Jocelyn Moorhouse, Unconditional love: A memoir of filmmaking and motherhood (#BookReview)

Book coverAlthough it is quite a traditional memoir, style-wise, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Unconditional love: A memoir of filmmaking and motherhood is particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, she’s an artist who had a happy childhood. Who knew that could happen? Secondly, while most memoirs focus on one aspect of the writer’s life – such as their career (sport, for example), their trauma (childhood abuse, perhaps), their activity (like travel) – Moorhouse intertwines two ostensibly distinct parts of her life, her filmmaking career and her life as a mother.

Jocelyn Moorhouse will be known to many filmgoers as the director of the critically successful Proof, How to make an American quilt, and The dressmaker. She is also the wife of PJ Hogan who directed Muriel’s wedding, My best friend’s wedding, and Peter Pan. This is one amazing couple. Not only have they each made critically successful films, but they are lifetime creative and life partners, working on and/or supporting each other’s movies, negotiating the logistics of parenthood, and so on. They have made it work for over 30 years, in a way that few do. That’s impressive.

It could all, then, have been pretty idyllic, but life rarely turns out that way, and for Moorhouse and Hogan it didn’t. The reason is that of Moorhouse and Hogan’s four children, the middle two are autistic. This resulted in an 18-year hiatus in her filmmaking career, although during that time she kept her hand in, mostly working in some way with PJ on his projects. The book, then, tells both stories, the development of her career from her early studies in media and drama at Rusden State College and then at the Australian Film and Television School, where she met Hogan, and her very particular and demanding life as the mother of two autistic children.

She shares the emotions of giving birth to two gorgeous children only to have them regress around two years of age, as is apparently typical with autism, into unhappy, and therefore difficult children. I say unhappy because it is clear that the children suddenly find the world confusing and frustrating. Their language and communication skills regress so they resort to screaming and crying, and other difficult behaviours. Moorhouse talks about the shock of diagnosis, the therapies they try, including the ones that work (for them), and the logistics of running a family whose life is peripatetic and dependent on the next film job coming along.

Moorhouse, the experienced storyteller (and in fact problem-solver), tells her story carefully. It’s not until halfway through the novel that she brings us to her growing uneasiness about her second daughter, Lily, and Lily’s diagnosis. It’s a tough chapter, because it was a shock to her. She realises that her discussion of causes, not to mention possible preventions and cures, could upset some readers:

I am aware that some of the readers of this book may be autistic themselves and could possibly find this chapter upsetting. Please understand that I wasn’t rejecting Lily because of her autism. If you keep reading, you will discover that I love her autism and her brother’s too. But twenty years ago I was afraid for Lily’s future …

It is tricky to write about issues like this, without offending unintentionally. It’s a long “journey”, to use current terminology, that she and her family go on. And it’s a hard one. Late in the book she says that it took her years to realise that a lot of the pain she was feeling stemmed from “an internal war between my instinct to cling to the dreams about life, and my need to accept the truth”. By the end, she and PJ learn to rebuild their dreams for Lily and Jack, and she learns to balance her need to work against the family’s needs.

This brings me to her career. I enjoyed reading about that, about her own films and the insight she gave me into a film director’s work in general. I worked with film – from an archival point of view – and met various film industry people over the years, but I still learnt much about just what a director does from this book, such as the amount of script work they (might) do, the work involved in casting, choosing location and designing sets, and so on. Each director has his/her own way of doing things, it’s clear, but I greatly enjoyed reading about Moorhouse’s experiences – the wins and losses, the need to be philosophical about those that got away or didn’t go to plan.

Style-wise, Unconditional love is a straightforward chronological memoir, told in plain language, making it an accessible read. A lovely, though not unusual thing she does, is to begin each chapter with a quote. They come from diverse sources, including filmmakers (like Ingmar Ingmar Bergman and Frederico Fellini), writers (like Virginia Woolf and Maya Angelou), people who treat or have autism (like Oliver Sacks and Temple Grandin), and artists (like Marc Chagall). The opening quote, for the introduction, comes from Margaret Atwood, saying that, “in the end, we’ll all become stories”, which seems perfect for both a memoir and a filmmaker.

This is a generous memoir, rather than a tell-all one. There’s little name-dropping, though of course names are dropped because that’s the business she and Hogan are in. There are references to relationship and financial challenges – you’d be surprised if there weren’t any – but these aren’t dwelt upon. She also seems careful to not intrude unnecessarily on her children’s rights to their own lives, particularly as they get older.

Unconditional love is a book that will appeal to readers interested in Australian filmmakers, to those interested in families with autistic members, but most to anyone interested in a story that shares the challenges of a life but focuses more on the solutions.

AWW Challenge 2019 BadgeJocelyn Moorhouse
Unconditional love: A memoir of filmmaking and motherhood
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2019
ISBN: 9781925773484

(Review copy courtesy Text Publishing)

Canberra Writers Festival 2019, Day 1, Session 4: Bruce Beresford and Ladies in black

Pomeranz and BeresfordIt’s a curious thing, isn’t it? When I write my book reviews, I spend very little time on the content, focusing mostly on themes, style and context, but when I write up festivals and other literary events I find it hard to be succinct about the content. Perhaps this is because I can always go back to the book to check something, while these events are fleeting. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, so I want to capture all I can. Of course, many events these days end up as podcasts, but you can’t be sure how long they’ll be there. Anyhow, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it …

Why I attended this one should be obvious. I have read, loved and reviewed Madeleine St John’s The women in black, and I have been following the story of its adaptation to screen for over ten years, keeping my fingers crossed that Australian director Bruce Beresford would get the money to make it! Finally he did, and Mr Gums and I saw it soon after. An added attraction was that Beresford, whose memoir I have reviewed, was being interviewed by the inimitable Margaret Pomeranz of Margaret and David.

Ladies in Black – A thirty-year obsession: Bruce Beresford in conversation with Margaret Pomeranz

The women in black, Madeleine St John, book coverPomeranz began, it seemed to me, by wanting to focus more generally on book-to-film adaptations, but Beresford focused, not surprisingly I suppose given the session topic, on The women in black/Ladies in black.

