Christopher Barnett: Revolutionary Australian expatriate, Christopher Barnett, is an artist and poet who, despite many personal and professional challenges, remains faithful to his belief that art can change the world. Best known as an avant-garde experimental poet and dramaturge, Barnett won both acclaim and notoriety in Australia during the 70’s and 80’s before fleeing to France in 1992. He left behind a legacy of challenging works, including Selling Ourselves for Dinner, a play about the Russian futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky, commissioned for the 1982 Adelaide Festival of Arts; Ulrike Meinhof Sings a performance piece about the infamous Baader-Meinhof group, starring Margaret Cameron; and Basket Weaving for Amateurs, a controversial play attacking the complacency of Australia’s conservative literary establishment.

Battling fallout from celebrity and a debilitating drug dependency, the ‘enfant terrible’ of the Australia’s wild underground scene sought refuge in Nantes, a seventeenth century French slavers city where he established an experimental theatre company, Le Dernier Spectateur, that still continues today with Barnett as artistic director. Working with the marginalized and disenfranchised, Barnett, uses poetry and music to assist people to overcome and survive catastrophe, earning praise and support from influential French admirers, including the recently elected Prime Minister of France, Jean-Marc Ayrault.

A documentary film, These Heathen Dreams ( by film-makers Anne Tsoulis & Georgia Wallace Crabbe) is currently in final stages of production. Using observational footage shot in France, and archival film dating back to the 60’s Australia where, as a thirteen-year old prodigy street poet, Barnett is seen marching in a Vietnam moratorium demonstration alongside Lyn Arnold, the future Premier of South Australia, this documentary examines the contribution of an Australian artist, who many acclaim as one of its great living writers. Text from his recently published poem, when they came/for you elegies/of resistance, which acts a Greek chorus throughout the documentary, gives an insight into the power and poignancy of Barnett’s writing.

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these heathen dreams

From his early formative years in Adelaide where he was recruited by a Maoist faction of the Communist Party and earmarked for ‘revolutionary activities’, through the heady days in Melbourne as a controversial poet and playwright, to his later years in Nantes as a French citizen working as an ‘acteur sur le terrain’ with the underprivileged. The film is a fascinating study of the power of political activism, experienced through the life and times of the literary warrior, Christopher Barnett.

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