Australia Arts and Culture: Cinema

The Australian film industry began as early as 1896, a year after the Lumiere brothers opened the world's first cinema in Paris. Maurice Sestier, one of the Lumieres' photographers, came to Australia and made the first films in the streets of Sydney and at Flemington Racecourse during the Melbourne Cup.

Cinema historians regard an Australian film, Soldiers of the Cross, as the world's first 'real' movie. It was originally screened at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1901, cost ?600 to make and was shown throughout the USA in 1902.

The next significant Australian film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was screened in 1907, and by 1911 the industry was flourishing. Low-budget films were being made in such quantities that they could be hired out or sold cheaply. Over 250 silent feature films were made before the 1930s when the talkies and Hollywood took over.

In the 1930s, film companies like Cinesound sprang up. Cinesound made 17 feature films between 1931 and 1940, many based on Australian history or literature. Forty Thousand Horsemen, directed by Cinesound's great film maker Charles Chauvel, was a highlight of this era of locally made and financed films which ended in 1959, the year of Chauvel's death. Early Australian actors who became famous both at home and overseas include Errol Flynn and Chips Rafferty (born John Goffage).

Before the introduction of government subsidies during 1969 and 1970, the Australian film industry found it difficult to compete with US and British interests. The New Wave era of the 1970s, a renaissance of Australian cinema, produced films like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Sunday Too Far Away, Caddie and The Devil's Playground, which appealed to large local arid international audiences.

Since the '70s, Australian actors and directors such as Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Judy Davis, Greta Scacchi, Paul Hogan, Bruce Beresford, Peter Weir, Gillian Armstrong and Fred Schepisi have gained international recognition. Films like Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Mad Max, Malcolm, Crocodile Dundee I and II, Proof, Holidays on the River Yarra, The Year My Voice Broke, Strictly Ballroom and most recently PrisciUa - Queen of the Desert, Muriel's Wedding and Babe have entertained and impressed audiences world-wide.