Private Project

Contact Trace

A mysterious message from the future finds its way to the present, a warning of what may come and what has been.

CONTACT TRACE is a hybrid genre-hopping work that blends dystopian near-fi/sci-fi with the anguish of real life, provocatively weaving actual experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic with an imagined tale from the future.

  • John Janson-Moore
  • John Janson-Moore
  • Jacqui North
  • Jack Charles
    Key Cast
  • Andrée Greenwell
    Sound and Music Design
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental, Short, Other
  • Genres:
    Sci-fi, Near-Fi, Documentary
  • Runtime:
    12 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    May 1, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    20,000 AUD
  • Country of Origin:
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  • Language:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
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Director Biography - John Janson-Moore

John Janson-Moore is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer and multi-disciplinary artist. His practice operates across documentary, fiction and contemporary art, traversing a precarious line between the real and the imaginary.

John’s film and documentary work has screened on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABCTV) and SBS TV in Australia, and at numerous international film festivals, including in competition for the Silver Wolf Award at IDFA in the Netherlands, as well as on terrestrial and satellite channels across Europe, Asia and the Americas. In 2005, John received support from the Sundance Documentary Fund and the Japan Foundation for his documentary, ‘Kidnapped!’. His series of short, dramatized films, ‘Not In My House’, won an ATOM award in 2012. He is a past finalist for the Dendy Awards at the Sydney Film Festival (2002).

John’s film making has informed his photography and arts practice, giving them both a cinematic aesthetic and an emphasis on narrative.

John recently produced the video installation work, ‘Our Ancestors Are Always Watching’ with First Nations photographer, Barbara McGrady, as part of the 2020 Biennale of Sydney, NIRIN.

John was the 2022 recipient of the Documentary Prize in the Australian Photography Awards. In 2013, he was awarded the prestigious Moran Prize for Contemporary Photography. He was a finalist in the 2016 Head On Portrait Prize and also a triple finalist in the Percival Photographic Portrait Prize. In 2021 and 2022, John was nominated as a back-to-back finalist for the National Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

He completed his Doctorate at the University of Technology Sydney in 2016, where he teaches filmmaking.

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Director Statement

In Australia, in late 2019, we got wind of a strange new virus that was emerging from across the seas. It was a new coronavirus, what became known as COVID-19. We had heard about the swine flu, bird flu, and Ebola before, but this seemed different. By early 2020, it had reached our island continent, initially on cruise ships, and before too long, the epidemic became a pandemic. Like much of the rest of the world, we soon found ourselves in enforced lockdown.

In March of that year, I picked up my stills camera and began photographing the impact of COVID-19 on my home city, Sydney, to chronicle the events that would become one of the most disruptive episodes of the last century and affect almost every facet of our lives. It was an experience shared by most of the rest of the world.

The images I took documented a vast array of aspects that befell Sydney as a result of the virus, from the shockingly incongruous to the terribly banal. Most of the photographs were taken during the height of hard lockdown across Sydney. I was one of the few photographers out on the streets at that time, travelling mostly on foot or by bicycle, working independently and intensively, as much of the rest of the population stayed house-bound. I photographed hotel quarantine, empty streetscapes, vaccination centres, hospitals, testing stations, food banks, protests and much more, gathering thousands of images which would become an archive of the times. It was a solitary endeavour during a time of high anxiety, when not much was known about the virus.

In the midst of my time photographing, I began to turn my mind to thoughts of how the pandemic might be looked back on as an historical event. How might the world be changed in 10, 20, 50 years time as a result? Would the virus still be with us? How might a future world reflect on COVID-19? And how would the pandemic compare against other wide-spread and catastrophic calamities?

It was from these reflections that I began to formulate ideas for a film made entirely from my photographs – a dystopian sci-fi, or ‘near-fi’, inspired by Chris Marker’s ‘La Jetée’, but based on the real-life tragedy of the events unfolding before my lens; a hybrid of speculative fiction and documentary. I wanted to make a film that ventured beyond the immediate and the literal; that explored the interplay between memory and imagination, integrating the paradox of the enduring, time-halting qualities of the photographic image within the flow of cinema; and reflecting the temporal incongruity of a city under lockdown. With events of the pandemic evolving so quickly, I found that memory became increasingly fleeting and history increasingly difficult to gauge. Imagining the future was equally challenging. How the collective and individual mind responded to such change and intensity was fascinating. It’s something that I believe we are still grappling with, even as COVID-19 becomes more ‘normalised’.

I also wanted to explore how the pandemic, more than ever, has starkly revealed the social inequities of our time, how political, economic and psychological power has reinforced these structural inequities, and how this power has an historical and ongoing connection with the colonisation of this country. After all, so many Aboriginal people of this land fell to small pox and violence in the early days of this colony. It is why I was so grateful to have renowned actor and First Nations, Boonwurring Dja Dja Wurrung man, Uncle Jack Charles - an Elder, queer man and activist - agree to do the narration voice over for ‘Contact Trace’, because his presence and performance adds so much to the complexity of this work.