Monday musings on Australian literature: Three Australian scriptwriters

In a tiny nod to Oscars week, I thought I’d introduce three Australian scriptwriters. I have written one Monday Musings on scriptwriters before in a post on the AWGIEs. There I named a few scriptwriters who also write novels, Luke Davies (who was, in fact, nominated for this year’s Oscars for his script of Lion), Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas. In this post, I’m going share three more, none of whom have written novels, but all of whom have written films* that I’ve seen and admired.

Rolf de Heer

Rolf de Heer, 2006 (By Whit (originally posted to Flickr as Rolf de Heer), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rolf de Heer, 2006 (By Whit (originally posted to Flickr as Rolf de Heer), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Dutch-born de Heer came to Australia when he was eight years old. He is a significant fixture on the Australian movie scene, with his screen-writing credits including Bad boy Bubby, Dance me to my song (co-written with others including 2017 Stella Prize longlister, Heather Rose), The tracker, Ten canoes, Charlie’s country. Four of these films have been nominated for and/or won national and international awards, and the other, Dance me to my song, about a woman with cerebral palsy, was a critical success.

The tracker, which deals with that complex situation in which indigenous people were used by police to track indigenous people, won an AWGIE award for Best Original Screenplay. It also introduced de Heer to indigenous actor David Gulpilil with whom he went on to make two feature films about indigenous life in Arnhem Land, Ten canoes and Charlie’s country. Ten canoes was the first movie to be filmed entirely in Australian Aboriginal languages. De Heer, as you have probably gathered, doesn’t shy from difficult or challenging subjects.

Andrew Knight

A longstanding, and versatile, player in Australia’s film and television industry, Knight is probably best known for the several highly popular (and well-regarded) TV series which he has created and/or written, such as the comedy-sketch shows, Fast-Forward and Full Frontal, and the dramas, SeaChange (the three series of which Daughter Gums and I have watched several times) and Rake (starring the inimitable Richard Roxburgh).

Knight has adapted several crime novels by Peter Temple for television, including the telemovie of The broken shore (which I read and enjoyed just before blogging). His films include Siam sunset and the more recent films, The water diviner and Hacksaw Ridge. He is clearly an example of someone who has made a living out of screenwriting. Two years ago he received the Longford Lyell Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement, at our movie awards, the AACTAs.

Ivan Sen

Born to an indigenous Australian mother and a Croatian father, Sen belongs to that group of filmmakers who writes and directs his own films. He has made five feature films – most of which have been nominated and or won various film awards – starting with Beneath clouds which won the First Movie Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Made in 2002, it explores some of the challenges facing young indigenous people, through the story of two young people who hit the road, seeking, well, themselves, really. It’s a beautiful, albeit often confronting, film.

“It’s becoming more important for me to make films for Indigenous communities to see themselves on screen” (Sen)

The challenge of indigenous identity, features in many of his films, including in his most recent one, the 2016 Goldstone. It’s a crime thriller set in outback Australia, and features an indigenous detective. It deals with contemporary issues including industrial fraud, political corruption, indigenous land-rights, abuse of women immigrants. It was screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, competing in the Platform section for “artistically stimulating and thought-provoking” films. One of the things I love about Sen’s films is his use of landscape to underpin his themes – and Goldstone is a perfect example.

I could choose more writers, but I’m going to give you all an easy post this week and keep it short. There will be other opportunities to share more writers because, while Aussies always worry about the viability of our film industry, we do seem to have a great pool of exciting writers able to tell meaningful and powerful stories.

How much notice do you take of screenwriters when you watch films? Do you have any favourites?

* Note: I haven’t seen every film I’ve mentioned here, but I’ve seen most of them.

22 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Three Australian scriptwriters

  1. That’s an interesting question, how much notice do you take of screenwriters? And my answer is none, I give all the credit to the directors. Luckily my favourites are mostly writer directors so it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen nearly every film you’ve mentioned here (not the Peter Temples) and loved nearly all of them. Would much rather watch modern Australian cinema than American.

