Australian cinema now

Optional readings for this week | Australasian films from 2007 | my top ten

Clips to be chosen from these films

These films already shown in part or whole

Clubland (Cherie Nowlan, 2007) wr. Keith Thompson
December Boys (Rod Hardy, 2007) wr. Marc Rosenberg
The Home Song Stories (Tony Ayres, 2007) wr. Tony Ayres
Romulus, My Father (Richard Roxburgh, 2007) wr. Nick Drake, Raimond Gaita

Clips not yet available from these films

The Black Balloon (Elissa Down, 2008) wr. Elissa Down
Burke and Wills
(Oliver Torr, Matthew Zeremis, 2006) wr. Oliver Torr, Matthew Zeremis
Dr Plonk (Rolf de Heer, 2007) wr. Rolf de Heer
Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger (Cathy Randall, 2008) wr. Cathy Randall
Rogue (Greg Mclean, 2007) wr. Greg Mclean
West (Daniel Krige, 2007) wr. Daniel Krige

Main screening

This week's presentation will make some observations about Australian cinema in looking at some of the more significant films released within the last 24 months. As one criterion of significance, I'll note the interest demonstrated in these films by the members of the AFI, the Australian Film Institute, in their nominations and awards for 2007. So the starting-point for my last presentation of 2008 is the list of AFI best film nominees for 2007. I have, however, looked at some more recent films, including some researched by students of this unit for their Oz Film Database assignment.

I've examined twenty-three (23) films for this presentation. Fifteen of those were nominated for best film by the AFI. Of the other eight, some are too recent to have been considered in 2007. Others have been drawn to my attention by being researched by students of this unit for the Oz Film Database.

Some of this week's films seem to be straightforwardly what we can think of as "genre" films, in the sense that the genre preceded the idea for the film: the film-makers decided for whatever reason to make an *insert genre* film. Carly Howard argues that Gabriel (Shane Abbess, 2007) is a Gothic film, in noir style. It also has action/adventure characteristics. Razzle Dazzle (Darren Ashton, 2007) is clearly a quirky comedy - of which we've seen so many in the last ten years. They seem to have fallen out of fashion at the moment, as this is the only one in the last couple of years - unless we include Dr Plonk (Rolf de Heer, 2007) - which seems, however, to be in a category all of its own, as a silent film shot in an old-fashioned way in black and white.

There have some conventional dramas which are hard to classify more precisely than that. The Bet (Mark Lee, 2006) is the first film to be directed by the actor whose character dies in the closing minute of Gallipoli, Mark Lee. It's set in the world of business (recalling The Bank, Robert Connolly, 2001, of a few years ago) - stockbroking, to be precise, and is relevant to what's been going on in finance in 2008. [clip 1] A more recent comparison can be made with Hell Has Harbour Views (Peter Duncan, 2005) - a telemovie. Not only is Mark Lee a first time director, but the principal actor in The Bet, Matthew Newton, recently completed his first feature film as writer/director: Right Here Right Now (2004). Sadly, it did not get a cinematic release.

Another 'drama' is Noise (Matthew Saville, 2007). [clip 2] This is another first time feature film writer/director, tho Matthew Saville did also write and direct a 52min. telemovie called Roy Hollsdotter Live (2003).

One or two films have been based on recent real-world events. Gone (Ringan Ledwidge, 2007) is loosely based on the disappearance of British tourist Peter Falconio in the Northern Territory in 2001 when travelling with his girlfriend Joanne Lees - as was Wolf Creek (Greg McLean, 2005). [clip 3] McLean's next film, Rogue (Greg Mclean, 2007), may possibly be seen as based on real-life croc attacks. (Wolf Creek may also be seen as being based on the Ivan Milat backpacker murders in NSW.)

There is one sport film, a surprisingly rare occurrence. But The Final Winter (Brian Andrews, Jane Forrest, 2007) deals with the fortunes of a real rugby league team in NSW, the Newtown Jets, which still exists but is no longer a first-grade team, as in the time depicted, the early 1980s. So, tho fictional, it's based to a large extent on reality, especially as the writer, who also plays the lead, was a semi-professional player himself. [clip 4]

But the most striking group of films 2006-8 - because of the very large number of them - is that of films which have to do with the concerns of young people. These may be coming-of-age films ranging from comedy to something like tragedy, or social problem, or crime films.

The most successful films in this area are the three that have to do specifically with young people dealing with their relationships with their parents. Romulus, My Father (Richard Roxburgh, 2007) is based on a published biography of his father by philosopher Raimond Gaita. The Home Song Stories (Tony Ayres, 2007) is explicitly about the life and death of the writer-director's mother, and the film is dedicated to her. Clubland (Cherie Nowlan, 2007) is completely fictional, as far as I know. It is largely about the relationship between Jean Dwight and her son, Tim. This has a lighter touch than the other two - in both of which someone commits suicide - but it does have a feature which has cropped up in some recent films: a character with a disability of some kind - in this case, cerebral palsy. The Black Balloon (Elissa Down, 2008) is another film in which a young character has a disability - autism - but in this case it is close to the centre of the film.

