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Your guide to Australian film.
By Joshua Smith

History of Australian Film - Take 1
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: April 21, 1998

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)

With 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.

This 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.

When 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)

While 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 Powell).

Next Week: Things look much better beyond the '60s...

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