    • Yes, I like Aussie films too, Bill, and when I think of my most memorable films it’s often the Aussies that pop up in my head. But I am very aware of the script and often though not always note the writer, because a good script is to me the foundation.

  2. Rolf de Heer and Ivan Sen are two of Australia’s most exciting film-makers to my way of thinking – essentially because I want to know my land through the stories by and/or about Indigenous Australia/ns.

    As for noting screenwriters – moving beyond Australian connections – though they do exist were I to draw long bows – Barry Jenkins – screen-writer and director of “Moonlight” – adapted from playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” – is hugely impressive – and the Best Picture Award Oscar is totally deserved.

    Another impressive movie is the Scorsese-directed and written – with Jay Cocks (or earlier script from Michael Gordon/Nicholas Kazan?) – I am currently mid-way through the English version of Japanese writer ENDŌ Shūsaku’s 1966 published novel “Silence”. It matches almost impeccably with the movie I saw only yesterday. It is based on the true story of a couple of Priest/missionaries who enter Japan in the near mid-17th century – after the Shimabara Rebellion/Revolt of the late 1630s. My pen-friend of more than 50 years was out of a significant Shintō priest family – and married into a Hidden Christan family. I have been to most significant sites associated with Hidden Christians in western Japan (and Macao) – so the movie – and the novel – have particular meaning. To see the movie so well made – and so faithful to the historical/cultural story was amazing – and moving, too. (Made in Taiwan – in a landscape very little different from south-west Japan in Kyushu where it all happened. In the movie Andrew Garfield plays Fr Rodrigues. This is the same young actor who starred in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” – as the young Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss – who refused to bear arms but wanted only to save lives of those wounded in the battlefield -and which the historical character did with the utmost distinction on the southern end of the main island of Okinawa in 1945. Two widely differing roles – both set in Jaoan – though the latter movie mostly shot in Western Sydney!

    • Yes, agree Jim re Sen and de Heer. And am thrilled that Moonlight won. In fact, as LaLaLand was announced I wrote in a message “nice film – too white”! I wasn’t one of the LaLaLand ravers though it was great fun to see. Moonlight was stunning.

      I’m trying to decide whether to see Silence though I believe I should. For some reason I’m not a huge fan of feudal era films. I’ll probably just have to close my eyes a lot like I did in Hacksaw Ridge! I had seen all but one of the nominated Best Pictures, and will aim to see it if I can, Fences. Nearly saw it on Sunday but the times were poor.

      • I finished reading ENDŌ’s novel Silence earlier this afternoon – really about the nature of faith and belief and how one reconciles that with torture and death of others when that suffering is dependent on oneself – stunning – and beautifully paralleling the final week of Christ’s life – for those familiar with the story – down to cocks crowing up to the thrice of the New Testament version. Like you my wife and I were uninterested in the movie LaLaLand – as pretty and sweet as no doubt it was – just not dealing with the deeply real as with most of the other contenders. As LaLALand was announced the winner of best movie – I felt disappointed for Moonlight but reasoned that LaLaLand had already won so many Oscars – sort of – fair enough (irony initially unintended)! But the re-announcement of Moonlight was Gosh!Golly! Uplifting!

        • Yes, that’s what I heard about the meaning of Silence. It sounds great.

          I did see LaLaLand – it was very enjoyable BUT not a winner for me. So great to see something so real, intelligent, and meaty as Moonlight win. Wonder what Trump thinks!

  3. Since I don’t remember most of the names of actors in films, I’m going to say I fail miserably at knowing the names of the writers. My sister is a movie buff and when we were teens and 20s I would drive her nuts by my lack of both interest and ability to remember actors and movies. Of course, knowing this made her crazy, I would sometimes play dumb on purpose just to make her mad because, you know, that’s what sisters do. 🙂

  4. Catching up on unread blog posts, Sue, and this one’s a beauty. Maybe because I’m a writer, but I always note the writer(s) of a film I like; and I love a well written film. Most recently, that film was Moonlight, adapted from the play. A well-deserved award winner IMHO.

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