In 1896, a few months after the first Parisian film screening, the Australian public witnessed the presentation of a film show. The first works shown are not Australian, but they soon began to produce independently. Also in 1896, the Frenchman Sestrier films a horse show: the film report, known as the Melbourne Cup, is considered to be the first Australian film. In addition, in 1897 WB Spencer made a series of documentaries on Aborigines, certainly the oldest known ethnographic films.
Following the success of the first screenings, numerous theaters are opened in the main cities and small production companies are founded. Since the beginning of the century Aussie cinematography has stood out for its remarkable technical quality, but also the choice of stories is far above average. The first feature film in the history of cinema is Australian, a colossal of about 70 minutes shot in 1906 by Ch. Tait, The story of the Kelly Gang, which nevertheless remains an isolated case. It was not until the first decade of the decade for Australia to start a large-scale production of feature films. The approximately fifteen films that are made annually in this period tell of bandits, lifers, gold diggers, all against the backdrop of the wonderful natural scenery offered by the Australian land. Among the filmmakers who most give impetus to nascent cinema, particular prominence deserves R. Langford, actor, director and producer to whom we owe the Australian silent film classic, The sentimental bloke (1920), and B. Smith, inventor of the so-called rural comics. inspired by the stories of S. Rudd.
According to searchforpublicschools, the 1920s can be identified with the golden age of Australian cinema, a moment of maximum splendor and industrial wealth achieved also thanks to a law according to which 5% of the films distributed must be national: a device that manages to cope with the massive invasion of American products. The studios are producing at full speed: the frenetic activity of Cinesound, a house that, in addition to producing, has its own circuit of distribution halls, the Union Theaters. Under the shrewd guidance of K. Hall, Cinesound mainly produces brilliant and comic comedies, and sometimes melodramas of great interest such as The silence of Dean Maitland (1924). The Union Theaters following the example of other distribution companies, he stopped circulating Australian films in 1937, replacing them with English works. After all, 1937 is the year that officially marks the birth of a crisis in the cinema that will only be overcome many years later, although from the very beginning attempts are made to stem the US invasion by safeguarding national production. Some filmmakers refuse to submit to American domination, but they only get crushed by the system. Emblematic is the case of Ch. Chauvel, brilliant director and producer, who despite having launched E. Flynn and signed highly successful films such as Forty thousand horsemen (1941) and Jedda (1955) – first fictional work on Aborigines – is crushed by American distributors in the late 1950s.
The twenty years between 1940 and 1960 are undoubtedly one of the darkest periods of Australian cinema. Despite the development of an important documentary school, the industry is in crisis and the production of fiction records a qualitative and quantitative decline. The few films produced are largely pale imitations of American productions, completely devoid of the characteristics of Aussie culture. If established directors and independent filmmakers struggle to find the means to shoot within the borders of the state, the Australia on the other hand, it becomes the ideal setting for the productions of many Hollywood authors, from L. Milestone to S. Kramer to F. Zinneman.
However, the signs of a resurgence of Australian cinema are being sent by non-Australian directors. The Englishman M. Powell between 1966 and 1969 made two films in co-production with the Australia, using teams gathered on the spot. They’re a weird mob and Age of consent garner great acclaim, as do T. Richardson’s Ned Kelly, N. Roeg’s Walkabout, and Canadian T. Kotcheff’s Outback, chosen to represent Australia at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971, while the pinnacle of national cinema is an editing film, Forgotten cinema, made by the main promoter of the renewal, Australia Bukley. Forgotten cinema, shown in numerous meetings with the authorities, soon turns into a weapon to combat the apathy of producers and to urge the government to pass adequate laws. Gathered in the Australian Film Council, the men of cinema are calling for the restructuring of the medium-scale industry, the creation of film schools, support for experimental films and the creation of a film bank.
Starting from the early seventies, thanks to the laws enacted by the government, we return to thinking about the future of cinema with less alarmism. Government aid proves to be fundamental in the making of films that lead to the birth of that movement known as the Australian new wave, whose first exponents to emerge are P. Weir and B. Beresford. Three to go introduces Weir, The adventures of Barry Mckenzie Beresford, while other young talents have the opportunity to shine by attending the Film and Television School, founded in 1973 and directed by J. Toeplitz: here they graduate Ph. Noyce, J. Ricketson and G. Armstrong.
Following the example of federal authorities, state governments set up South Australia Film Corporation, with the aim of producing works capable of combining quality with audience expectations. SAFC is responsible for the best works of recent years: Sunday too far away (1974) by K. Hannam, Breaker Morant (1978) by B. Beresford, Newsfront (1978) by Ph. Noyce, My brilliant career (1979) by G Armstrong as well as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli (1981) by P. Weir. Weir himself is the most representative figure of the cinematic rebirth, whose greatest merit consists in knowing how to blend elements of great spectacle with typically Australian suggestions, myths and traditions.
Miller’s cinema – which does not belong to the new wave – deserves a separate discussion, only apparently far from the Aussie culture. Leading exponent of the horror-fantasy genre, Miller through the trilogy focused on Mad Max (1979-84) has created a new trend by mixing the violence and horror dear to American cinema with the rituals, magic and fantasies of the Australian tradition.