image in and around the world’.

There was no interest in this pivot on behalf of Australian media outlets—until I approached the publication you are reading, a familiar home for some of my weird thought experiments about stardom. Film culture—as compared to celebrity culture, surface culture—has not been greatly supported by mainstream Australian media. In some cases, it hasn’t even been aided by its own instruments. By ‘own instruments’ I mean cinemas, galleries, museums, and festivals; these institutions too can be romanced by international efforts, leading them to ignore what is right in front of them at home. At a memorial conference for the late Australian filmmaker, essayist, artist, cultural historian, researcher, and poet Ross Gibson held last year, Adrian Martin rightly raged against the Sydney Film Festival for making no effort to note Gibson’s death. The festival did not offer to host a memorial retrospective of Gibson’s work, nor did they even make mention of his passing (Martin also criticised US-based Criterion Collection and MUBI Notebook for the same omission). Martin boiled down the snub of Gibson down to the fact that he was a) an academic, b) a multi-hyphenate creative, and c) Australian. Any nuance in your life and career and you’re seemingly worthless to those who can—and should—amplify your work.

Kidman in To Die For (1995).

This does not mean, however, that film culture cannot be rotten in the City-State of Los Angeles. In January this year, the LA Times laid off 115 workers. Subsequently, its insightful film critic, Justin Chang, moved across to the New Yorker (Chang was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his tenure at the LA Times this month). In March this year, the Highland Theatre closed after 100 years of operating, following the expiry of a 99-year lease. This followed the collapse of the LA Film Festival, which started in 1995 but was over by 2018. With their rusted-on audiences and strong governmental support, it’s impossible to think of the major Sydney or Melbourne film festivals ever teetering towards ruin. Los Angeles might not need a film festival, though, given the fact that the American Cinematheque, founded 40 years ago, holds over 1500 screenings across the city each year and itself hosts a number of mini-festivals. A recently founded documentary festival, This Is Not a Fiction, ran during my stay, and included retrospective screenings of wildly diverse films, from Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983) to Jeff Tremaine’s Jackass: The Movie (2002). Los Angeles’ retrospective film programming has a better sense of humour about itself, and a broader palette, than you might imagine.

Los Angeles has also proven it is still possible to revive old acts and forge entirely new ones. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures had opened since I was last in town, a gleaming building with two new theatres. The historic Egyptian Theatre, sitting on Hollywood Boulevard, is now owned and operated by Netflix, and often houses American Cinematheque screenings. Quentin Tarantino has similarly wrested control of the Vista Theatre, adding it to his growing cinema empire, which already included the New Beverly Cinema. Vidiots, a not-for-profit video store, found a new home in Eagle Rock, after significant crowdfunding efforts. I’d just missed out on attending the potential successor to LA Film Festival, the inaugural Los Angeles Festival of Movies, co-presented by film distributor and streamer MUBI and the not-for-profit film programming organisation and publisher Mezzanine. The festival used venues including Now Instant Image Hall and 2220 Arts + Archives, which also houses events by the LA Filmforum. These multi-use venues also hold arts and music events, in addition to operating as micro-cinemas. It’s something Sydney could think about. Brain Dead Studios—the buzziest of the single-screen cinemas in LA—started as a clothing line, and still sell their various knits out of their Fairfax Avenue address.

The American Film Institute seemed to me to be the least accessible, in the immediate sense, out of all these landmarks. The AFI’s public cinema isn’t even in Los Angeles; it’s on the other side of the country, in Maryland. Australians would be forgiven for not knowing it existed. The Life Achievement Award, their biggest focal point, is broadcast in America on the basic cable channel TNT—Kidman’s ceremony will be aired in June—but it doesn’t play at home, reaching us only as YouTube and social media clips of individual speeches or meme-worthy moments. Still, its mandate and import are significant. The AFI was inaugurated by presidential decree when Lyndon B Johnson announced a suite of national arts endeavours at the White House Rose Garden in 1965, outlining the intention to bring together ‘leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators, and young men and women who wish to pursue the 20th-century art form as their life’s work’. As Gazzale told me, in our (then) publication-less interview, one of Johnson’s key tenants was to preserve film:

It was a time in our country and our world where film was produced on nitrate stock and it was rapidly deteriorating. And so the AFI sent out the clarion call early on to say that film must be preserved, and through those efforts of those early days—this is the late 1960s—there are 35,000 feature films in the AFI archive in the Library of Congress. So, in other words, the AFI saved those films.

Kidman in Birth (2004).

Gazzale stressed that ‘the other tenet [is] to honour the artist and their work’, which brought us back around to the AFI Life Achievement Award and to Kidman. Gazzale’s design of the ceremony itself interested me, as it involves a sort of proxy autobiography of the star, told from their perspective. With Gazzale, the recipient submits to a career-spanning interview, covering key films and collaborators. Gazzale told me that they had initiated this approach in 2001 when Barbra Streisand was the award’s recipient, and Gazzale asked her to record a reflective interview so that ‘she could provide the narrative—she could lead us to scenes of her films that perhaps we wouldn’t have thought of’. Until then—from ‘John Ford to Dustin Hoffman’, according to Gazzale—the only time you heard from the recipient was when they went up to accept the award.

For Gazzale that meant a fundamental change to the nature of the show, a Streisand Effect of a different kind: ‘From that moment on—now over 20 years—it’s the recipient who is driving the evening, and that is certainly true of Nicole’s tribute.’ So, then a crux: how would Kidman tell her own story?

This is an excerpt from ‘Canva-ssing the Room’. Read this article in full at Rough Cut, which features articles, reviews, interviews and more.