Are there some elements that make a book easy to adapt?

Beresford responded that he looks for story rather than adaptability. However, The women in black (my review) was easy to adapt, because it has short chapters, a strong narrative line, and a lot of dialogue. By contrast, many years ago, he was offered The thorn birds, but found it so badly structured that he rejected it.

Later in the conversation, Pomeranz returned to the issue of adaptations, asking him what’s different for him as filmmaker between working on adaptations versus original screenplays. No difference really, said Beresford. His main issue is whether he thinks he can handle the script. Nonetheless, he admitted that he had had flops which David Stratton, he said, had treated mercilessly. That got a laugh, as we knew Stratton was in the audience.

He mentioned working with Horton Foote on Tender mercies, calling him the best writer he ever worked with. He also worked with William Boyd on adapting Joyce Cary’s Nigerian-set novel, Mister Johnson. A challenge, he said, because the novel is anecdotal with no through plotline. He is now working on a David Williamson script about Isaac Newton. He likes doing Williamson, his dialogue is sharp.

Beresford returned frequently through the conversation to the challenge of raising money. He mentioned the Italian producer, Dino De Laurentiis – a pleasure to work with, astute, generous, kind, and able to make all feel they are contributing.

Why change the title from Women to Ladies?

There was a play and a film called Woman in black. Also, some people misunderstood the title, assuming something darker. He found himself explaining that it was about ladies working in a department store, hence the change to “ladies”.

How did it all come about?

Beresford knew St John at university. She was well-read, fun, witty. He lost touch with her until the early 1990s when Clive James recommended a book he’d read, calling it “one of best novels ever written.” Beresford loved it too, describing it as marvellously funny, observant, and with a fluid style . He thought it would be easy to fund. Famous last words! It took 23 years to put the funding together, with producer Sue Milliken (whose memoir I’ve also reviewed).

I liked his clear articulation of the story’s themes: young women asserting themselves, and the clash of immigrant culture. He made very few changes, saying the book is the film and the film is the book. His main change is the last scene bringing the characters together, but this was presaged in the book.

Making the film

Film critic Pomeranz was particularly interested in the filmmaking process – from the intellectual decisions to some of the more practical aspects – and assumed, rightly, I think, that the audience would also be interested in behind-the-scenes stories.

The book, she said, seems to have an acerbic view of Australians, and is also about Australia on the cusp of change (a time when Pomeranz and Beresford were young). How did he handle these? Beresford said that it resonated closely with him, and that he did his best to recreate the time. Madeleine was very observant which made it easy.

There was a question during the Q&A regarding his physical recreation of Sydney. Beresford described using trams at the Sydney Tramway Museum, printers at the Penrith Museum of Printing, and the unrenovated 7th floor of David Jones in Sydney for the first scene at Goodes when the doors are opened. The rest was done at Fox Studios.

Pomeranz asked him how he approaches a screenplay. Is it all structure? No, he said, it’s about dialogue and characterisation. I laughed, really, at how often Beresford said the opposite to what Pomeranz assumed!

Pomeranz also asked how you know what audiences will like. Beresford said you never know but he hoped they’d respond to St John like he did, and then talked about the difficulty of getting funding for Driving Miss Daisy, because potential producers didn’t believe it would interest audiences. An old southern belle being driven around by an old black man!? How then do you know you’ve got it right, Pomeranz persisted? You don’t, he said. However, he runs a rough cut of his films for an audience in an out of the way place, and stands at the back to watch their reactions. He looks for their emotional reactions, and will use that in final cuts.

He storyboards his films (and indeed the NFSA has some of his storyboards). This makes both the filming and editing easier, because he knows what he is doing. He works with editor Mark Warner, and has for over 20 years.

Regarding casting and characterisation, Beresford described the challenges of casting Magda, and his not using a Middle-European. (Middle European Australian actors turned down the role because they thought it was a supporting role! Silly them!) Pomeranz suggested that St John’s view of men is acerbic, and Beresford admitted he softened Lisa’s father because he didn’t want to lose the fact that he loved her. Beresford also talked about Patty’s husband who runs away, embarrassed by his own sexuality, saying that some people, “get” this while others don’t.

The film didn’t have much of a cinema release in the US, but is on Netflix; it is opening in France, but not in England! Say no more!

A bit more about Madeleine

Through the conversation and Q&A, other interesting facts came out about Madeleine St John, such as that she wouldn’t allow translations. She made Beresford her literary executor, and he approved translations after her death! Hmm, that old ethical conundrum for literary executors. It has resulted in money going to her two nominated charities.

However, most of what came out is in Helen Trinca’s biography (my review) so if you are interested, I recommend that.


There was quite a lively Q & A, including:

  • various members sharing how closely they related to the story, for themselves or their mothers’ generation. Beresford said he advised the marketers not to promote the film to older women, as they’ll come anyway, but to young women, as it’s all about them. The marketers didn’t listen to him, but the young women came.
  • questions relating to the novel, such as does he require the cast read the novel or prefer they don’t. He doesn’t stop them, but usually they just read the script.
  • a potential contretemps occurring when an audience member commented that the book/film represent an Anglo view of Central Europeans. Magda’s negative comment about the German language, for example, this person said, the feeling of Central Europeans. Some misunderstanding ensued, but Pomeranz, and general goodwill, hosed it down pretty quickly.
  • Beresford naming his favourite directors as including John Ford, Carol Reed, Martin Scorcese, and saying he likes many new films.
  • Beresford believing that while it is always hard to get funding, the Australian industry will continue as long as people want to see their own stories.

It was a lively, warm, light-hearted session, and yet it was also informative about both this film and filmmaking more generally. Mr Gums and I enjoyed it – as we also did a lovely dinner at our favourite Muse afterwards.

