It’s been a
treat catching Gillian Armstrong on ABC TV’s Home Delivery this week. Her
reminiscences of her student days in the early 1970s are a reminder that there
once was a time when ‘there was,’ the celebrated film director pauses for
emphasis, ‘… no Australian film’.
conceivably occur again? There hasn’t been much this year.
When and on
what platform will we get to view Babyteeth, The Dry, and the
others pending? Screen Producers Australia say there are 120 projects impacted
during the current health emergency.
ongoing government support for the exceptional creative talent that we have in
the Australian screen industry, we will all be very much the poorer.
Armstrong was at the Australian Film and Television School (now AFTRS), one
among the first intake, an Aussie accent on screen was disconcerting, it was so
rare, and local news was delivered in accents the BBC would have approved of.
resolve to pursue a career in an industry that had not yet been established, is
There were a
few local films around, relating the sexual exploits of characters like Barry
McKenzie and Alvin Purple, but two seriously powerful Australian stories by
overseas directors appeared on screen in 1971. Walkabout and Wake in Fright
still resonate today.
By the end
of the decade, there were so many Australian films of fantastic quality,
including Armstrong’s exquisite My Brilliant Career – that screened at
the Cannes and New York festivals – that
the surge downunder was hailed as a new wave.
The first Mad
Max, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Newsfront, Storm Boy, The
Devil’s Playground, Long Weekend, Caddie, Don’s Party,
and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith all appeared in the 1970s. Along
with plenty of others well worth a mention.
government support for a film industry that began in the late 1960s was
realised by Australia’s screen industries, and they have continued going
of more recent films is very surprising and rewarding, a reminder of how richly
we benefit from the film and television made in this country.
kicked off with Andrew Dominik’s Chopper, based on a real-life criminal
still serving time for murder. It certainly had impact, but I preferred the
mockumentary indie about an underworld hitman that arrived a few years later
from Scott Ryan, The Magician. It was cheeky, smart and less visceral.
a dead-pan comedy
from Shirley Barrett appeared the same year, with the tagline ‘Two sisters will do anything to hook the
right man’. It won a Camera d’Or at Cannes for best first feature.
Can it really be nearly 20 years since Lantana showed how subtle and compelling a local adult drama could be? There was an abundance of talent involved on the project and it won many awards here and overseas, including a best screenwriter gong for Andrew Bovell. Director Ray Lawrence’s next film Jindabyne traced contentious territory but was also excellent.
Noyce’s The Quiet American in 2002 was given unaccountably short shrift
by critics and audiences here, although it was a fine drama that captured the
spirit of Graham Greene’s novel. I was glad to see it win prestigious awards in
the UK and US.
were an immensely productive time for writer-director Rolf de Heer, whose The
Tracker with actor David Gulpilil in the lead appeared in 2002. It was
quickly followed by Alexandra’s Project, a masterwork in the suburban
thriller genre. His unique collaboration with the Yolngu people, Ten Canoes,
audacious and whimsical by turns, was released in 2007.
performance was outstanding in The Tracker. He also had a small role in The
Proposition, the brilliant outback western directed by John Hillcoat and
written by Nick Cave that was released to general acclaim, though some took
exception to the violence.
take exception to the sex in Jane Campion’s psychological thriller, In the
Cut? It certainly divided critics and audiences but this intense, sensual,
psychological thriller deserved much more recognition than it received.
Perkins’ One Night the Moon appeared, as she was consolidating her
career in Australian film and television. A collaboration with
singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, it had a running time of under one hour but it
was certainly compelling. In recent times, Perkins has directed the first
season of Mystery Road and miniseries Total Control. Both
exemplary TV drama.
Indigenous writer-director, Ivan Sen, arrived. His very impressive work
includes the features Toomelah, Goldstone, and Mystery Road the
film that inspired the popular television series of the same name. Sen made his
fiction feature debut in 2003 with Beneath Clouds.
comedy had an uneven run during the noughties but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t
some first class work. Getting’ Square from Jonathan Teplitsky and
Kenny by Shane Jacobson were equally hilarious.
hard-to-pigeonhole asylum seeker drama, Lucky Miles, directed by Michael
James Rowland, was a hoot. I also really enjoyed Ali’s Wedding, directed
by Jeffrey Walker and written by Osamah Sami, very definitely a comedy, that
was released in 2017. Sami has called it the first Muslim rom-com.
also had an international hit in The Railway Man, that elicited
sensitive, intimate performances from major stars Colin Firth and Nicole
Sarah Watt Look Both Ways, also about a couple dealing with trauma, was
a miniature in comparison, and beautifully rendered at that.
Campion’s Bright Star appeared in 2009 to a lukewarm reception. I
thought it terrific though I’d admit to being a bit of a die-hard when it comes
to this filmmaker.
I was also
hugely impressed that same year by Rachel Ward’s Beautiful Kate, an
intense, disturbing family drama in the gothic style.
And in 2014,
The Babadook announced a bold new talent in director Jennifer Kent. It’s
held in very high esteem by cinema horror cognoscenti. I just thought it was
one of the most effective scare fests I’d ever watched.
Jocelyn Moorhouse returned in 2015 with The Dressmaker, an outback
western in which a stranger arrives in town with a sewing machine on her hip.
It’s a flamboyant revenge comedy drama that, for all its colliding elements,
Lion, directed by Garth Davis and based on
a screenplay by Luke Davies and with a wonderful performance by Dev Patel, was
another huge success here and overseas. Who didn’t love this film?
grown favourite of the 2010s was The Sapphires. Impossible not to
respond to its bouncing with irrepressible joy.
have also seen the emergence of David Michod as a major creative talent. His
pitch-black crime-family drama, Animal Kingdom, shook us up and launched
the international careers of Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver. Michod’s The
King last year was equally impressive.
Although there are so many contenders, my pick for the most outstanding Australian film of the last two decades has to be Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah. When I reviewed the film in 2009 I wrote that it announced a major new talent and could be come a modern classic. I think, as it turns out, that was the right call.
Featured image: Rowan McNamara in Warwick Thornton's Samson and Delilah (2009)