The University of Melbourne is the ideal place to host a two-month-long festival of film, music, food and booze. So say Jay Rayner and David Chestwig, the founders of Shadow Electric, the outdoor cinema at Abbotsford Convent. They’re the duo behind the city's new summer festival Shimmerlands, which is running from January 4 to February 26 at the university’s Parkville campus.
The festival has transformed parts of the campus into an outdoor cinema, live music venue, food quarter and huge bar. The University of Melbourne may host the odd lunch-time gig, or throw a weekly farmers market, but the two-month, multi-faceted festival is another ball game.
“We’ve installed a really large pavilion [and] designed quite an elaborate, large deck area where we have an outdoor bar," Chestwig says. "Essentially, it’s outdoors but undercover, so that’s 400 square metres of covered area.
“It’s a big space, there’s no student body around during the holidays. Universities have always been cultural hubs of social interaction and there’s no reason that should cease when classes aren’t on." The music amphitheatre can hold some 2400 people, he says.
The festival sits between Union House and the Melbourne School of Design on the sprawling campus, and Shadow Electric has brought in cranes, scaffolding and scissor lifts to get it up and running. Despite the huge scale of the build, so far there’s been no major issues.
While it may seem out of character for one of Australia’s largest universities to be home to such a huge, outdoor festival set-up, it was a perfect fit from the University of Melbourne’s viewpoint.
“A core part of our mission is to contribute distinctively to the cultural life of Melbourne,” says the University’s vice-principal for engagement, Adrian Collette. “Events like Shimmerlands help us embrace Melbourne’s culture and bring a broader public onto our grounds.”
Chestwig says it’s all about trust, and finding compromises. “The University wanted us here and we’ve been incredibly supported by them. If we did this with other partners they would have wanted more of an influence. The University has given us freedom because there’s a level of trust there.”
The film and music events at Shimmerlands are ticketed, while the bar and food quarter is free and accessible to all. The cinema is showing a bunch of recent blockbusters including Nocturnal Animals, Doctor Strange and Oscar favourite La La Land, while the music line-up features a local mix of artists and covers everything from authentic Arnhem Land music, to “smackwave”.
It’s still early days for the Shadow Electric and University of Melbourne collaboration, but this isn’t seen as a one-off.
“This is definitely done with a long-term view,” Chestwig says. “If we have a good site and a good location, we can bump in Shimmerlands anywhere. Although we’d like to be at the University of Melbourne for several years, we see potential to move it elsewhere or to develop it elsewhere.”
Shimmerlands will host free and ticketed events from January 4 to February 26 at The University of Melbourne Parkville Campus.