Amanda Duthie (ed.), Kin: An extraordinary filmmaking family (#BookReview)

Book coverKin: An extraordinary filmmaking family is the second tribute book I’ve reviewed in Wakefield Press’s Don Dunstan Award series. The first, Margaret & David: 5 stars, was also edited by Amanda Duthie. Like that book, Kin contains short reflections and essays on the contribution made to Australia’s film industry and culture by Freda Glynn, her children Erica Glynn and Warwick Thornton, and her grandchildren Dylan River and Tanith Glynn-Maloney. The book also includes brief biographies of the five individuals involved, and a family tree, all of which help orient the reader.

In my review of Margaret and David, I focused on one aspect of the pieces that interested me, which was the commentary on what I called “the practice of criticism”. That made sense, because Margaret and David are critics. Freda Glynn and family are a very different awardees. They are indigenous Australians from central Australia, and they have championed and practiced Aboriginal screen story-telling for over three decades, their influence reaching way beyond Australia. Freda Glynn helped establish CAAMA (the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) and Imparja Television. Erica Glynn and Warwick Thornton are internationally renowned filmmakers (and more), with third generation Dylan River and Tanith Glynn-Maloney following in their filmmaking footsteps.

The pieces are written by a wide variety of indigenous and non-indigenous arts people from around the world, such as actor Deborah Mailman, authors Bruce Pascoe (whose Dark emu I’ve reviewed here) and Larissa Behrendt, critics Margaret and David (of course!), arts administrator Kim Williams, and American academic Faye Ginsburg, to name just some of the over 20 contributors.

Most of the pieces comprise personal reflections and heartfelt tributes to the various individuals in the family, but for those wanting a good overview of how it all started, Philip Batty’s longer piece, “Freda Glynn and the evolution of CAAMA: A personal reflection”, is well worth reading. Too few Australians know about our indigenous pioneers – who they are, let alone what they’ve done and the challenges they’ve faced doing it. Having worked, as most of you know by now, in the film archive/library industry most of my career, I became aware of CAAMA early in its existence, but I didn’t know half the story told by Batty – the personal and the political! He tells of CAAMA applying for money in 1988 from the Australian Bicentennial Authority:

Some city-based Aboriginal groups protested again CAAMA accepting the bicentennial ‘blood money’ and, on several occasions, Freda fronted up to these groups to argue that all government funding to Aboriginal organisations could be described as ‘blood money’. Indeed, at a particularly hostile meeting, I remember thinking back to the first time I met Freda when she was confronted by the all-white Citizens for Civilised Living [can you believe such a name!!]. On this occasion it was an all-Aboriginal crowd she confronted with the same bravery.

It’s important to note here that, as Stan Grant and so many others have stated, indigenous people are not united in their responses to how their cause should be progressed – any more than non-indigenous people are about their lives. I’m frequently astonished by how we white Australians seem to expect all other groups to be united in a way that we are not. It denies people the individual agency in their lives that we demand for ourselves.

Anyhow, rant over. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this book. I’m unusually behind in my reviews, and this book is, in one sense, of specialist interest, though in another I’d argue that it would offer something to all Australians interested in our cultural history. It does have a political thread – of course – but that thread is unified by a single foundational idea, the idea that sits at the bottom of all that this impressive family does. I’ll let Bruce Pascoe tell you:

The real history of the country was eliminated from our curriculum, our society, our politics, our morality. If the best-educated people in the land, the mild professors and urbane historians, can fabricate a history of such blinding connivance then another tactic has to be employed if the oppressed are to receive any form of justice. And that tactic is on old one: story.

What Freda Glynn and her family have done – as this book shows – is to set up infrastructures (the CAAMA group supports music, film, television, radio, for example) that facilitate that story being told, to provide training for indigenous people in creating and producing their stories, and of course, to make stories themselves. Warwick Thornton’s films Samson and Delilah and Sweet country are just two examples of a swathe of productions members of this family have made and/or facilitated.

All I can say is may the Glynn family continue to make stories that tell us as it is! Meanwhile, I commend this book to you as an excellent introduction to all that can be done when people put their hearts and souls into something they believe in.

AWW Challenge 2019 BadgeAmanda Duthie (ed.)
Kin: An extraordinary filmmaking family
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2018
ISBN: 9781743056028

(Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press)

Monday musings on Australian literature: Eleanor Witcombe

Eleanor Witcombe

Eleanor Witcombe, 1950 from Australian Women’s Weekly (Presumed Public Domain)

Eleanor Witcombe, who died in October at the venerable age of 95, is not exactly a household name in Australia – but some of her work is, because she’s associated with the renaissance of Australian film in the late 1970s. She wrote the screenplays for The getting of wisdom and My brilliant careerHowever, her writing career long preceded that work.

Growing up

Eleanor Witcombe, then, was a playwright and screenwriter. She was born in 1923 in Yorketown, South Australia, where she went to Yorketown Higher Primary School until 1939 when her family moved to Brisbane. There she attended Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School. I was entertained to find, via Trove, all sorts of references to her schooldays because in those days, particularly in country towns, the papers reported on school doings. Yorketown’s The Pioneer regularly included “Honor Lists” in which the young Eleanor would appear, such as in 1931 for “Arithmetic” and “Mental”, or, in 1935, as winning a prize for “Schoolwork” in the Yorketown Show. In 1932 the paper reported on the formation of Yorketown’s first Brownie pack, and listed Eleanor and her sister among its first members, and in 1938, it reported that she had earned Honours in her Grade VI Music Theory exam. She was clearly a diligent girl …

… and she liked writing. The Sydney Morning Herald, in its obituary, says that her English teachers at Brisbane Grammar School encouraged her talent. She wrote her first play, “Omlet”, a skit on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for a school concert.

Early working years

In 1941, the family moved to Sydney, and by mid-20s, she was living in Cremorne, Sydney. She went to art school where she knew Margaret Olley (also born in 1923.) This connection also popped up in Trove, this time in The Daily Telegraph of 23 January 1949 which reports on William Dobell controversially winning the Archibald Prize with his portrait of Olley. The report writes that of the 50 people viewing the portrait only two recognised “buxom, attractive 25-year-old Miss Olley”, and one of these was Witcombe. The report continues that:

Miss Witcombe attended East Sydney Technical College art school with Miss Olley. She said: “From some angles the portrait resembles Margaret. “There is a certain something about the whole thing that is Margaret. “I think it is glorious. I think it glows. It jumps out of the wall and really gets you. “But no one who does not ‘know’ Margaret would recognise it as a portrait of her.”

