[UPDATE: Ben Nott ACS, was named cinrmatographer of the year at the 2012 ACS Awards on May 5, for his work on Tomorrow, When The War Began]
The Australian Cinematographers Society celebrates another year of creative ingenuity this weekend with its 41st Annual award ceremony for Australia’s top lensers. The history of Australian cinematography is almost as old as cinema itself, with Australian filmmakers having captured some of the first movies ever made. Their stories of ingenuity and incredible skill have been captured in the The Shadowcatchers, published this year as a pictorial history of the Australian cinematographer.
In anticipation of the 2012 ACS awards, SBS Film consulted the book’s co-author, Martha Ansara, and the ACS’ Heidi Tobin, to devise a Top 10 list of landmark moments in Australian cinematography.
1896 – The Melbourne Cup is Captured on Film
Assisted by Australian Walter Barnett, Lumière camera operator Maurice Sestier filmed 10 1-minute reels chronicling Cup day, from the arrival of crowds to the winner, Newhaven, being presented the trophy. The six surviving reels were returned from the Cinémathéque Française to Australia in 1969.
1906 – The Story of the Kelly Gang
No less than three cinematographers – Millard Johnson, Orrie Perry and Reg Perry – were employed on Charles Tait’s landmark film, considered to be the earliest feature length film. Famous for its iconic image of the legendary bushranger making his last stand, the immersive experience provided by the crowded frame – policemen retreat, guns blazing, as Kelly grows in stature from the rear of the image to the foreground – indicates the trio had a profound grasp of the power of their camera.
1913 – Bert Ives Appointed Official Commonwealth Government
Queensland-born cameraman Bert Ives would become the primary visual diarist during a period of incredible national growth in his role as the Commonwealth Government’s official cinematographer. For 26 years, Ives captured the changing faces of our cities and the ongoing struggle of the people who tended our land. His 1932 film This is Australia provides an invaluable snapshot of Sydney and its vibrant beach-going culture of the day.
The 1930s – George Heath and his 'Light Conscious' Work for Cinesound
In his profile in Perth’s Western Mail newspaper on November 25, 1937, Cinesound’s in-house cameraman George Heath said, “Light is the medium with which the photographic artist fashions his pictures.” Australian audiences had never seen their favourite stars (Elaine Hamill, Helen Twelvetrees, Shirley Anne Richards) look so beautiful as when Heath manipulated shadows and textures on the 16 Cinesound features he shot.
1942 – Damien Parer's Kokoda Front Line!
Damien Parer was an official movie photographer for the Australian Imperial Force and by the time he joined Australian troops in the jungles of Papua New Guinea he had already seen action aboard the HMAS Sydney and in Libya, Greece and Syria. Using the now iconic Eyemo camera, his PNG footage would win its director, Ken G. Hall, an Academy Award. Parer was killed in action soon after, but his legacy is seen in the documentaries of John Pilger and in the work of our warzone cameramen worldwide.
1946 – Technical Innovation that Changed Cinematography Worldwide
One of the most influential inventions in filmmaking was the fluid tripod head by Australian Eric Miller, who patented his first prototype in 1946. The cumbersome gear-driven camera mounts of old all but disappeared with the arrival of Miller’s operator-friendly device that allowed for fluid tilts and pans. Decades later, Australian Peter Hannan would be at the forefront of industry innovation when, with co-horts Richard Loncraine and Laurie Frost, he invented the camera crane known as the Hot Head. The trio would later win a technical Oscar in 2006 for their breakthrough.
1952 – Reg Pearse and the Neo-Realism of Mike and Stefani
In April of 1949, cameraman Reg Pearse accompanied director Maslyn Williams to the refugee camp at Lepheim, Bavaria, to begin filming the dramatised documentary, Mike and Stefani. Pearse’s dark shadows and stark daylight scenes ensured his director’s intent: to expose the truth and consequence of the nation’s immigration policies. Finally released in 1953, it found favour with critics (The Sydney Morning Herald said, “The most grown-up and craftsman-like film ever made by Australians”) but unfortunately was not embraced by moviegoers.
1975 – Burton and Boyd Conquer Europe
Few films have come to represent the Australian film renaissance period of the 1970s more than Sunday Too Far Away and Picnic at Hanging Rock (pictured, top). And few local films have ever exhibited the skill of their respective DOPs. Sunday’s Geoff Burton became the toast of Cannes, while Picnic’s Russell Boyd would collect a BAFTA Award. Both parlayed their success into international careers whilst still servicing their home-grown industry; their combined filmographies include Gallipoli, The Chain Reaction, Phar Lap, The Year of Living Dangerously, Storm Boy, Stir and The Year My Voice Broke.
1991 – Australian Camera Duo Frame IMAX Blockbuster
Under the guidance of fellow Australian John Weiley, local DOPs Malcolm Ludgate and Tom Cowan captured incredible 15/70 film images of the icy world of Antarctica for what would later become the most successful IMAX release in the format’s history (US$40 million in North America alone). Weiley and Cowan were rewarded with a project much closer to home and heart in 1996: IMAX’s epic outback travelogue, Wild Australia.
2001 – Oscar Glory for Three Australian DOPs
Industry icon Donald McAlpine (Don’s Party, The Getting of Wisdom, Breaker Morant) would see his Oscar for Moulin Rouge! slip through his fingers and into the arms of ‘youngster’ Andrew Lesnie (The Delinquents, Babe, Doing Time for Patsy Cline) for his work on The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Five years later, an even younger Dion Beebe would win the award for Memoirs of a Geisha.
Visit the official ACS website to learn more about the 41st Annual award ceremony and see the full list of Gold winners from the State and Territory Awards.