The Capitol acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. We respectfully acknowledge their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. We also acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.
Presented as part of the Past Futures film program

On Guard (1984)

Susan Lambert

A double dose of dystopia with Aussie feminist heist film On Guard followed by the film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Set in Sydney, Susan Lambert’s politically charged feminist thriller On Guard (1984) follows four women on a mission to sabotage a supercomputer holding ten years’ worth of data on IVF research. On Guard saw a future (and responded to a recent past) in which women take back control of their reproductive systems, and livelihoods. Informed by the burgeoning women’s movement of the 1970s, the film posited a new world of radical feminism with the scrappy aesthetics of underground punk cinema. With Australian women recently rising up yet again with tales of high-level institutional violation, rape and other crimes recently reported, this film is as urgent and welcomed as ever. 

On Guard screens in a double bill with The Handmaid’s Tale (1990). 

Past Futures curatorial notes —
What futures were past filmmakers imagining for our present world? And did those sci fi prophesies come true? All dreamers and designers start from a place of deep imagining.

In Past Futures we look at imagined dystopias and utopias that made their way into the collective conscious – into the design of now – and consider what might be in the making to come.

In our selection of sci fi visionaries, some classic, others populist, and still others perhaps idiosyncratic, we look away from the stuff of shiny space wars, and towards a survey of the social, political, technological, environmental, interpersonal and existential prophesies dreamed onto the cinema screen over the last century. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, these films offer “an arsenal of images for imagining the world.”

What worlds were filmmakers of the past envisioning for today? Which of these past-futures have materialised in shades of our lived realities? What do modern utopias and dystopias look like? Can cinema help us collectively design a world we want to see?

In curating this series my co-curator, Michelle Carey, and I considered the future worlds that filmmakers were envisioning in the past. In our selection you’ll find distinct visions from pasts that vary in length from way back to cinema’s silent beginnings, to just a moment or two ago.

The curated titles awakened a curiosity in us by way of each film’s aesthetic and philosophical design, some quixotic and wildly ambitious, others comparatively domestic while still suggesting a collective turn in consciousness or new ways of seeing and being. Our present is very much felt and reflected in these past futures.

What future visions are we projecting on screen, now?

Ghita Loebenstein
Creative Producer, The Capitol

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Presented by The Capitol as part of Melbourne Design Week 2021, an initiative of the Victorian Government in collaboration with the NGV.

On Guard




50 minutes




Susan Lambert


Crime, Drama






Digby Duncan

Alice Ansara
Martha Ansara
Mystery Carnage

Producers: Digby Duncan, Sarah Gibson
Cinematography: Laurie McInnes
Editing: Catherine Murphy
Sound Design: Pat Fiske, Denise Haslem