Australian Filmmakers Building Their Legacy: Part 2

June 25, 2018
In the second part of our series, we look into three more trailblazing directors’ ouvres and legacies, and what they’re working on in the future.

Bruce Beresford

Starting in 1972, with his film debut The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, 77-year-old Beresford’s film career has gone through many phases.

Starting out with short films, the director began his feature career directing a series of Barry Humphries starring films in the ‘70s – Barry Humphries Holds His Own (1974) and the little-known Side By Side (1975).

Cutting his teeth on low budget films, Beresford then went on to do a series of somewhat larger films – David Williamson play adaptation Don’s Party (1975), The Getting Of Wisdom (1977), and The Club (1980), also based on a Williamson play.

It was another film released in 1980 – Beresford’s Breaker Morant with Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown, which proved to be Beresford’s first breakthrough.

The film, partly funded by Channel 7, earned universal plaudits, allowed Beresford to move to Hollywood, where not long after he made first American film – 1983’s Tender Mercies with Robert Duvall and Tess Harper.

The film, was again well received, earning Beresford his first and only Academy Award Nomination for Best Director.

While success followed with his next effort, Southern Gothic Crimes of The Heart (1986), starring Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange, it was 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy which proved to be the director’s biggest success.

The film, starring Morgan Freeman, went on to win the Best Picture Academy Award, giving Beresford the platform to make films in Hollywood, and in Australia, which he has continued to do consistently, ranging from smaller biographical films like Black Robe (1991), to big scale thrillers – Silent Fall (1994), Last Dance (1996), and Double Jeopardy (1997).

While still making films in the US, 2009’s Mao’s Last Dancer saw Beresford return to Australia and break box office records for a local film.

Still an active force, Beresford has directed operas as well as films, and is currently finishing up the historical drama Ladies In Black, about the rise of department stores and sexual politics in Australia. The film has been picked up by Sony, and will be released later this year.

Jane Campion

The only woman to date to win the Cannes Palme d’Or, New Zealand-born Jane Campion is one of Australia’s most prominent filmmakers.

Beginning with her feature debut Sweetie (1989), Campion has made stories with women at their centre, going on to collaborate with a plethora of international and Australian stars.

Campion’s second film, An Angel at My Table (1990), based on New Zealand author Janet Frame’s three autobiographies, again earned wide acclaim, winning awards at the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals, among others.

It was 1991’s The Piano, which enjoyed a historic Palme d’Or, breaking down a number of barriers in the process. Released during the independent film boom of the 1990s, the epic went on to make $140 million worldwide, giving the director unprecedented success and notice.

Following that, the idiosyncratic director has continued to make unique films, from Henry James adaptation The Portrait Of A Lady (1996), to 1999’s Holy Smoke, 2003’s Susanna Moore adaptation In The Cut starring Meg Ryan, through to more recent fare like Bright Star (2009).

As active as ever, Campion, who was head of the Cannes Jury in 2014, completed Season 2 of series Top Of The Lake last year, and is understood to be mulling a few film projects.

George Miller

Order of Australia Recipient George Miller got his start in the early 1970s, crewing on experimental short films.

Originally a physician, Miller had studied medicine, but spent his spare time working on experimental films while completing his medical residency, as well as making his own films.

In 1979, Miller made his feature length debut with Mad Max, which he produced independently.

Inspired visually by the films of Sam Peckinpah, especially his 1972 film The Getaway starring Steve McQueen, Miller made the film for a paltry $350,000 at the time.

Mad Max went on to earn over $100 million worldwide, launching the careers of Miller and star Mel Gibson.

Off the success of Mad Max, Miller took on a range of directorial vehicles with varying levels of success, including two sequels to Mad Max, the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), the troubled The Witches of Eastwick (1987), the under-appreciated masterpiece Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), the sequel Babe: Pig in the City (1998), and Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet 2 (2011).

While primarily known as a director, and still developing films for himself, Miller also ventured into producing, building a substantial body of significant Australian films directed by other directors.

Among others, Miller produced John Duigan’s 1987’s coming-of-age story The Year My Voice Broke and its sequel Flirting (1991), Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm (1989) and numerous highly acclaimed and ratings winning ’80s mini-series – The Dismissal, Bodyline, The Cowra Breakout, Vietnam, The Dirtwater Dynasty, Bangkok Hilton.

A risk-taker, Miller has gone through disappointments in his long career, including the unsuccessful bid to set up a cinematheque at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, getting bumped off Contact after a year’s work, the closure of his digital animation outfit Dr. D Studios, and the sinking of his Justice League movie.

However, of all the filmmakers to come out of Australia, the Greek-descended, Queensland-born Miller is perhaps the most artistically and commercially successful with his last effort, Mad Max: Fury Road, arguably his best work yet.

Now 73, it’s doubtful whether Miller will return to the Mad Max well for a rumoured prequel and sequel, but there is no doubt that his legacy for Australian cinema is well and truly written already.

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