ACMI: Learn All about the Moving Image for Free

Federation Square isn’t just a pretty facade. Oh no. It’s home to one of the most remarkable – yet often overlooked – museums in Melbourne. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

ACMI isn’t just one of Melbourne’s most popular museums. It is, in fact, the most visited museum of the moving image in the world. You heard me.

The moving image. That’s what ACMI is all about: bringing to life 110 years of screen history. And it does an impressive job of it.

acmi melbourneImage: yomadic

In its numerous permanent and temporary exhibitions, studios and cinemas, ACMI brings old and new screen content to the public. It’s got halls full of free (yep, FREE) interactive exhibitions and film programs even the world’s best cinemas would envy.

What to Do at ACMI

mad max at acmi

Where to start? ACMI is a complex made up of 2 main cinemas, 2 studios, gallery spaces, and a viewing lounge. It hosts festivals, live events, creative workshops, education programs and a host of local and international exhibitions.

So how do you make the most of a trip there? The short answer is: you don’t. You confront the museum in bite-sized pieces and keep up with its busy program to make the most of the events you’re most interested in.

But if you’ve only got a limited amount of time in the city, I highly recommend heading straight to Screen Worlds before resting your legs at Mediatheque.

Screen Worlds: The Story of Film, Television and Digital Culture

In 1895, 33 spectators gathered in a Parisian cafe basement to watch an image projected onto a small screen. At first, they were underwhelmed. And then, they got the fright of their lives as the image began to move. It was the beginning of the age of cinema.

This little anecdote and plenty more are the things you’ll discover at Screen Worlds. This is a constant ACMI exhibition, a fixture you can rely on to entertain the kids for at least a half day on a rainy day.

acmi exhibition in melbourne

It opened in 2009 as a free, permanent exhibition that pays homage to the past, present and future of the moving image. The space is broken up into 5 sections: Emergence, Voices, Sensation, Games Lab, and Kids Space.

And there’s something here to suit everyone. Emergence takes you through the age of the moving image. You can learn about Chinese shadow plays and Roman magic lantern shows. You can marvel at props from the world’s very first feature film; our own The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906).

You can use the various gadgets that once housed the first moving pictures and watch old-school film from the dawn of the screen.

felix the cat at acmi

You can watch pictures from the Melbourne Olympics opening ceremony on a vintage television and you can play pixelated Mario on ancient Nintendo 64s.

There are all manner of interactive displays, archived footage, props, and gimmicks to amuse yourself for hours at Screen Worlds. The Ty the Tasmanian Tiger Zoetrope was a personal favourite; strobe lighting brought a statue sequence to life. The Timeslice is ideal for The Matrix fans (it will film you deftly dodging bullets), but it was sadly out of action on my latest trip.

There are free orientation tours every day at 10am and 2.30pm. They run for about 30 minutes, but only a maximum 15 people per tour are allowed.

Australian Mediatheque

mediatheque acmi

Australian Mediatheque is a gem if you’ve got some time to kill and you’re beat from a day’s hard yakka in the city. It’s on the floor above Screen Worlds and hidden away so not many people seem to know about it.

This is a chilled-out zone with 12 viewing booths. You can just saunter in and claim a booth. There are leather couches and 4 headphone sets attached to a TV.

And on that TV is a stock of films, television clips, shorts, newsreels, documentaries, and more. You only need popcorn and you’re set. You can enjoy everything from The Story of the Kelly Gang to black-and-white animations.

ACMI Exhibitions and Cinema Events

Of course, ACMI wouldn’t be the museum it is without its quality line-up of exhibitions and cinema screenings. In its gallery halls, we’ve had the privilege of exploring the works of Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton, Pixar and Dreamworks. From 26 May-18 September 2016, props and displays from Scorsese’s career will grace the galleries.

Meanwhile, ACMI’s 2 main cinemas have the most extensive projection facilities in the southern hemisphere. Here, ACMI has several cinema events throughout the year, along with weekly and monthly film programs. There’s Seniors’ Cinemas, Kids’ Flicks, Australian Perspectives, and Cinematheque (which is a special Wednesday double feature of rare and imported prints).

But take care. Once you discover this amazing jewel in our city centre, you could very well just fill up your social calendar for the year with all ACMI has on offer!

ACMI Melbourne Opening Hours & Tickets

Where: Federation Square, corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets. You can enter from Flinders Street or from Fed Square.

When: Screen Worlds is open daily from 10am-5pm (closed Christmas Day). Australian Mediatheque is open 12pm-5pm daily.

Cost: Screen Worlds and ACMI Mediatheque are, amazingly, free to the public. Some temporary ACMI exhibitions are free while the blockbuster exhibitions typically have a ticketed system. The Scorsese exhibition costs $25 for adults and $18 for concessions. You can find out more information about ACMI on their website.

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