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.
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Presented as part of the Past Futures film program

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

Volker Schlöndorff

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

The new TV season is imminent, so it’s an excellent time for a vintage refresher of the original Schlöndorff film, made in 1990, long before Elizabeth Moss donned her red robe. Fans of the book and TV series will be familiar with the futuristic, theocratic and dystopian United States, where fertility has become alarmingly rare and women able to bear children are forced into sexual slavery. Starring the glorious Faye Dunaway, Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall and Aidan Quinn, there is no past-future more prescient than Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. 

This film screens in a double bill with On Guard (1984). 


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.





109 mins




Volker Schlöndorff


Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller






Park Circus

Natasha Richardson
Faye Dunaway
Aidan Quinn
Elizabeth McGovern
Victoria Tennant
Robert Duvall
Blanche Baker
Traci Lind
Zoey Wilson
Kathryn Doby

Wolfgang Glattes, Executive producer
Ryuichi Sakamoto, Soundtrack
Igor Luther, Cinematography
David Ray, Film Editing
Pat Golden, Casting
Thomas A. Walsh, Production Design
Gregory S. Melton, Art Direction
Jan Pascale, Set Decoration
Colleen Atwood, Costume Design