However, by this time, Witcombe had moved from art to writing and the theatre. In 1945, her short story “The Knife” was one of 43 out of over 2000 entries chosen for publication by the Sunday Telegraph in its short story competition, though I suspect she wasn’t among the final winners. Her story is available on-line.

It was drama though that captured her interest. Her biography at AustLit records that she enrolled in Peter Finch’s Mercury Theatre School, and that between 1948 and 1950 she was commissioned by the Mosman Children’s Theatre Club to write three plays for children: Pirates at the BarnThe Bushranger, and Smugglers Beware. Searches on Trove find many, many references to these plays – over a long period of time, and in England as well as Australia. According to AustLit, Smugglers, Beware became the first Australian children’s play professionally produced in London.

In 1950, The Australian Women’s Weekly included her in an article on Interesting People. She was 27, and had written and had performed those three children’s plays. The article concludes with

Miss Witcombe has been writing plays since she was seven, likes action and says “fairies are only for adults.”

Throughout the early 1950s, she appears frequently in the newspapers, with her plays being performed all over Australia – in remote places like Bourke as well as the cities. She started writing for radio, and talks in interviews about original versus adapted works.

However, she also spent part of the 1950s abroad, going to London in 1952 where she worked and studied for 5 years, not returning to Sydney until 1957.

Television years, and beyond

On her return, she wrote for the ABC and commercial radio – including many one-hour drama adaptations of plays, books, and stories – as well as for the theatre. She initiated the Australian Theatre for Young People in 1963, and was a foundation member, in 1962, of the Australian Writers Guild. We have a picture, in fact, of an active successful writer – of both original and adapted works.

When television appeared on the scene, Witcombe turned her hand to that medium too, writing for sketch comedy series The Mavis Bramston Show and, for three years, for the television soap opera Number 96, both of which, for different reasons, are important parts of Australian television history. She adapted children’s novels for television: Pastures of the blue crane (1969), which is one of the first miniseries I recollect seeing, and Seven little Australians (1973).

And, just to show her complete versatility, she adapted Norman Lindsay’s The magic pudding for the Marionette Theatre of Australia, a show that was performed at Expo 70 in Japan. When this show was revised in 1980 for new puppets, the Australian Women’s Weekly reported that

The script for the new production is by screen writer Eleanor Witcombe. Richard [the Theatre’s artistic director Richard Bradshaw] believes she’s the best.

“Eleanor used great huge chunks of the original book but we had to develop Pudding’s part. Her additional dialogue is perfectly in character.”

Meanwhile, of course, there were those films, The getting of wisdom (1977) and My brilliant career (1979). Both were adaptations of Australian classics, and both earned Witcombe AFI Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay.

I found a lot more in my research that I’d love to share, but will just tell this, before concluding. Around 1976, Witcombe was invited by Sir Robert Helpmann to research Daisy Bates for a film in which Katharine Hepburn wanted to star! Who knew! It was Witcombe, apparently, who uncovered that Bates had once been married to “Breaker” Morant.

After her death, the National Film and Sound Archive posted an excerpt from a 1998 oral history interview with her by Stuart Glover. In the excerpt she discusses writing adaptations, and the need to find the wood amongst the trees, the essence of the story. The excerpt ends with Glover suggesting she’d had a good career and asking her whether she’d enjoyed it. She replied:

No, I’m disappointed in myself. Because I don’t think I’ve – I haven’t adapted myself well. [Laughs] I haven’t found my centre enough and quickly and solidly and surely enough, to be able to go for that centre, y’know? I haven’t looked at me like a book and said, ‘This is what this book is about, and that is where the centre is.’

Sounds to me like an artist – never happy with her work – because, if you ask me, she had a brilliant career.

Have you heard of Eleanor Witcombe, or seen any of her plays or films?

Amanda Duthie (ed.), Margaret & David: 5 stars (#BookReview)

Amanda Duthie, Margaret and DavidMargaret and David, the subjects of this delightful, eponymously named collection of reminiscences and essays, do not need last names here in Australia. They are just “margaretanddavid”. But, since we have an international readership here, I should formally introduce them. Margaret and David are Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, Australia’s best-known and best-loved film critics who retired from their television movie show in 2014 after 28 years on air! There were to us as Siskel and Ebert were to Americans. Their influence was immense.

This book, Margaret & David: 5 stars, is essentially a tribute book produced on the occasion of their being awarded the 2017 Don Dunstan Award, an award established in 2003 to commemorate the late South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, who was a major champion of the arts, including film. The book contains mostly short reflections, but also an extended essay, on Margaret and David’s contribution to Australia’s film industry and culture, and, in fact, to world film culture. The pieces are written by a wide variety of industry people, from producers like Jan Chapman, through actors like Geoffrey Rush, and directors like Cate Shortland and Gillian Armstrong, to film business people, journalists, film festival directors, and even, Margaret’s son, Josh. It’s a delightful read – but a provocative one at times too.

Of course, I enjoyed the insights into Margaret and David’s personas and working relationship – and won’t go into these. If you’re looking for gossip you won’t get it here because Margaret and David were professionals, and were, and are, we are told, good friends. Sure, they disagreed, sometimes vociferously – we all remember Margaret’s “Oh, David!” exclamations – but these arguments always teased out ideas about film. Gillian Armstrong says, “they formed a lively, fiery, passionate, laughter-filled relationship.” If, on the other hand, you’re looking for insights into the history of the Australian film industry, you will get some here. This is not an academic work, but many of the reflections on these two can’t help but comment on the Australian industry and on film culture more broadly, from the mid 1980s when they started on television to the mid 2010s when they finished. Their contribution – and impact – was not only qualitative but, in some respects, quantifiable.

