By Charlotte Willis

Filmmaker Frank Shields’ two year-project on the history of English-born soldier Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant has seen the light of day – again.

“It was the very first film I ever made. I found his [Morant’s] grave coming down from Rhodesia. Intrigued and rejected by the funding bodies, I bought a camera and two years later, I came back with The Breaker,” Shields told INSIDEFILM.

The 52-minute documentary sheds light on Morant the drover, horse-breaker, bush poet and rebel, while also detailing the Boer War and the court-martial of Morant, Peter Handcock and George Ramsdale Witton.

Shields made the documentary in three different countries for $7000: writing and shooting it in Rhodesia, researching in Australia and doing the post-production in London.

“I paid for the horses and cameramen with cases of beer,” Shields said with a laugh.

“I didn’t know how to work a camera; they taught me how to make a film so it was like my film school.”

The project, which won the Greater Union Awards for best documentary at the 1975 Sydney Film Festival, was sold to the ABC in 1973 in the first week since Shields’ return from Rhodesia.

It was aired in 1975 and was a huge hit. Shields was approached to write a book about it which came out in 1979.

“What holds the doco together is the story,” Shields reflects.

“It’s like a Greek tragedy – Morant was like the Ned Kelly and the Fletcher Christian; at one point he crossed a line that he could never come back from.

“At the end of the day it all comes down to story.”

The industry veteran of 40 years has made five feature films, including Hostage and The Surfer, which were both invited to screen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1987. The Surfer was also selected for Director's Fortnight in Cannes that same year.

Hostage was also shown at the Buenos Aires International Film Festival in 2003 in a section showing “The Secret History of the Australian Cinema”.

Shields admitted to being a “maverick” in the film industry game and noted the importance of getting in with the funding bodies.

“I didn’t understand the politics of the game and there is a price to pay for that,” said Shields, who now resides on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

“It’s still hard to find money [for filming] and because of cheap technology, anyone can actually own all the hardware to make a film for less than $5000.”

The director of Fatal Sky and more recently The Finder – filmed in Sydney – commented that the industry still needed more money “because it’s the greatest PR exercise we can do for the country”.

“Right now, it’s a cottage industry and we’ll always be struggling,” Shields said.

“We’ve now got good international artists who are willing to come back and work on films, but until the politicians understand the importance of the PR angle we’ll always be a cottage industry.”

Shields is currently developing a TV miniseries about the love story between Morant and Daisy Bates, which has been on the backburner for the last 20 years.

The Breaker is included on the Blu-Ray and DVD re-release of iconic Australian film Breaker Morant and was re-released nation-wide last Thursday by Reel DVD.

The Breaker, directed by Frank Shields

Shields directing the film in South Africa

Shields directing the film in South Africa

A scene from The Breaker

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