Australian Cinema

Australian Cinema

Interviews with: Bruce Beresford, Sue Milliken, Peter James, Bryan Brown, Fred Schepisi and Brian Trenchard-Smith.


Prologue: Australia got faces on the screen that are known all over the world: Cate Blanchett, the first Australian to win two Academy Awards; Joel Edgerton; Chris Hemsworth (Thor); Hugh Jackman; Nicole Kidman; Heath Ledger (THE DARK KNIGHT). But there is more: There is content as varied as the landscape.

Bruce and Michael

Main Part: Although the history of cinema in Australia dates back to October 1896 when short film strips were screened at the Melbourne Opera House, for a long time it was only Australians who went abroad, to Hollywood or London, who achieved any film fame: Errol Flynn, Peter Finch or Rod Taylor. Australian cinema itself remained hidden from the global audience.

This all changed with the fall of the old Hollywood system in the wake of the Vietnam War, a worldwide political movement of young people, and the discovery of an international film scene initiated by young filmmakers from France to Australia. These filmmakers were supported by new subsidy means. Previously some British and American film companies produced occasionally in Australia, then, thanks to the activities of the Australian Film Development Corporation and its successor, the Australian Film Commission and similar state initiatives, the Australian New Wave was born. Suddenly, in the 1970s and 1980s, there was something to discover – not just outside of commercial film, actually stories that were worth investing money even for the US majors: Peter Weir and the mysterious PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK as well as GALLIPOLI, George Miller and MAD MAX, Peter Faiman and CROCODILE DUNDEE, Chris Noonan and BABE.

And there is, of course, Bruce Beresford who attended our festival in Germany and is the subject of a book that we have recently published. Beresford returned from Britain to Australia at the right time – when film subsidies were established. Before there was nothing and there was not much either at that time but it was sufficient to produce THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY MCKENZIE between London and Australia. BARRY MCKENZIE was entirely funded by the Australian Film Development Corporation, the first Australian film to surpass $1 million at the domestic box office. Beresford’s 1980 war drama BREAKER MORANT was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and for the Palme d’Or. (Jack Thompson won at Cannes as Best Supporting Actor.) Co-productions then became the driving force, as initially the Film Commission’s budget was comparatively low – but sufficient at least to create a buzz for the new talent and put it on the map.

This is the time our documentary is going to cover. Sure, there is criticism that American cinema is just exploiting Australian subsidies, like Baz Luhrmann’s highly successful ELVIS which gained $286 million at the box office: A decade ago, the swivel-eyed critics of the Australian screen sector could say that the Americans did without subsidy, but Hollywood studios read the international system and clambered onto tax subsidies like hungry raccoons. Our taxes help to pay for their films as the US state system learns to mimic the world’s approach to cinematic nationalism. [David Tiley]

Epilogue: Should be devoted to the future of picture-making and to the social situation in Australia. New technologies, streaming (Netflix et al), transmedia, and interactive scenarios that create a parallel world of images. This is going to speculate about a Brave New World and how it might transform Australia…

The following have consented to interviews so far:

Bruce Beresford, as subject and initiator of the project; Sue Milliken (producer); Peter James (cinematographer); Bryan Brown (actor). At the same time launching a comparable project in New Zealand, we will apply for film funding in Australia.