This all interested me, but what I want to focus on in the rest of this post is what the book offered me regarding …

The practice of criticism

… because, fundamentally, criticism is criticism, whether you are discussing film or books, drama or ballet. I enjoyed some of the commentary on this.

Director Gillian Armstrong, while teasing (and forgiving) David about his poor review of her Oscar and Lucinda film, describes perfectly the art of the critic, when she says

It is important to have serious discussions that actually discuss the craft of the director. They shared a real appreciation of the vision behind the camera angles, the lighting, editing, music and casting. But most importantly, their reviewing was about the very heart of those films, the content and ethics.

Leaving aside the terms “review” and “criticism” which tend to be used somewhat interchangeably in the book, I think this statement contains the guts of what criticism or, shall we say, serious reviewing is about: marrying analysis of technique with exploration of content (and ethics). Journalist Sandy George, in her extended essay, puts in this way:

They actively engage in talking about the narrative, the history of the production, what the filmmaker was trying to achieve, and how the film affected them; they don’t engage in reductive talk such as “this is good”, “this is bad”, “see this”, “don’t see that”.

There’s one memorable review they did which several writers commented on: their review of the violent R-rated movie Romper Stomper. Margaret gave it 4.5 stars and David refused to rate it. This review is now famous – and part of this is for the way their discussion was conducted. It was respectful, and considered. You can see the review here.

Other practical issues are teased out – such as reviewing works you don’t like, and reviewing works by friends. On the former, Sandy George quotes David Stratton on writing reviews for “the extremely influential” Variety:

‘I never gave a glowing review to something that didn’t deserve it … but knowing how important a Variety review is, I sometimes went out of my way not to review a film.’

A valid decision I think, though purists would probably say that you should review such films regardless.

George also quotes Margaret about reviewing works by friends. They tried, she said, “not to be friends with filmmakers, but it’s impossible”. She also says:

“I’ve always been kind to Australian films because I’m such a wimp … “

Indeed, one person said that because of this, a good review from David carried more weight!

George goes on to report one distributor’s comment that

one way the pair went above and beyond for Australian films was how carefully they chose their words when one fell short.

Notwithstanding my above comment about not reviewing at times, I also like this approach. Honest reviews are important, but there are ways of being honest. The arts are tough enough, without demoralising those working hard within it, don’t you think?

Anyhow, I enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read but not a frivolous one. I’ll close with a comment made by current SA Premier, Jay Weatherill:

Their love of cinema is real, undiminished and contagious, and they have helped me and countless other Australians to understand the critical role can play in telling our nation’s stories and presenting our values.

AWW Badge 2018Amanda Duthie (ed.)
Margaret & David: 5 stars
Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2017
ISBN: 9781743055137

(Review copy courtesy Wakefield Press)

My literary week (12), some art, a film, and an unseen play

Much as I’d like to, I don’t have time to write full posts on the three “events” I’m writing about today, but I do want to at least document them. I don’t, in fact, document every film, show or exhibition I attend but I have particular reasons, which will hopefully become obvious, for wanting to share these three.

MoMA at the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria)

For a very exciting reason – Mr Gums and my becoming grandparents for the first time – we made a flying trip to Melbourne last weekend, and, as we couldn’t spend all our time gazing at the adorable newborn, we took ourselves off to the current exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria during our long weekend. Titled MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art, it comprises a selection of MoMa’s world-famous collection. About 200 pieces the website says. The works are organised pretty traditionally – that is, in chronological order, but within this order there are themes, mostly relating to specific art movements, such as Cubism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and so on. The website says that “the exhibition traces the development of art and design from late-nineteenth-century urban and industrial transformation, through to the digital and global present.” It’s an inspiring exhibition, but like all such big, dense, exhibitions, we had tired by the end, despite breaking for lunch in the middle – so my concentration, not to mention my feet, did start to fail, affecting what I remember.

Anyhow, the exhibition opens with a wall comprising a work each by van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Seurat, who, the audioguide explained, are deemed to mark the beginning of modern art.

Salvador Dali, The persistence of memory, 1931

So, what did I enjoy? Of course, I liked seeing famous works by well-known artists, such as Dali’s “The persistence of memory” (the famous melting/dripping clocks painting). Who knew it was so small? Well, you do know it, if you read the small print in art books, but you don’t tend to remember that – at least I don’t always. It’s only seeing the work itself that makes this stick. This is partly what makes going to exhibitions so worthwhile. I also enjoyed seeing lesser known works by well-known artists, and works by artists I barely know or didn’t, until last weekend, know at all! And, I appreciated the inclusion of women artists, such as photographer Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) who was apparently looked at askance for photographing machines.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle wheel, 1951 (original was 1913)

There is so much more I could say, but, this being a litblog primarily, I’m going to end on one idea that particularly tickled me. Early in the exhibition is a work by Marcel Duchamp, the originator not only of Dada but of the art of “readymades“. The audioguide argued that one of Duchamp’s contributions to modern art was the idea that a work of art is not complete until it is joined with the viewer’s perception and questions (even if, the guide said, that question is, “is this art?”) This got me thinking once again about reading, and the fact that a book has as many meanings as it has readers, because each of us brings our own perspectives to it. An old hat idea, now, I guess, but I liked that Duchamp’s ideas resonated for me beyond the visual arts.

Gurrumul (Cinema Nova, Carlton)

Another exciting event in our lives – one still to come – is that in a few days we’ll be heading off to Australia’s Top End, to tour Arnhem Land and then spend a few additional days in Darwin. I can’t wait for the warmth – nor to experience Arnhem Land which has been on my must-visit list for some time now. Luckily for us, two friends have just returned from the same tour, and they advised us, in preparation, to see three films: Ten canoes (which we’ve seen before, but looked at again, via DVD last week), and two recent documentaries Gurrumul and West wind: Djalu’s legacy.

