Aussie female director to join ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’

Peter Weir’s ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (1975). Both Weir’s film and the FremantleMedia mini-series are adaptations of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel. 

An Australian female director is set to join FremantleMedia’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, following on from industry criticism over the hire of a foreign director to shoot the series.

The six-part mini, to screen on Foxtel, was originally to be helmed by Canadian director Larysa Kondracki and Aussie Michael Rymer.

However, the Australian Directors’ Guild levelled criticism at FremantleMedia over its import of Kondracki. It opposed her visa, arguing it did not meet the required Net Employment Test and said it understood no female directors working in Australia had been approached for the role.

FremantleMedia announced in late December that a third, local female director would also shoot one episode of the series and receive a sole credit.

“FremantleMedia acknowledges the sensitivity around the selection of the creative team and as a consequence, we have engaged with Screen Australia, Film Victoria, the Australian Directors’ Guild and the commissioning broadcaster, Foxtel, to move forward in a productive manner,” said FremantleMedia Australia’s director of drama Jo Porter.

“We assembled two directors who will bring this iconic story to life and honour the incredible legacy of the Joan Lindsay novel. We now welcome the engagement of a third, Australian female director to work with Michael and Larysa on this landmark project,” she said.

“This is a unique opportunity for true international collaboration on this major work. Larysa is a gifted director and is held in high esteem internationally, helping to maximise the drama’s success in foreign territories such as the US. Michael has an enviable track record in Australia and abroad and brings a unique perspective to the telling of Australian stories.”

The ADG welcomed the announcement, with president Samantha Lang stating: “The decision by Fremantle to hire a female director to direct an episode of the series and receive the credit is a significant outcome and could only have occurred with the support and commitment of our colleagues at Foxtel, Screen Australia and Film Victoria as well our advocates at WIFT who raised industry awareness of the issue. It also sustains the work that has gone into the Screen Australia ‘Gender Matters’ initiative.”

WIFT NSW – who staged a protest outside Fremantle’s Sydney office alongside the ADG in mid-December – also greeted the news.

“Given the disproportionately low instance of female directorship of significant works of dramatic film and television, WIFT NSW welcomes the addition of a third female director to the upcoming Foxtel and Fremantle production of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Through a united effort with the ADG we are pleased with this outcome that will provide a meaningful credit on a domestic project of scale,” said WIFT NSW president Sophie Mathisen.

The ADG also said Screen Australia had committed to changing its program guidelines and proposed to make it an expectation that applicants for direct funding of television productions guarantee their project is written and directed by Australian citizens or residents.

“This will ensure that Australian directors will be engaged on Australian funded productions” said ADG CEO Kingston Anderson.

Film Victoria CEO Jenni Tosi said the new addition to the directing team was “a terrific example of the collaborative and co-operative spirit that exists between screen agencies, Guilds, businesses and broadcasters here in Australia. We’re delighted this matter has been resolved and we look forward to the production enjoying great success with audiences at home and abroad.”

Through its Key Talent Placement program, Film Victoria will also offer two placements to early career female Victorian directors on Picnic. Successful applicants will observe the production process over six to nine weeks. Applications close January 6. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock will begin shooting in Victoria in February.