Australian Filmmakers Building Their Legacy

June 13, 2018
Years into the careers of these Australian stalwarts, we look into three trailblazing directors’ ouvres and legacies, and what they’re working on in the future.  

Peter Weir

One of the most singular, recognisable Australian filmmakers, beginning with his debut The Cars That Ate Paris, Sydney born and based Weir’s storied career has spanned an array of productions and genres. Starting out in an experimental filmmaking co-op where he cut his teeth on low budget, alternative fare, alongside a group that included Phillip Noyce and The Piano producer Jan Chapman among its early members.

A continually varied helmer, Weir has flipped between Australian stories such as Picnic At Hanging Rock, to well received Hollywood fare like Dead Poets Society, Witness and The Truman Show through to the 2000s and adventurous fare like Master and Commander and The Way Back, Weir’s last vehicle.

In each of these outings, Weir has largely succeeded in bringing directorial presence, regardless of setting or subject. Notable is an anecdote from 1998 where Weir, the innovator, wanted showings of The Truman Show to pause in the middle of the film, and have a fake, planted camera pop out of the wall in theatres, although the idea was nixed.

Weir is still very much active, looking after his catalogue of films, and suggested to be working on an adaptation of Jennifer Egan’s novel The Keep. A filmmaker who has successfully and consistently maintained his directorial and Australian identity through decades and countries, Weir put forward a blueprint for other Australian filmmakers to follow.

Gillian Armstrong

Like Peter Weir, a member of the Australian New Wave Movement, Melbourne born filmmaker Armstrong has been a progenitor for the Australian female Experience on film, a key influence on Australia’s wave of female filmmakers. Armstrong, somewhat anomalously, put women on film. With a career ranging from 1979’s My Brilliant Career with Judy Davis – recently restored and about to premiere at this years’ Sydney Film Festival, through to 2015 documentary Women He’s Undressed, Armstrong is a filmmaker who has defied labels and genres, and maintained her voice.

Part of this may be because Armstrong is perhaps as much of a documentarian as narrative filmmaker. In 1988 Armstrong made Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces, a continuation of the story about three working class Adelaide girls she documented in Smoke and Lollies (1976), Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better (1981) and then 2010’s Love, Lies & Lust – chronicling the women for over 35 years. Again, Armstrong led the way for female stories.

With a body of work reaching from musicals (1982’s defining Starstruck) to a 1986 Bob Dylan concert, to documentaries and period romances, Armstrong’s CV is one which is perhaps harder to define or generalise, one that has works from all spectrums. Armstrong has jumped from contemporary fare like High Tide (1987) and The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992) Ralph Fiennes-Cate-Blanchett Peter Carey adaptation Oscar and Lucinda (1997), all bearing the imprint of her work.

Armstrong is still an active force and filmmaker, although details of a next project are unknown.

Tickets are available to the Sydney Film Festival Restoration of My Brilliant Career here: https://www.sff.org.au/program/browse/my-brilliant-career.

Phillip Noyce

Another filmmaker who’s gone onto significant international work and recognition, Phillip Noyce similarly has oscillated between Australian fare like Backroads (1977), Newsfront (1978), and Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), to Patriot Games and The Quiet American. Raised like Weir on underground films produced on shoestring budgets, as well as mainstream American films, Noyce too got his start in local, Australian productions.

Beginning his feature career with the 60-minute Backroads (1977), which starred Aboriginal activist Gary Foley and the late, great Bill Hunter, his 1982 Heatwave with Judy Davis was chosen to be part of the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. Leading the charge for the Australian New Wave, and putting Australian films on the map internationally, Noyce has been at Cannes multiple times.

The 1989 thriller Dead Calm, starring Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill came after Noyce worked on various ground-breaking tele-movies for Kennedy Miller (The Dismissal, The Cowra Breakout), and paved the way to Hollywood.

Much of Noyce’s work has centred on the political, with Tom Clancy thrillers such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger satisfying the remit.

A vital figure in the landscape of Australian filmmakers and a fellow innovator, recently honoured with an AACTA Longford Lyell Award, Noyce similarly paved the way for Australian Filmmakers to work on big international and Hollywood productions. While this had been happening since the ‘40s, with figures like Newtown born noir director John Farrow, filmmakers like Noyce and Weir allowed a new generation to put their stamp on larger budgeted films.

Working in TV and film, Noyce has maintained a continual presence in both, with numerous projects in production currently. Noyce is thought to be at work on a pilot based on a work by Dennis Lehane (another adaptation of Gone Baby Gone), a couple features and another pilot, with a warmly received feature (Above Suspicion with Emilia Clarke and Johnny Knoxville) in the can.

Leave a Comment