“Love is like a tree – the leaves fall off, then grow back on.”

Love is an enigma that we all experience in our lives, some a lot more than others. It drives us to make irrational choices causing pain and misfortune, yet can reward us with pleasure, gratification and a sense of belonging.

Love Stories at Brisbane Festival.

Love Stories at Brisbane Festival. Image © David Kelly.

Love Stories is an hour-long documentary, featuring interviews with a group of Brisbane locals connected to 3rd Space (formally the 139 club), a Brisbane drop-in centre where people experiencing or at risk of homelessness find support, friendship and dignity. Interviews between Trent Dalton and members of the centre’s community, photographed by David Kelly, are woven together with music composed by Topology’s John Babbage and Robert Davidson, and together make for a unique cinematic experience full of emotional insights into these people’s lives.

To start the evening, an exuberant Trent Dalton bound onto the stage to introduce his simple premise for the Love Stories project: asking others, “what is love?” Dalton is one of Brisbane’s luminaries, a journalist, film-maker and author of the acclaimed Boy Swallows Universe – the world premiere stage adaptation of which is presently playing at QPAC, and is another highlight of this year’s Brisbane Festival. “Love is soul, love is the person sitting next to you,” he exclaimed, which caused some amusement to those sitting next to strangers in the audience – and may even have lead to some new burgeoning love stories!

“I love Brisbane,” Dalton gushed. “It is the most beautiful place in the world!”

It was Brisbane and a desire to understand other people’s concept of love that inspired Love Stories, a project completed on a shoestring budget. Dalton described this collection of interviews and photographs as “not Spielbergian, but raw from the heart.” Love Stories originally premiered with a standing ovation at the New Farm Cinema in 2015 and has still not lost its poignancy.

It is part of the 2021 Brisbane Festival, the 20-day event celebrating community and connection with others, which has become the highlight of the Brisbane arts calendar.

Inspired by his difficult experiences as a child growing up in Brisbane, Dalton had wandered the streets in an attempt to understand the underlying issues of being homeless. After begging daily outside the Tiffany jewellery store in the city, Dalton realised he could not emulate the true experience of the homeless, as he still had a network of love surrounding him, something those who are estranged or homeless often are missing. Instead, havens like the 3rd Space drop-in day centre provide not only food and shelter but a profound sense of community and belonging to those who seek it.

Despite the cavernous setting of the South Bank Piazza, the intimacy of Love Stories was heightened with a jazz café atmosphere, small tables scattered around the stage where Topology performed live, in front of a large multimedia display which was broadcasting the filmed interviews with the 3rd Space community.

The performance by the ARIA-nominated and APRA Award-winning quintet featured the eminent guitarist Karin Schaupp. Since the inception of Topology in 1997, its innovative musicians have experimented with expanding genres to create idiosyncratic textural music. Their mastery as musicians was clear as the music flowed around each interview, seamlessly transitioning between emotions of joy, sorrow and regret. John Babbage on soprano saxophone gave a haunting jazz-styled interlude to accompany the artistic stills by David Kelly. Karen Schaupp’s guitar wove a tender tapestry to intensify the poignancy of each interviewee’s predicament as they enlightened the audience with their moving interpretations of love.

Wayne, a long-term attendee to the 3rd Space drop-in centre. began with the adage, “You can’t live on love alone, without it nothing else matters”. The insights followed from other members of the 3rd Space community. To one, “love is music”; to another, “it is a spirit thing,” whilst one breathless asthmatic interviewee admitted to his love for cigarettes.

The Love Stories project and presentation was supported by the Arts Council of Australia and the Australian government, with all involved generously donating their talents and all proceeds given to the 3rd Space drop-in centre.

The documentary establishes that love is truly subjective, with both positive and negative connotations to all who experience or lose it. Love Stories is an insightful masterpiece of people’s emotive expressions on the enigma of love.