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The revival of Australian film-making has been gathering speed. Here two of the busiest creative figures in the
industry tell of their work and plans.
ABOVE: Playwright David Williamson (left) and film-maker Tim Burstall are two of the men who have contributed to the re-emergence of the Australian film industry.
THIS YEAR in Australia more than 20 feature films have been made or are in the finishing stages.
A good chance of success is held out for "Petersen." written by David Williamson and directed bv Tim Burstall.
It was made in color in Melbourne, and is due tor release in Sydney. Melbourne. Perth, and Brisbane in late October or early November.
"The good-mate relationship is the surface impression Australians like to give, and it's the way they like to see themselves. But in fact we live in a verv cynical society with a high level of aggression." says playwright Williamson.
And this view is mirrored in his screenplay for "Petersen."' Petersen is an electrician who gets the education bug. He saves up enough money to take three years off work to study for an arts degree at university.
However, life runs far from smoothly.
He has problems at university in the form of his previous English tutor, and her husband, his current tutor.
On the home front his wife. Susie, struggles on a limited budget to clothe and feed her husband and two young daughters.
Susie can't understand his need for higher education - and neither can many of his friends. Petersen faces continual pressures to trade financially on his fame as a
former football idol and abandon the academic life in favor
of making money.
The story is based on the experiences of one of David Williamson's friends. "He was about 30 years old and a primary school teacher when he decided to go back to university as a full-time student." David said.
"He faced problems and pressures similar to Petersen's. But while the idea originated there. Petersen has been expanded way beyond my friend's situation."
This is David Williamson's first original full-length screenplay.
"It was a most exciting experience." David said. "I think M's every writer's dream to be commissioned to do an
By ANNE IMRIE
original screenplay. I was amazed when Tim had enough faith to virtually give me a blank cheque, without even know ing what I was going to come up with."
rim picked up the stor\ : "At our first session we batted a few ideas around, and then it was up to David to come up
with the first draft.
"We met again and discussed some additional scenes for
his final draft."
David completed the screenplay in two months.
"1 knew who 1 wanted in the lead roles." said Tim. "and thal m.ide il easier lo talk characters. I could visualise them on the screen.
"However, we did find one female pan hard to cast. When David wrote the screenplay we had no one in mind."
David agreed. "It was a help knowing that Jack Thompson and Jacki Weaver would be laking the leads, li
meant I could create characters tailored for them."
Tim and David first met at La Mama, a cale theatre in
Carlton, run by Tim's wife. Betty. She modelled it on similar theatres they visited during their two years in
David Williamson was drawn to it through an interest in acting and writing. He had started writing in the mid-1960s.
A graduate in mechanical engineering from the University of Melbourne, he was lecturing at the Sw inburne College of Technology.
"Stork" was his first major work produced at La Mama.
Later he worked with Tim to make the film of the same
"When I first saw the play I felt it had screen potential." Tim said. "By the time David and I finished with it. he had almost re-written it.
" I think the rev ival of Australian films realK started with "Stork."
"We knew that major distributors wouldn't take a chance on it. so we hired a theatre and did our own promotion.
"Our market research showed that Australians would not
go to see what they knew was a locally-made film, so we disguised that fact."
To page 29
SCENES FROM "PETERSEN " LEFT: Susie Petersen (Jacki Weaver) enjoys the fun of a country dance with her husband's best friend. Pete (John Ewart). ABOVE: Tony Petersen (Jack Thompson) has mixed feelings about his wife's efforts to share the burden of his studies.
FILM-MAKERS' FERTILE YEAR
ABOVE: Tony's wife, Susie (Jacki Weaver), finds it difficult to maintain
her role of housewife-mother while her husband studies.
RIGHT: His father (Charles Tingwell) with one of the Petersen children, Carol (Amanda Hunt).
From page 27
The audiences turned up and it wasn't long before the
film was distributed Australia-wide.
Then they both went on to greater success, Tim with his segment in "Libido" and "Alvin Purple", David with a string of plays - "Jugglers Three." "Don's Party," "The Removalists," and "What If You Died Tomorrow?" (the last two have played in London).
David, tall, rangy, with a mop of brown curly hair, gave up lecturing two years ago to concentrate on his writing.
He says he has matured a great deal since his first plays.
"And I think my writing will become more complex as m\ perception probes deeper into people and situations." he
David is a listener rather than a talker. When asked a
question, he puts his head on one side and mulls it over carefully.
Tim is different. He's never lost for a word, and one question can lead to answers for half-a-dozen not yet asked.
Life has been busy for the playwright and the
David has written screenplays from two of his plays, "The Removalists" and "Don's Party." Tim's latest film, "Alvin Rides Again," is due for release this year.
And they are working together on two scripts for next year. The first, "The Toyman," will be filmed early in the year, "probably with Jack Thompson in the lead."
The second, untitled at present, is the story of Eliza
Fraser Mrs. Fraser, a Scotswoman, and her husband.
Captain James hraser. landed on an island (later called Fraser Island) after being wrecked in the Stirling Castle off
MORE SCENES from ' Petersen. " ABOVE: A happy relationship between Tony Petersen and his university tutor. Dr. Kent (Wendy Hughes), culminates in tensions and recrimination.
Rockhampton in 1836. Aborigines murdered thc Captain,
and she had to live with them.
The script is half written, and David admitted to having problems with his first historical piece, 'i'm not familiar with the language of the time, and I haven't discovered yet when the Australian accent emerged.
"Eliza herself came from the Hebrides, of yeoman stock. How did she speak?
"And what do we do with the Aborigines?" mused Tim. "In American westerns. Indians speak broken English with
a Bronx accent!
"What we are faced with is devising a set of conventions to suit Australia without losing the vitality of the country."
Mirror Australian society
Tim believes Australian films should mirror Australian
"When I was attending the Actors' Studio in Greenwich Village, American film-makers tried to tell me differently," he explained.
"They said that because Australian films were made on such small budgets by their standards, we wouldn't be able to compete financially unless we shampooed out the regional element.
"The suggestion was that I should be making what they call art-house films, productions with a central theme that would appeal to the intelligentsia from Philadelphia to Copenhagen.
"I always felt that was dead wrong. I believe that the strength of the Australian film industry lies in working with
our own material.
'This doesn't mean making films so Australian that nobody overseas understands them.
"What it does mean is showing Australians as we are. and not modelling ourselves on others. The differences may be small but they are the flavor that makes the product ours and shocks Australians into recognition.
"Some Australians are ashamed to see their society portrayed as it really is. but the majority now accept and recognise us for what we are."
Tim believes the current wave of Australian nationalism is working to the advantage of film-makers.
"Two or three years ago Australians had an in-built resistance to local productions.
"Now they're proud of them. There's a /est and vitality in this country that is lacking overseas."
Three factors, Tim says, have contributed lo the re-emergence of the Australian film industry.
"First - and this will make some people sere.un
television commercials enabled our technicians to develop
their skills," he said.
"Secondly, television series gav e our actors the chance to get used to screen work.
"And lastly, the Carlton playwrights produced material fer stage and screen that explores Australian society ."
He said that this year alone more than 20 feature hims have been made, or are in the finishing stages, in Australia.
"It's been a phenomenal time for the industry." he said
"Working on extremely low budgets by international standards, our film-makers are producing commercial!)
viable dims foi distribution here .nul overseas."