very short HISTORY of AUSTRALIAN FILM
The Silent Period (1890-1930)
After the advent of film technology
in the late 1800s, Australia embraced the medium wholeheartedly,
and underwent a period of rapid development in the industry.
Before long, the Australian film industry became one of the
most powerful and prolific national film industries in the world,
even so far as producing the world's first full length feature
film in 1905, The Story of the Kelly Gang (d. Tait brothers).
Internationally-acclaimed directors Charles Chauvel, Ken G.
Hall and Raymond Longford pioneered the field during the silent
period, producing such classics as The Sentimental Bloke (Longford,
1919), and For the Term of his Natural Life (d. Norman Dawn).
Following the conclusion of the First World War, though, the
American and British film industries dominated through a system
of vertcal integration (in which film production houses bought
distribution and exhibition chains) and bulk booking of cinemas,
making it difficult for local productions to receive screenings.
Early Sound (1930-1960)
the advent of sound technology came the first "talkies." Cinesound
(who employed Hall and Chauvel) led the field in the production
of newsreels and feature films. Most of the films produced during
the early sound period, such as Ken G. Hall's Dad & Dave series
and Chauvel's Heritage (1935) and Sons of Matthew (1949), dealt
with the young nation's colonial status.
sporadic pattern of local production was complemented by a number
of international co-productions including Ealing Studios' The
Shiralee (1957) and The Sundowners (1960). The local industry
was clearly on the decline. In order to combat this slide, the
Commonwealth Film Unit was set up to grant experience to local
filmmakers. The Film Unit mainly encouraged the production of
documentaries, but it was experience nevertheless.
television started to permeate the landscape in 1956, members
of the film industry felt that the industry may, in fact, be
jeopardised by this new medium. As it turned out, Australian
content requirements imposed on television advertising benefited
the film industry by providing even more experience for local
filmmakers. It stated that all television commercials shown
on Australian TV must be produced in Australia, by Australians.
The Interval (1960s)
audiences continued to flock to the cinemas even after the introduction
of television to our shores, the film industry was damaged by
a conservative, artistically stifling government and by American
cultural imperialism. As a result, NO feature films were produced
in Australia between 1959 and 1966. In addition, the films produced
during the late sixties were dominated by co-productions and
works directed by foreigners (most notably England's Michael
The Renaissance (1970s)
the future of the Australian film industry was looking bleak
during the 1960s, under the conservative rule of Prime Minister
Menzies. Fortunately, though, his artistically-stifling regime
was ousted by Gorton...
Gorton saw the Arts as a viable avenue through which the young
nation could discover and express its identity both here and
abroad. He established an Experimental Film Fund (EFF) which
was aimed at fostering the nations creative talents. The best
filmmakers discovered through the program, it was decided, would
be invited to join a national film school. This was the beginning
of Australian cinema's revival.
Before he could set up the film school, Gorton was replaced
by Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister. Whitlam, though, appeared
to be even more supportive of the Arts than Gorton. He poured
money into the film industry, setting up the planned Australian
Film, Television & Radio School. The AFDC, a federal film funding
body, was also established to fuel local production.
an enthusiastic generation of Australian filmmakers were deriving
a great deal of inspiration both from international film festivals
(such as the newly founded Cannes Film Festival) and from an
influx of controversial local and foreign films which were permitted
to be screened once the 'R-Certificate' was brought in. Prior
to the advent of the R-Certificate and popular international
film festivals, Australians were bombarded solely with American
and British cultural products.
During the 1970s, then, a new wave of Australian filmmakers
came out of film co-operatives and the AFTRS to break new ground
in this country. The likes of Peter Weir, George Miller, Bruce
Beresford, Fred Schepisi and Gillian Armstrong finally had their
chance to create films that would be supported and respected
both locally and overseas; and they were.
Two distinct bodies of work can be defined during this period.
The first, dubbed the AFC genre by film scholars Dermody & Jacka,
are the European-inspired works of art cinema. Such films were
often based on literary works and are defined by their slow
narrative progression and in-depth character studies. Weir's
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Armstrong's My Brilliant Career
(1979) epitomize this 'genre'. The second body of work can be
defined broadly as exploitation or sexploitation. Such films
were often claimed to be commercially-oriented generic works.
Millers' masterwork, Mad Max (1979); as well as Don's Party
(Beresford, 1976) and Alvin Purple (Tim Burstall, 1973) succeeded
in making Australian films accessible and popular once again.
The Explosion (1980s)
the commercial potential of Australian films, the federal government
established a tax incentive system known as the 10BA tax concessions
during the early years of the 1980s. 10BA encouraged private
investors to fund local films, offering them a 150 per cent
tax return on their investment. The concessions proved to be
so popular that more films were produced during the 1980s than
in any other decade in Australia. Unfortunately, some members
of the business community abused the system, investing money
for nothing else other than the tax return. This meant that
accountants, lawyers and other investors, who knew little about
making films, became film producers. As a result, a number of
poorly-received genre films were produced during the era.
The Post-New Wave (1990+)
Following the explosion of the
1980s and the establishment of another film funding body, the
FFC, in 1988, the local industry was blessed with another rebirth
of Australian film. The Post New Wave brought forward the talents
of Jane Campion, P.J. Hogan, Jocelyn Moorehouse, Baz Luhrmann
and Geoffrey Wright, amongst others. Most of these filmmakers
were film-school graduates (commonly emerging from either the
AFTRS or Victoria's Swinburne film school). They produced a
series of personal, specific and 'quirky' films, such as Strictly
Ballroom (1992), Romper Stomper (1992), Muriel's Wedding (1994),
The Piano (1993), Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994) and
Shine (1997). These films were all received well both locally
and internationally, marking one of the most successful periods
in Australian film history.
The local filmmaking boom is sure to indicate the beginning
of bigger and better things for the Australian film industry.
With many prominent directors moving to America to make films,
though, it may take yet another new wave of filmmakers to truly
thrust the Australian industry into the limelight.