It has been 30 years since the schoolgirls of Appleyard College lit up our screens and disappeared into the mysterious Hanging Rock.
And while the mystery of what happened to them has never been solved, there is no doubt that the film Picnic at Hanging Rock has resonated with Australian and international audiences.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the film, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and the Australian Film Commission (AFC) hosted a screening of the Director's Cut of the film at the Art Gallery of New South Wales last week.
This is a transcript of AFC Chief Executive Kim Dalton's speech from the event
I guess it was just over 30 years ago that the Head of Production of the South Australian Film Corporation, John Morris, who is sadly dead now, called me into his office and asked me if I would like to work on a feature film.
My bread and butter work at the time was as a Production Manager on educational and training films. I think when John spoke to me I was in pre-production for episode 13 of a 15-part series on gas welding for the Adelaide TAFE. Or perhaps it was the dramatised training film for the Department of Mines about using explosives safely. Anyway, I remember John telling me the SAFC was investing in this film called Picnic At Hanging Rock to be directed by a fellow from Sydney called Peter Weir. Part of the deal negotiated with the producers was that in return for some SAFC funding they had to pick up some local crew and provide some training opportunities. The offer to me was the role of Second Assistant Director, subject to being approved by the Producers and the 1st Assistant Director.
Of course I said yes immediately, left the meeting and went off to research just exactly what it was a 2nd AD did. We didn't have one on our gas welding series. A few weeks later I had an interview with the 1st AD, Mark Edgerton, managed to answer his questions adequately, passed the test and got the job.
It was an amazing experience and of course the anecdotes could take longer than the Producers' cut of the film. Well maybe not that long. It's easy to say we knew we were creating history when we were making that film. That we were creating an iconic piece of Australian cinema that would become part of the international canon, that Peter Weir would go on to become one of the great directors of our time, that Russell Boyd and John Seale would go on to win Oscars, that Hal McElroy and Jim McElroy and Patricia Lovell would go on to produce more landmark Australian and international cinema, that so many of the actors and other crew would go on to make their mark and contribute to the building of a vibrant, outstanding Australian cinema. One that has contributed not just to the development of Australian culture and Australian identity, but to the presence and profile of that culture and that identity in the world. I don't think we did know it was history in the making. I don't think you ever do in this industry.
And that's why a night like tonight is so important. We're celebrating the 30th anniversary of a very important film and one that has contributed immeasurably to our industry, our culture, to the careers of many famous and not so famous people. But at the time it was another script from some ambitious producers with a visionary director in tow and a cast and crew of relative newcomers. And who would now say that we shouldn't have had the policy and support mechanisms in place at a State and Federal Government level which allowed that group of people to have a go and ultimately make history. Tonight's a night when we can remind ourselves how important it is to keep those policies and mechanisms in place, to make sure they are adequate and robust, even at a time when perhaps the titles of our films and the names of our new filmmakers are not up in lights as much as we would hope.
In 1974 when I was asked to work on Picnic, there was no feature film industry in Australia to speak of. But more importantly there was virtually no contemporary film history or tradition. At the time, in my early 20s, I doubt I had seen more than half a dozen Australian feature films. It was with pride and pleasure that I said yes to my almost-16-year-old son when he asked if he could come tonight. He's heard about Picnic through film studies at school but never seen it and wants to. He certainly knows and admires the more contemporary work of Peter Weir. He tells me the best films he's seen recently are all Australian - Look Both Ways ("interesting and well done"), Little Fish ("fantastic performances"), The Magician ("brilliant and hilarious", seen twice, taken friends) and The Proposition ("fantastic, the best Australian film I've ever seen", seen twice, taken friends, has the poster and the soundtrack).
We have an Australian film history and Picnic stands tall at the beginning of its contemporary chapter. I'm proud to have been a part of it. But our industry and our ability to make films was fragile then and remains so. As we celebrate our history and our tradition tonight, we must confirm our commitment to maintain the ability to continue to make our own films, to make our own history. And if we do, then I'm confident my son's children will still be watching Picnic but will be able to delve into and engage with an even richer and longer history and tradition of Australian film.
20 October 2005