Gurrumul Yunupingu

Dr G Yunupingu @ Fremantle Park (17/4/2011), By Stuart Sevastos, using CC BY 2.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately we’ve missed West Wind on the cinema circuit, and it’s not available on DVD until later this year, but Gurrumul is still screening. So another time-filling activity for us in Melbourne was to see it at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. For those of you who don’t know, the film is about the recently deceased indigenous Australian musician, Dr G Yunipingu (the name used for him since his death in respect of indigenous Australian funerary practices. Permission was given, by Yunipingu himself the film says, for the film to be released, despite another indigenous practice of not showing images of deceased persons for some time after their deaths.)

Dr G Yunupingu was born on Elcho Island, in Arnhem Land, and was discovered early in his life to be blind. He taught himself to play music, and was clearly gifted – though it was his voice (“the voice of an angel” some said) that really captured attention. He wrote his own songs, which he sang mostly in language. The film chronicles, primarily, his musical life, but given his close connection to his culture, that couldn’t be done without reference to his family and culture.

It’s a traditional documentary, style-wise, but it’s the content, the subject himself, that makes this such a moving film. I was quite wrung out by the end – and not only because it had been an emotional couple of weeks leading up to it. One of the issues underpinning the film is an age-old story for indigenous people – the challenge of moving between two opposing cultures. It was a challenge that brought indigenous artist, Albert Namatjira, undone in the end. Dr G Yunupingu managed it better overall – partly because of his own sense of self and strong attachment to his country and culture, but partly also because his non-indigenous mentors had learnt from history and were respectful of Yunupingu’s wishes. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t tense times! The film will, I’m sure, enhance our Arnhem Land trip – but it’s worth seeing regardless.

Tourmaline (The Street Theatre)

Randolph Stow, TourmalineAnd, well, this last stop in today’s post is exciting too – but disappointing also, as I will be missing it. Yes, I am concluding this post by discussing something that not only have I not seen, but won’t be seeing either. I have a very good reason though for this strange behaviour, and it’s that the production, an adaptation of Randolph Stow’s novel Tourmaline, was written by Emma Gibson, one of the bloggers I mentored in last year’s Litbloggers of the Future program. Emma, in fact, wrote a guest post for this blog on Stow and the novel.

It is part of a double bill of adaptations of sci-fi-futuristic texts, the other being HG Wells’ War of the worlds. In her guest post, Emma said that the book has been described as an “ecological allegory”. This would slot nicely into Emma’s main interest, at present anyhow, which is writing about place. According to the promotions, the adaptations are made for radio – which is great to see in itself – but are being performed on stage at the Street Theatre. I am so sorry that I will be missing it – but I wish playwright Emma, and The Street, the best success with it.

Do you have any cultural outings to share?

Helen Garner, The last days of chez nous, and Two friends (#BookReview)

Helen Garner, Last days of chez house & Two friendsHelen Garner must have loved prize-winning book designer WH Chong’s cheeky cypress-dominated cover for the Text Classics edition of her two screenplays, The last days of chez nous and Two friends. You’d only realise this, though, after reading her Preface, in which she explains that she had incorporated cypresses into her screenplay for their “freight of meaning”, but that, because an appropriate location could not be found, they were replaced by a spire! For the published screenplay, however, Garner says she’d taken “the liberty of removing the spire and putting the cypress trees back in.” Love it.

I enjoyed reading this book much more than I expected. I’ve seen and enjoyed both films – a long time ago, as they were made in 1992 and 1986, respectively – but reading screenplays didn’t seem very appealing. How wrong I was. I’m glad, therefore, that Text decided to republish this volume in its Text Classics series. As always, they’ve value-added by commissioning an expert to write a commentary, which, in this case, given there was already an author’s Preface from the original 1992 edition, they appended an Afterword. It’s by well-regarded Australian scriptwriter, Laura Jones (who, coincidentally, is the daughter of the late Australian writer, Jessica Anderson.)

Both the Preface and the Afterword are informative and engaging, but I’ll start by discussing the plays. They are presented in the book in reverse chronological order of their writing, which means The last days of chez nous comes first. Both stories chronicle relationship breakdowns. This is common fare for Garner, but here as in all her work I’ve read, it’s not boring. Her skill lies in the intelligent, clear-sighted way she explores these situations, and in her ability to inject both humour and warmth. She’s never maudlin, and she never judges.

So, in The last days of chez nous, the breakdown is the marriage of Beth and her French husband JP, while in Two friends it’s the friendship between two 14-year-old girls, Louise and Kelly. Both, as is Garner’s wont, draw from her life. She was married to a Frenchman, the marriage did break up, and her husband did fall in love with and eventually marry her sister, most of which happens in the play. In Two friendsBernadette Brennan reports, she drew on a friendship her daughter had had, but, when she saw the film, she realised that it was “really, in a funny sort of way, about me.” And the “me” character was not the sensible daughter, based on her own daughter, but the friend from the troubled background.

In her Preface, Garner tells how the impetus to write her first play, Two friends, was money. She needed it at the time, so when the idea was put to her:

I rushed home and rummaged in my folder of unexamined ideas. Out of it stepped Kelly and Louise, the young girls who became Two friends.

She continues that, although money had been the initial driver, she found, as she got down to it, the writing was “powered by the same drives as fiction” – curiosity, technical fascination, and “the same old need to shape life’s mess into a seizable story.”

This latter point is important, not only because it confirms her lifelong subject matter, “life’s mess” aka relationships, but because it answers those criticisms that she “just” presents her journals. She doesn’t, she “shapes” what she’s experienced (and seen) into “a seizable story”. She also shares in the Preface some of the things she learnt from film writing, including the challenge of working collaboratively which is something writers don’t usually have to do, the “priceless art of the apparently dumb question”, and that she was “forced to learn and relearn the stern law of structure.” She explains, using Last days of chez nous, how her “perfectly smooth narrative curve” was turned into “a little Himalaya of mini-climaxes”.

