Film & Politics

I am currently developing an untitled project which consists of a series of essays examining how the political landscape in a particular country & era influenced its films. 

The following is an extract from the essay on Australian cinema post-Whitlam: 


A grown woman played by Jenny Agutter stands in a pristine kitchen in a tower block, watching over the sterile blue swimming pool. Her middle-class white husband arrives home and details the banalities of his day. She looks away and dreams of a time years earlier, when she swam naked in a crystal clear outback lake with a nameless Aboriginal boy.

The year was 1971 and new wave of Australian cinema was beginning, which would help to re-define Australian identity. This coincided with an ending of 23 years of conservative government rule. Nicholas Roeg’s film, ‘Walkabout’ represented a departure from the traditional model of portraying indigenous people as savages in cinema. Loosely based on the novel by James Vance Marshall, it tells the story of a teenage English girl (Agatter) and her brother (Luc Roeg), who meet with an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on walkabout after their father commits suicide in the outback. The film explores revolutionary themes for the time, namely the obvious sexual attraction between the girl and Aboriginal boy. It also was a key marker of the changing status of the Indigenous community on screen .

Up to the beginning of the sixties and the decline of the United Kingdom, many saw Australia as little more than another British colony. The conflict between white settlers and indigenous people was a common theme in cinema, with films such as ‘Jedda’ (1955) suggesting that Aboriginals were incapable of being civilised,at least in the European definition. The depiction of Aboriginals on screen experienced a sharp decline in the 1960s, in parallel with the general dearth of home-grown Australian cinema at the time. Social movements mirrored those abroad, notably the hippie revolution and the push for women’s equality. Young people rebelled against the conservative government and decisions by Menzies and Holt to send troops to the Vietnam War. Influenced by television and the influx of information from Britain and America, loss of Australian identity was a serious risk for this generation.

In 1967 an independent film-making commission was supported by prime minister John Gorton. The federal government’s 1969 ‘Arts Council Report’ called for low-budget films with commercial appeal to rejuvenate the Australian film industry. It was thought that a strategy of Australian-ness would assist with sales. Unfortunately, this Australian-ness proved to be difficult to define……….



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