by Stephen Vagg

Cinema Reborn, an event devoted to screening restored film classics and archival material, returns to Sydney’s Randwick Ritz from 29 April to 2 May. Its showcase Australian film for this year will be Cecil Holmes’ 1955 feature film Three in One, screening on Saturday 1 May.

FilmInk’s Stephen Vagg spoke with Geoff Gardner, one of the event’s organisers, about the movie.

Can you tell me a little about yourself and your relationship with the festival? 

“Back in the early ‘80s, I was appointed Director of the Melbourne Film Festival (as it then was) but had a somewhat misbegotten two- and half-year tenure there. My proudest achievement was, in 1981 to arrange for the BFI to send out a collection of films from the BFI National Archive. Clyde Jeavons who came out to do the intros said it was the first time an archive itself had been the focus rather than just supplying a title or so. Started a whole trend.

“Since 2012, I’ve been attending Bologna’s annual Il Cinema Ritrovato – a week-long festival of restored films, curated retrospectives and archival rarities which attracts over a thousand international visitors. In 2017, I came back full of beans and decided to try and put something – on a tiny scale – together. We got Neil Peplow, then head of AFTRS, enthused [about Cinema Reborn]. He gave us a small bit of seed funding and the group of people I assembled to get the show on the road included some who said they would guarantee any debts. Fortunately, we’re managed, by extensive use of volunteer labour, and a responsive audience, to keep ourselves afloat. This year will be the third time we’ve put on a show under the Cinema Reborn banner. (We had to do a COVID cancel in April 2020.)

“One of our Organising Committee, Quentin Turnour, has been at us to screen Three in One from the get go. The NFSA made a beautiful 35mm print some time ago which has hardly ever been through a projector and that’s the copy we’ll be screening. Cecil (Holmes, director of the film) is one of the most remarkable figures in the Australian film industry and it’s a real shame that he was never recognised with a Raymond Longford Award by the AFI.”

How would you describe Three in One to someone who knew nothing about it? 

Three in One is first a landmark. One of the very few dramatic feature films made in Australia in the ‘50s. The fact that two of the stories were based on the work of well-known writers [Henry Lawson, Frank Hardy] was a bonus. It’s one of the few times Henry Lawson has been adapted for the screen. Filmmakers have generally preferred softer views of Australian life than Lawson.

“So, it has a uniqueness about it, and it was made by a team of the highest caliber. Ross Wood’s cinematography is, for starters, world class. The three stories give an extraordinary picture of the ordinary people. Workers, unionists, young lovers.”

Why do you think audiences today might enjoy seeing it? 

“To discover the work of a committed filmmaker. To see aspects of Australia in the ‘50s that have long since disappeared. To appreciate that when given the opportunity, Australians could make films that stood up against the rest of the world. To encourage people to look back at a time when there were all sorts of forces unsympathetic to Australian film who were overcome – Government, ASIO, the Sydney Film Festival Committee of the day – all stood opposed to it.”

What sort of print is it and where did it come from? 

“It’s the best there is. The NFSA has done the work and put a lot of effort into it when they made this new copy. The copy is the basis of the digitization transfer that has been done by the NFSA and which will eventually see a DCP produced which can be shown more widely in today’s cinemas, few of which still have 35mm equipment. The Ritz at Randwick is a perfect showcase for it.”

Why see it on the big screen?

“The experience of seeing a film on a big screen with an audience is still something to be treasured. Cinema Reborn is only interested in showing films in theatres. We don’t see ourselves ever offering a digital alternative. This year, at least, you will have to be in Sydney on May Day to enjoy it. I think Cecil would have appreciated that.”

For tickets to the event (and/or more information about this classic movie) go to https://cinemareborn.org.au/Three-in-One

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