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Your guide to Australian film.
By Joshua Smith

In Focus: Dr. George Miller
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: August 18, 1998

Those new to the wonderful world of Australian cinema may be initially confused by the fact that two of our most prolific directors share the same name - George Miller. One of them is known for directing the immensely popular The Man From Snowy River, while the other, Dr. George Miller, has made a name for himself through his directorial credits on the Mad Max trilogy and Lorenzo's Oil. Now, while Snowy River's George Miller has firmly established himself in Hollywood, the love that Dr George holds for Australia has kept him here, where he remains one of the nation's undisputable national treasures.

That aside, George Miller came close to never entering the filmmaking field. After finishing high school, Mr Miller's impressive results earned him a position studying medicine at the University of NSW. While he practiced as a physician for a number of years, he felt, as revealed in his autobiographical feature documentary A Century of Cinema: 40,000 Years of Dreaming (1995), that he could do more good for people as a filmmaker - one who acts as a catalyst for "public dreaming". George Miller's fascination in the cinematic art-form and its capacity to affect people dramatically led to his direction of the satirical short film Violence in the Cinema: Part 1 in 1971. His short film contains a number of shocking images, such as a hot poker being thrust into an eyeball, in the tradition of Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel's masterpiece Un Chien Andalou (1923). The film earned Dr George Miller an AFI award for Best Short Film - that being a sign of things to come.

Forming an irrepressible bond with fellow film fanatic Byron Kennedy, the pair collaborated on Frieze - An Underground Film (1973), which was another short, before forming the Kennedy Miller Production company in the lead-up to their first feature film, Mad Max (1979). Mad Max was made on an incredibly low budget of close to $300,000 - approximately $15,000 of which went to its inexperienced star - the now legendary Mel Gibson. During the filming of Mad Max, George Miller had to sacrifice his own van to use in a particularly destructive stunt sequence as the group couldn't afford another stunt vehicle. Regardless of these adversities, money would not pose a problem in the company's seminal stage, though, as Mad Max went on to set box-office records around the world, grossing more than Star Wars (1977) in Australia.

George Miller followed his innovative film; it being one of the only Australian films whose dynamic, visceral style inspired new trends in international cinema - with an equally successful sequel, for which he was bestowed an AFI award for Best Director. Impressed with his work in the field, John Landis and Joe Dante offered him the opportunity to direct a segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) alongside themselves and Steven Spielberg. George Miller not only held his own within the distinguished group, but directed the what is unanimously regarded as the film's finest segment, the chilling Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

George Miller's success led to his helming a third Mad Max film, before returning to America to direct The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Lorenzo's Oil (1993). While Witches displays George Miller's dramatic, visceral mastery of satirical genre films, he made a dramatic shift in style in the sensitive portrayal of a family's battle against their son's impending death from terminal illness in Lorenzo's Oil. Where many established genre directors have failed, though, George Miller handled his subject and new-found style with an assured yet sensitive edge, perhaps aided by his previous experience in the medical profession.

During the 1980s and early 90s, Kennedy Miller productions were instrumental in supporting the Australian film industry, producing a number of memorable telemovies, documentaries and miniseries', along with key feature films The Year My Voice Broke (1987), Dead Calm (1989, for which George Miller was rumoured to have acted as Second Unit Director), Flirting (1991) and the international box-office success Babe (1995).

More recently, Mr Miller worked on the pre-production of the big-budget science fiction effort, Contact (1997), which he was to direct. As a result of creative differences with the film's producers, he left the project and has since been working on the sequel to Babe, which he is to produce, direct and write. While the subject matter seems dubious, given Mr Miller's history of unpredictable successes, it will certainly be one to look out for as it hits cinemas early next year.

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