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Your guide to Australian film.
By Joshua Smith

In Focus: Bruce Beresford
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: August 11, 1998

Bruce Beresford is a name synonymous with Australian cinema. Not only has he proven himself time and again to possess a directorial eye that rivals the best Australia has produced, but his name has long been linked with key moments in the development of Australia's national cinema.

Mr Beresford played an instrumental part in initiating and supporting Australian cinema through its New Wave period. With the decline of the conservative Menzies government and the initiation of a number of arts funding schemes under Gorton and Whitlam during the 1970s, an environment was established in which Australia's artists could experiment with cinema. Bruce Beresford was one of the first filmmakers to openly embrace this opportunity, writing and directing two popular, crass 'ocker' sexploitation films, those being The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) and Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974). These films encouraged Australian audiences to support local talent by popularising our national cinema. They also sparked a string of similar films in the sexploitation sub-genre that signified Australia's willingness to break away from our conservative colonial heritage and to finally embrace the sexual revolution in an attempt to find a suitable national identity.

Bruce Beresford went on to direct Don's Party, which explored aspects of Australian sexual expression in a far more accomplished manner, aided by the fact that its script was based upon an acclaimed David Williamson stageplay. Mr Beresford's critical and commercial success with the controversial work can perhaps be seen as a catalyst in assuring that many of his later works would be based on established literary pieces.

Adapting the Henry Handel Richardson novel The Getting of Wisdom into a cinematic work in 1977, Bruce Beresford revealed a sublime, mature talent for portraying emotive drama on screen, which he would explore further in what is perhaps regarded as his finest work to date, the anti-war courtroom drama 'Breaker' Morant (1980). Breaker was received well at Cannes, establishing Mr Beresford's international reputation as a significant talent. It comes as little surprise, then, that after further exploring human sexual relationships and Australia's discombobulated culture in The Club (1980, also based on a David Williamson play), Puberty Blues (1981) and the sympathetic, influential aboriginal work The Fringe Dwellers (1986), he moved to America to further his career.

Mr Beresford's American films have been received with vastly differing reactions, ranging from Driving Miss Daisy's (1989) high profile to poor reviews surrounding A Good Man in Africa (1984) and Her Alibi (1989). Certainly, the director seems to produce his most accomplished works when they are associated with Australia, the country for which he expresses such passion. The $11 million Canadian-Australian co-production of the epic Black Robe (1991) and Mr Beresford's most recent work, the controversial anti-war film Paradise Road (1997), which he also wrote, remain his most significant works of the last decade.

Though not regarded as an 'auteur' in many circles, Mr Beresford's films often focus upon exploration - the exploration of self, of a nation, of a new land - and of clashing cultures - whether it be social classes (ie Don's Party, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie) or races (The Fringe Dwellers, Black Robe, Paradise Road). In this, he shares an interest with Peter Weir, a fascination that is present in the oeuvres of many Australian filmmakers and writers, stemming perhaps from the nation's vibrant though tumultuous multicultural heritage.

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