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By Joshua Smith

Director Profile: Peter Weir
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: May 26, 1998

One of the most significant directors of the 1970s Australian cinematic rebirth, Peter Weir has continued to create films that both challenge and entertain audiences worldwide.

International critical acclaim came to Peter Weir early in his filmmaking career. As a member of the Sydney Filmmaker's Co-Operative, Weir embraced innovation and art in film, experimenting with both filmic form and narrative structure in his short film, Homesdale (1971). Receiving limited praise for Homesdale, Weir made his mark on the art-house circuit with his first feature-length motion picture, The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) and attracted widespread critical approval with the masterfully impressionistic supernatural thriller, Picnic At Hanging Rock in 1975.

Picnic symbolised a brave step for Weir. It was his first major release and could, in many ways, be seen as the definitive picture of Weir's career in Australia. The film's romantic European-sensibilities, its technical perfection and its ambiguous conclusion aided its reception at Cannes, where it was celebrated as the single most significant film produced in Australia in decades. Failing to submit to the pressure of commercial forces, Weir continued to create challenging, somewhat controversial films during the latter half of the 1970s, such as the quasi-surreal The Last Wave (1977).

During the early 1980s, Weir's outlook can be seen to change through his films. While Weir's main considerations still lay in issues of clashing cultures and of "normal" individuals subjected to abnormal, unconquerable situations, his films became more epic in their scope. His films continued focusing on small groups of individuals whose relationships stood as metaphors for the state of intercultural relationships the world over, though Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1983) addressed such issues in a more direct manner.

In 1985, Weir released his first American-produced feature, Witness. His success with the film both in critical fields and at the international box-office allowed Weir to continue making progressively higher-budgeted films in the United States of America.

While his second feature with Harrison Ford, The Mosquito Coast (1986), was admonished by critics and the general public, Weir struck a chord in the public imagination with his romantic tragedy Dead Poets Society (1989). Dead Poets has been his greatest box-office hit to date, clearly out-grossing Weir's later works, Green Card (1990) and Fearless (1993).

This year, though, Weir's biggest release to date could once again move his name into the realms of the great directors of our time. The Truman Show, starring comic sensation Jim Carrey, is poised to take the world by storm. With an exciting socially-conscious premise, the film could well attract as much critical praise as Weir's earlier works, launching a new rebirth for the artist from Oz.

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