Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rosie Jones.
This fascinating documentary looks at the controversial plans to redevelop a car park on the St Kilda foreshore, and the community outcry against the development.
In May 2007 the Port Phillip Council unveiled plans for a massive commercial development including 180 shops, a hotel, a supermarket, 8 cinemas, 5 nightclubs and bars, some with 24-hour licenses. The developers also planned to inject some $60million to restore the Palais to its former glory. The proposed $465 million mall would be built on a triangle of land on the foreshore of St Kilda, adjacent to the historic Palais Theatre. It is regarded as one of the most coveted sites in Australia. However, the local residents felt that this was a massive over development of the site that would ruin the views and destroy the amenities of the local area.
Despite the objections of the residents though the local council supported the development. Over the course of three years, the bitter struggle between the residents and the council was played out in council chambers, the courts, and ultimately the polling booths. The Unchain St Kilda group put up their own candidates at the local elections to oppose the incumbent pro-development councillors. Celebrities like Rachel Griffiths, Dave Hughes and Rod Quantock also joined the fray.
Making her feature film debut, former editor turned director Rosie Jones (Obsessed with Walking, Westall ’66: A Suburban UFO Mystery, etc) puts her extensive documentary background to good use here. She draws upon a wealth of archival footage and extensive interviews to paint a comprehensive and incisive picture of this controversial issue. The fascinating and on-going bitter battle also saw claims of arson, stand-over tactics, cults and white witches. The shady council dealings resulted in an enquiry into the council by the State ombudsman.
Although Jones, a local resident, tries to present a balanced view, the film seems ultimately to blatantly side with the group stridently opposed to the development. Jones finds an unlikely hero here through local resident and freelance photographer Serge Thomann, who stands for council under the Unchain St Kilda banner. And there are a couple of villains too, in the form of developer Stephen McMillan, who is charismatic and likeable enough, and flamboyant councillor and ambitious former mayor Dick Gross, who is an unapologetic supporter of the development.
The film itself has the visual aesthetic of a television documentary, and the film will probably play well on ABC tv one evening in the near future. While the development may be a local issue, The Triangle Wars is engrossing and has broad appeal beyond St Kilda as it shows what happens when local councils ignore the wishes of their constituency.
The David versus Goliath-like struggle between the local residents and the council and the courts may remind many of the Kerrigan family’s struggle to save their home from developers in the winning Aussie classic The Castle. The film’s exploration of politics, self-interest, greed, corruption, in-fighting and democracy in action also recalls Bob Connelly’s fascinating and incisive documentary Rats In The Ranks.