Introduction: Tasmania and the Cinema

Van Diemen’s Land (2009)

Tasmania’s intermittent relationship with the cinema dates back before the first feature film made on its rugged West Coast in 1925, Louise Lovely and Wilton Welch’s now lost Jewelled Nights. In many ways what we might call “Tasmanian cinema” reflects the sometimes harsh, depopulated landscape of the island itself. Since the 1920s only a small number of feature films – and a larger number of short documentaries largely made by various state and corporate bodies – have been made or shot in Tasmania, with only the children’s film They Found a Cave (Andrew Steane, 1962) standing in for the vast period between Norman Dawn’s For the Term of His Natural Life in 1927 and John Honey’s remarkable Manganinnie in 1980. But Tasmania also has an interesting place in the global imagination of Hollywood during this period, including its status as the actual birthplace of Errol Flynn, the fabricated place of origin of Merle Oberon, and the largely fantastical landscape of the much-loved Warner Bros. cartoon character, The Tasmanian Devil. Warner Bros.’ denial of Flynn’s origins, MGM’s fudging of Oberon’s Anglo-Indian ancestry, and the geographic indistinctness and confusion of the original Tasmanian Devil cartoons, highlight a freer approach to what might be termed the “imagination of Tasmania”.

Since 1980 a small number of feature films and documentaries have been made in Tasmania that emphasise environmental issues and attempt to give a sense of the physical, experiential qualities of the landscape. These films have largely focused upon the wilderness areas of Tasmania and include an ecological thriller involving the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger (Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter, 2011), attempts to reflect upon the legacy of the largely decimated Indigenous population (Manganinnie), and a bleak but sometimes darkly humorous tale of convict cannibalism, Van Diemen’s Land (Jonathan auf der Heide, 2009). The essays in this dossier analyse and reflect upon most of the feature films made in Tasmania over the last 80 or so years, with a particular emphasis placed upon the important, groundbreaking work of the 1920s and the more recent return to the island through the prisms of the Gothic, brutal colonial history and ecology. The globally significant environmentalist movements of the 1970s and 1980s are reflected in the documentary portraits of activist Brenda Hean and wilderness photographers Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis by Tasmanian filmmaker Scott Millwood, Richard Flanagan’s The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1998), and the genre exploitation of Brian Trenchard-Smith’s climate change thriller Arctic Blast (2010). While emphasising a recent upturn in feature film production, this dossier incorporates a range of perspectives including reflections by such Tasmanian filmmakers as John Honey and Jonathan auf der Heide, historically detailed accounts of the films of the 1920s, discussions of landscape cinema and the ecological gaze, and more speculative accounts of figures such as Errol Flynn and the implications of the survivalist concerns of Van Diemen’s Land. It also suggests the increased urgency of dealing with this recently productive cinema in relation to Australian film history, the specificities of regional filmmaking, a general lack of state and federal government support, and contemporary developments in ecology.

Dossier contents:

Seeing With Green Eyes: Tasmanian Landscape Cinema and the Ecological Gaze by Jane Stadler
Jewelled Nights: ‘Can Good Movies Be Made in Australia?’ by Jeannette Delamoir
“What sort of spot is Port Arthur?”: For the Term of His Natural Life and the Tasmanian Gothic by Stephen Gaunson
Manganinnie– The First Tasmanian Feature Film by John Honey
Van Diemen’s Land by Jonathan auf der Heide
Eating and Othering in Jonathan auf der Heide’s Van Diemen’s Land by Guinevere Narraway
A Culture Cleft in Two – The Documentaries of Scott Millwood by Dan Edwards
Errol Flynn: A Life at Sea by Robert de Young
“Change – why should I? I never pretended to be anything than I am”: The Films of Errol Flynn and Raoul Walsh by Adrian Danks

About The Author

Adrian Danks is Director of Higher Degree Research in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT University. He is also co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque and co-editor of Senses of Cinema.