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Your guide to Australian film.
By Joshua Smith

History of Australian Film - Take 2
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: April 28, 1998

As was discussed last week, 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.

The Renaissance (1970s)

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.

Concurrently, 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)

Realising 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.

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