The cinema of Australia has a long history and has produced many internationally-recognised films, actors and filmmakers.
Australia's film history has been characterised as one of 'boom and bust' due to the unstable and cyclical nature of its industry; there have been deep troughs when few films were made for decades and high peaks when a glut of films reached the market.
Australian film has a long history. Indeed, the earliest known feature length narrative film in the world was the Australian production The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906).
Arguably one of the world's first film studios, The Limelight Department was operated by The Salvation Army in Melbourne, Australia, between 1897 and 1910. The Limelight Department produced evangelical material for use by the Salvation Army, as well as private and government contracts. In its 19 years of operation, the Limelight Department produced about 300 films of various lengths, making it the largest film producer of its time. The major innovation of the Limelight Department would come in 1899 when Herbert Booth and Joseph Perry began work on Soldiers of the Cross, arguably the first feature length film ever produced. Soldiers of the Cross fortified the Limelight Department as a major player in the early film industry. However, Soldier of the Cross would be dwarfed when the Limelight Department was commissioned to film the Federation of Australia.
The boom of the 1910s
The first "boom" in Australian film occurred in the 1910s. After beginning slowly in the years from 1900, 1910 saw 4 narrative films released, then 51 in 1911, 30 in 1912, and 17 in 1913, and back to 4 in 1914, the beginning of World War I. While these numbers may seem small, Australia was one of the most prolific film-producing countries at the time. That is, between 1910 and 1912, almost 90 narrative films were made; between 1906 and 1928, 150 narrative feature films were made.
There are various explanations for the subsequent demise of the industry; some historians have pointed to falling audience numbers, a lack of interest in Australian product and narratives, and the decision to participate in World War I. However, a major reason lay in the official banning of bushranger films in 1912. Looking for alternative products, Australian cinema chains realised that Australian films were much more expensive than imported films from the United States, which could be purchased cheaply as production expenses had already been recouped. To redress this decline, the federal government imposed a tax on imported film in 1914, but this was removed by 1918. By 1923, U.S. films dominated the Australian exhibition sector, with 94% of all films coming from that country.
Another explanation is concerned with anti-competitive behavior between film distributors and cinemas. Between 1906 and 1912 Australia's burgeoning film industry produced more feature-length films than Britain or the USA, but in 1912 Australasian Films and Union Theaters established a monopoly over production, distribution and exhibition and shut out smaller producers. That opened the way for US distributors in the 1920s to sign exclusive deals with Australian cinemas to exhibit only their products, thereby crippling the local film industry .
The boom of the 1970s and 1980s
During the 1970s, government funding for Australian filmmakers was increased. The South Australian Film Corporation
was established in 1972 to promote and produce films, while the Australian Film Commission
was created in 1975 to fund and produce internationally competitive films.
A generation of directors and actors emerged who told distinctively Australian stories. Films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock
, 1975) and Sunday Too Far Away
, 1975) made an impact on the international arena. The 1970s and 80s are regarded by many as a 'golden age' of Australian cinema, with many successful films, from the dark science fiction of Mad Max
, 1979) to the romantic comedy of Crocodile Dundee
, 1986), a film that defined Australia in the eyes of many foreigners despite having little to do with the lifestyle of most Australians.
The industry today
The Australian film industry continues to produce a reasonable number of films each year, but in common with other English-speaking countries, Australia has often found it difficult to compete in a marketplace dominated by American product. The most successful actors and film-makers are easily lured by Hollywood
and rarely return to the domestic film industry.
After Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox Studios and an Australian, saw that the new Fox studios were moved to Sydney, some US producers have chosen to film at Fox's state of the art facilities as production costs in Sydney are well below US costs. Studios established in Australia, like Fox Studios Australia and Warner Roadshow Studios, host large international productions like The Matrix and Star Wars II and III.
The Federal Australian government had supported the Australian film industry through the funding and development agencies of Film Finance Corporation Australia
, the Australian Film Commission
and Film Australia
. In 2008 the three agencies were consolidated into Screen Australia
A recurring debate in the Australian film industry revolves around the necessity or otherwise of government support for the industry. In brief, the argument for government support maintains that a viable film industry is only possible if it is supported in some way by the government and proponents of this view hold that the industry cannot compete against the hegemony of Hollywood. The argument against government support is that the industry is viable without support and will become stronger if increasingly globalised market forces are allowed full and untrammeled play. Others argue that a film industry in itself has little value. The history of the industry in Australia is to some extent a result of the ascendancy of one position over the other.
The Australian film industry has produced a number of successful actors and directors, some of whom have moved on to Hollywood.
These include actors and actresses Errol Flynn
, Mel Gibson
, Russell Crowe
, Nicole Kidman
, Cate Blanchett
, Naomi Watts
, Geoffrey Rush
, Hugh Jackman
, Heath Ledger
, Hugo Weaving
, Paul Hogan
, Guy Pearce
, Toni Collette
, Emilie de Ravin
, Judy Davis
, David Wenham
, Rachel Griffiths
, Rose Byrne
, Abbie Cornish
, Sam Neill
, Olivia Newton-John
and Eric Bana
, directors George Miller
, Peter Weir
, Bruce Beresford
, James McTeigue
, Alex Proyas
, Mario Andreacchio
and Baz Luhrmann
, Phillip Noyce
, Gillian Armstrong
and associated production experts.
Encyclopedia and Reference
- Murray, Scott, ed. Australian Film: 1978 – 1994. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-553777-7
- Pike, Andrew and Ross Cooper. Australian Film: 1900 – 1977. revised ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-550784-3
- McFarland, Brian, Geoff Mayer and Ina Bertrand, eds. The Oxford Companion to Australian Film. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-553797-1
- Moran, Albert and Errol Vieth. Historical Dictionary of Australian and New Zealand Cinema. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8108-5459-7
- Reade, Eric. Australian Silent Films: A Pictorial History of Silent Films from 1896 to 1926. Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1970.
- Verhoeven, Deb, ed. Twin Peeks: Australian and New Zealand Feature Films. Melbourne: Damned Publishing, 1999. ISBN 1-876310-00-6
Critique and Commentary
- Collins, Felicity, and Theresa Davis. Australian Cinema After Mabo. Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
- Dawson, Jonathan, and Bruce Molloy, eds. Queensland Images in Film and Television. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 1990.
- Dermody, Susan and Elizabeth Jacka, eds. The Screening of Australia, Volume 1: Anatomy of a Film Industry. Sydney: Currency Press, 1987.
- — — — . The Screening of Australia, Volume 2: Anatomy of a National Cinema. Sydney: Currency Press, 1988.
- Moran, Albert and Tom O’Regan, eds. An Australian Film Reader (Australian Screen Series). Sydney: Currency Press, 1985.
- O'Regan, Tom. Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996.
- Stratton, David. The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry. Sydney : Pan Macmillan, 1990. 465p. ISBN 0-7329-0250-9
Commonwealth and State Government Sites