Like Minds (Gregory J. Read, 2006) is a much a crime/thriller as it is about youth, but it is set in a boarding school, and mainly concerns two boys. Also concerned with crime, but perhaps more a social problem film is The Jammed (Dee McLachlan, 2007) in which young women are forced into sex slavery. [clip 5] Social problems in the eastern states are seen as being associated with western suburbs, and we now have a film called West (Daniel Krige, 2007) which foregrounds such matters. In the words of Jasmin Rule, "The film follows a group of young adults as they roll through life doing drugs and constantly binge drinking, struggling through aggression, depression and having no expectations for their futures." It's not totally unrelated to The Finished People (Khoa Do, 2004) of a few years ago, tho most of the street kids in that film were Vietnamese, and the streets were in Cabramatta (as they are also in Little Fish (Rowan Woods, 2005). There is a suicide in West - and there is a suicide at the heart of 2:37 (Murali K. Thalluri, 2006). Burke and Wills (Oliver Torr, Matthew Zeremis, 2006) is set in the inner city, and is about a couple of troubled young men, perhaps recalling Idiot Box (David Caesar, 1996).

At the lighter end of the spectrum, there is the school comedy Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger (Cathy Randall, 2008) - which recalls both Hating Alison Ashley (Geoff Bennett, 2005) and of course Looking For Alibrandi (Kate Woods, 2000). And I guess 48 Shades (Daniel Lapaine, 2006) is a romcom, a youthful romantic comedy.

And finally, in the middle, a couple of conventional coming-of-age stories, the "month" films: September (Peter Carstairs, 2007) and December Boys (Rod Hardy, 2007) - one by a first-time, the other by a very experienced director.

I'll conclude the presentation with a clip from Razzle Dazzle (Darren Ashton, 2007). [clip 6]

Some brief observations

(Almost) first-time (writer/) directors

This was Mark Lee's first gig with The Bet, Sandra Sciberris's second - but her first (Deeper Than Blue, 2003, aka Max's Dreaming) sank without trace. Both Brian Andrews and Jane Forrest were first-time directors with The Final Winter - and Matt Nable was a first-time writer and actor. Daniel Lapaine is another actor turned director for the first time (with 48 Shades) - like Mark Lee and Richard Roxburgh (Romulus, My Father). Other first-time feature directors are Shane Abbess (Gabriel), Ringan Ledwidge (Gone), Dee McLachlan (The Jammed), Gregory J. Read (Like Minds), Matthew Saville (Noise), Peter Carstairs (September), Elissa Down (The Black Balloon), Oliver Torr, Matthew Zeremis (Burke and Wills) - both first-timers, Cathy Randall (Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger), Daniel Krige (West) and Murali K. Thalluri (2:37). That's an astonishing fifteen out of twenty-three films with first-time directors. Of the twenty-three films, seventeen were written or co-written by their directors or co-directors. And of the fifteen films by first-time feature directors, eleven were written or co-written by their directors or co-directors. Those are very high proportions.


Indie - meaning 'independent of a major studio' - is a term that has cropped up in discussions this semester. Even in the American context it's a bit misleading, as many 'indie' film-makers soon establish production houses of their own, which complete with more established outfits. I suppose in the Australian industry, if used at all, it would mean 'not funded by the FFC' - the Film Finance Corporation, the body which (partially) funds most feature films made in this country. I don't have time to check the funding sources of all of my twenty-two films - but I believe some are in this category.


From a purely commercial point of view, it makes sense to take account of genre. People tend to go to see films if they have some idea of what they're letting themselves in for, spending their money on. As we've seen today, only a few of the twenty-two films are coming from major, popular categories like crime and comedy - and there no large-scale action-adventure films at all! The vast majority squirm uncomfortably either in or near the coming-of-age type, or in the youth area of social problem films. Some people think that the tiny Australian industry should make recognisable types of film which typical audiences want to see: genre films with recognisable characteristics, not quirky ones. This, clearly, is not what is being produced at the moment.

Cottage industry

Some writers have commented negatively on the situation that I've documented: where many films are produced which have first-time writer/directors, many of which are not finanancially successful. This has occasionally been called a 'cottage industry' - where the scale of the production is very small - and so are the returns on investment. It's felt that it's not a good look for the industry to produce small films which are under-funded, look cheap, and lose money. It gives Australian films a bad reputation. One of the most consistent criticisms is that there is insufficient time and money for script development.


People like me, however, are more concerned about the culture of this country, so I'm very pleased to see any number of small films being made, which, like so many of this year's crop, are not simply replicating a Hollywood genre, but are, rather, 'telling our stories', even down to the level of the family. Elissa Down wanted to tell us about her brother, Tony Ayres about his mother, and Raimond Gaita about his father Romulus. Matt Nable wanted us to know about his neighbourhood (rugby) football team, and others wanted us to know how they felt growing up, or how hard some young people's can be.

These are just a few ideas which I hope you'll continue to discuss, as you think about what kinds of feature films we should make in this country, and how we should go about it.

In 2005 the Week 12 presentation was the one which is now the one on the unity of Australian film. These two topics, the unity of Australian cinema, and the current state thereof, could easily be the other way around - among other options. I'd be interested if any of you have an opinion about this to share with me.
New: 18 January, 2006 | Now: 19 December, 2010