This is a good place, though, to talk about the structure of Two friends which chronicles the girls’ relationship breakdown in reverse. That is, we start at the point where it appears to have broken down and move back through the months to the peak of their togetherness. Experienced scriptwriter Laura Jones discusses this in her Afterword:

The story … is daringly told in the present tense, backwards, although each of the five parts is told in the present tense, forwards. We hold these two storytelling modes in our minds at once, the forwards momentum and the backwards knowledge […] Such deft playing with time–elegant, formal and musical–offers great storytelling pleasure, as we move from dark to light, from the painful separation of two adolescent girls to the rapturous closeness of ten months earlier.

She’s right, it’s clever because the end is bittersweet – we love the close friendship but we know what’s coming.

Now I want to share some of the experience of reading these plays. Here is an example from early in Two friends when Matthew, Louise’s wannabe boyfriend, tells her he’s seen Kelly:

LOUISE: What did she look like?
MATTHEW: All right.

He shrugs; like many boys he is not good at the kind of detail Louise is after.

These instructions to the actor about his character also enliven the reading. It’s the sort of sentiment you’d find in a Garner novel, though perhaps expressed a little more creatively.

And here’s some scene-setting in the next part, where Louise, Matthew and Kelly are together:

Kelly plays up to Matthew–almost as if she can’t help it. (Kelly will become one of those women who, when there’s a man in the room, unconsciously channel all their attention towards him.)

Similarly, in Last days of chez nous. Here is a scene where Beth has eaten some French cheese that JP has been storing carefully until it reaches maturation. He’s very upset, and eventually Beth senses the importance to him:

Beth is silent. They stand looking at each other. She has not quite succumbed, but for once he has her full attention–and this is so rare that he does not know what to do with it …

All this is probably what always happens in scripts, but Garner’s way of describing the situations and characters certainly made the screenplays more than just readable. They were engrossing.

Of course, I read Shakespeare’s (and other) plays at school – but that was school and, although I enjoyed them, I haven’t really gravitated to reading plays/scripts since. I won’t be quite so cautious in future.

Do you read them?

AWW Badge 2018Helen Garner
The last days of chez nous and Two friends
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2016
ISBN: 9781925355635

(Review copy courtesy Text Publishing)

Bruce Beresford, The best film I never made (#BookReview)

Bruce Beresford, The best film I never madeBruce Beresford, author of The best film I never made, is of special interest to me for a couple of reasons, besides the fact that I’ve enjoyed many of his films over the years. One is that after a few years of taking (or, perhaps, “dragging” is more accurate) our then young son to various classic movie “experiences”, like, say, a silent movie accompanied by live theatre organ, we finally hit pay dirt with Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant. He loved it, and I’d say his love of film was born then. The other is that I’ve known for some time that Beresford has wanted to film his old university friend Madeleine St John’s novel The women in black (my review). I want to see that film! According to the brief bio opposite the title page, it is being made now. At last!

All this is to explain why I was keen to read Bruce Beresford’s collection of stories when I saw it appear in Text Publishing’s New Releases list. But, what does “collection of stories” mean in the context of non-fiction? These are not essays or even newspaper columns that have been published before, and, disappointingly, there’s no Introduction, Author’s Note or Afterword providing context. There is, though, in that aforementioned brief bio, the address for his website, and there I found a tab called “Articles”. So this is where they are published? Yes, some anyhow, including some in an earlier form, but not all. However, from this, and from their personal, rather chatty style, I’d liken these articles to blog posts, which in his case comprise musings on things relating to his film and opera directing career and his related cultural interests.

The best film I never made, then, is a collection of these blogpost-cum-stories, organised for the book into four parts: I Family, Journeys, Memories; II Making and Not Making Movies; III Behind the Screen; IV Operas, Painters, Writers. The stories are all dated, ranging from 2004 to 2017. Some have brief updates at the end. The 2010 piece on Jeffrey Smart, “Smart lessons”, for example, has a final annotation noting that Smart died in 2013. The stories are not presented chronologically.

And now, because this is not a book with a narrative structure that can be spoiled – though there is some logic nonetheless to the order – I’m going straight to the end. You’ll guess why when I tell you that the title of the last article is “Australian literature and film”, but that literature connection is not the only reason. Other reasons are that it provides a good introduction to the style and tone of the whole, and also to the way he imparts his experience and understanding of filmmaking.

The main point of this last article is to discuss the idea, put forward he says by the press, that “Australian films would benefit if more adaptations were made from acclaimed literary works. Comparisons are inevitably made with foreign films, particularly English and American …” Commenting that he can understand why writer-directors might want to tell their own stories, he admits that probably a majority of English-language films are adaptations of novels but suggests that many of these would be from popular fiction rather than “literary successes”. He unpicks why:

Many novels are famous for their prose style, various colourful characters, their themes and so on: factors which can obscure the fact that other useful ingredients – a coherent plot for example – may be absent. In film, most of the characteristics that distinguish a literary work – such as a striking prose style – are stripped away and this can reveal the lack of a well-constructed story, or convincing dialogue, and be fatal to the effectiveness of the film.

He then provides examples of English and American adaptations, about which, of course, every reader-filmgoer will have different opinions – but I think his principle stands. He comments for example about the difficult of transferring “the satire and dry cynicism” of Waugh to film, and says Patrick White is notoriously difficult “because his novels like Conrad’s, are psychological studies, intense and profound, and not easy to transfer to a film script”. (Interestingly, though, he suggests that Happy Valley, which I’ve reviewed, could be a good candidate because of its “more conventional narrative”.) Filmmakers do better he argues “to adapt novels which rely on a few strong characters and a compelling narrative” like, for example, Kenneth Cook’s Wake in fright (albeit “won no literary prizes”).

So, this article demonstrates Beresford’s grasp of filmmaking, which, unsurprisingly, runs throughout the book, but it also exemplifies his tone and style, including his willingness to share his own prejudices. He’s not a fan of Tim Winton, for example, describing his books “as bargain-basement Patrick White: stylistically derivative, they are far more savage, full of unpleasant characters, and weakly plotted”. And Christina Stead, he says, is “a turgid writer, in my worthless opinion”. This possibly false but not pompous self-deprecation is another feature of his tone. In the same paragraph as the Stead comment, he writes that he’d filmed Henry Handel Richardson’s The Getting of Wisdom, but that “critics did not share my admiration for the result”! (Other films of his, he agrees, aren’t the best.)

And finally, this chapter also reveals his ability to “tell-all” without being gossipy. He suggests that another reason why classic novels aren’t adapted in Australia (as they are in England) is that they are just not well-known, “certainly the word of their excellence has not reached all of those in charge of making financial decisions.” (The challenge of financing films is a theme running through the book, in fact.) Beresford wrote, he tells us, an adaptation of Henry Handel Richardson’s epic, The fortunes of Richard Mahony. He says he hadn’t expected potential investors to have read it, but he “did at least expect them to have heard of it – and her. But this was not the case.” Oh dear! He backs up this example of philistinism with another:

when I was planning a film about Mahler, a Hollywood executive said, ‘What I can’t understand is why you would want to make a film about a nonentity.’ I said  nothing, but perhaps should have told him that one of the most gifted composers of all time could not accurately be described as a ‘nonentity’ – except by someone of overwhelming stupidity.

To his credit, Beresford does not name this person of “overwhelming stupidity”.

If you’ve enjoyed my discussion of this article, then you are likely to enjoy the book. I loved his discussion of the filmic qualities of the artist Caravaggio, and of his friendship with luminaries like Barry Humphries, Clive James, and the late Jeffrey Smart. His Behind the Scenes section provides fascinating insight into the role of cinematographers, composers and designers in the filmmaking process. And so on.

However, because this is a book of collected articles written over a decade or more, there is the occasional repetition, particularly in the first section about his personal life. And, he does come across somewhat as an unreconstructed male. There are several references to his chasing, or his friends’ marrying, beautiful women, which focus I find out-of-date (but that’s just my worthless opinion!)

The best film I never made is an enjoyable book. It’s more chatty and informative than reflective, but if you have followed Bruce Beresford’s films over the years – including Breaker MorantDriving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies, Black Robe, Mao’s Last Dancer – and you are interested in the practice of filmmaking and in the arts more generally, this book has a lot to offer. And makes, methinks, a good summer read.

Bruce Beresford
The best film I never made, and other stories about a life in the arts
Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2017
ISBN: 9781925603101

(Review copy courtesy Text Publishing)

My literary week (8), a cultural life

There’s always something going on here in the nation’s capital, besides politics that is and despite the belief in some circles that it is a soulless place! In fact, it’s so busy here – so packed full of things to do – that my reading has been pretty slow of late. However, I have been active, and thought some of my activities might interest you.

Blog mentoring – and a question for you

In my last Monday musings I mentioned that I’ll be mentoring two ACT Lit-bloggers for the rest of this year. We had our first meeting last weekend, and one of the issues we talked about – and it’s one we’ll continue to talk about – relates to what litblogging actually is. What is the difference, we want to explore, between litblogging, review and criticism? Where are the lines, what are the crossovers? We tossed a few ideas around, including the issue of informality/formality, but there’s a lot more to explore regarding content (and these concepts of review, criticism, analysis) and audience (who reads blogs, what do blog readers look for, and can this audience be widened?)

So now I’m throwing it over to my brains trust – that is, you who read this blog – because you cover a wide range of backgrounds. What say you to these questions? And how (or where) do you think litblogs fit into literary culture?


I mentioned Coranderrk on this blog a couple of years ago. It was an Aboriginal Station in Victoria, established and successfully run by some remaining local indigenous people, and it operated from 1863 to 1924. I came to the story through the Bread and Cheese Club’s activity in the 1950s when they held working bees to repair the cemetery and restore the monument of leader William Barak to its rightful place in the town.

So, when I saw that the play Coranderrk, which was first performed in 2013, was going to be part of his year’s Canberra Theatre Centre season, I bought tickets, and we finally got to see it this week. It tells the story of the community’s attempt to obtain formal control over the land when local farmers started making moves to move them on! They felt the land was too valuable to be run by Aboriginal people (!), and so, as the program says,

the men and women of Coranderrk … went head-to-head with the Aboriginal Protection Board at a Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry to be allowed to continue.

The play tells this story primarily using words from sources of the time – mainly evidence and testimony from the Inquiry. The four actors – three men and one woman – each play several indigenous and non-indigenous characters to tell the story of the conflict. It is, really, like a documentary in play form (called, I believe, verbatim theatre), and it could have been very dry. Fortunately, I like documentaries. And anyhow, the writers do manage to inject the words, the story, with a sense of theatre, partly through little recurring motifs, like banter over a hat, and word plays, as well as, of course, the drama of the story itself.

It’s not a happy outcome, as you’d expect for the time, but the program says “The production aims to encourage a shared understanding of the past between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.” It is just one of the many stories that are coming out now about our colonial past and that we Australians need to know if we are to advance as a “real” nation, that is, as one that knows its true history.

Written by Andrea James & Giordand Nanni
Directed by Eva Grace Mullaley
Produced by Ilbijerri Theatre Company & Belvoir
Canberra Theatre Centre, 14-15 June 2017

John Waters

John Waters, NFSAOne of my several post-retirement commitments is involvement in the Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive. Like most Friends organisations we volunteer for our “parent” body, and we organise events. Recently, we ran a bus tour of the suburb of Moncrieff, whose streets are named “to honour Australia’s music history”.  We enjoyed driving around the streets, being regaled by local music expert David Kilby with biographies of and entertaining clips from such performers as Johnny O’Keeffe, Jimmy Little, Harold Blair and June Bronhill.

Then, this week, we presented an evening, to a full house, with the wonderfully generous Australian actor John Waters who willingly gave up his time, driving himself to Canberra, to talk about his career in film and, at the same time, promote the importance of preserving Australia’s audiovisual history. The NFSA is “our nation’s album” he said, and “who doesn’t like a family album”. Exactly.

There was more to my week, including my local Jane Austen group’s discussion today of the plethora of biographies about our Jane – but I think I’ll save that for another post. There’s only so much culture you can manage at a time!

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.