David Stratton on his “very personal” ‘Stories of Australian Cinema’

David Stratton's Stories of Australian Cinema is set to premiere on the ABC this year over three episodes. Before that broadcast (the date of which is still under wraps) a theatrical cut will be distributed by Transmission.

Produced for the ABC by Stranger than Fiction's Jo-Anne McGowan (Art+Soul) with support from Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Adelaide Film Festival and Transmission, Stratton describes the project as "very personal".

"It’s not a history of Australian film at all. It’s called David Stratton’s Stories of Australian Cinema, and it's really just that. Without wanting to sound too pretentious about it, it’s sort of my journey coming to Australia from England, running the Sydney Film Festival for eighteen years, fighting censorship, [and] being at the Sydney Film Festival just as the Australian New Wave was happening with the Peter Weirs and the Gillian Armstrongs and the Fred Schepisis."

Stratton describes the selection of films as idiosyncratic, and says the series will "bounce around" according to theme rather than chronologically. 

"Episode one is about game changers. Australian films that changed things. So it has things like Strictly Ballroom and Shine and Samson and Delilah and Jedda and My Brilliant Career. Those key films. And then episode two is about outsiders. So it has more on aboriginal films. It has Walkabout. People who came from overseas and made films in Australia like Nicolas Roeg and Ted Kotcheff who did Wake in Fright. Because I was an outsider, obviously, coming to Australia."

As well as filmmakers, Stratton also chats to industry figures such as THR's chief critic Todd McCarthy (Stratton's former colleague at Variety), who talks about the impact of Strictly Ballroom when it was shown in Cannes.

The project was directed by Sally Aitken (Getting Frank Gehry), who is getting an assist from Sherpa's Jen Peedom in putting together the feature. 

Stratton is happy not to be sitting in the cutting room, sifting through what he describes as "hours and hours and hours of stuff".

"We’ve got the longest interviews with just about everyone you can think of. Just before Paul Cox died we were with him for four hours. We’ve got long interviews with George Miller, with Bruce Beresford, Fred Schepisi, Gillian Armstrong." 

A standout absentee is Peter Weir, who "wouldn't do it," according to Stratton.

"Peter’s a good personal friend. We have lunch together from time to time, he comes up to my place in the mountains, but I couldn’t persuade him to do it. He hates that sort of stuff. And I respect the fact that he hates it. So we’ve got him back in the day. Because we’re talking about Picnic at Hanging Rock obviously. And we’ve got a contemporary grab with him talking about it."

Stratton is also mourning the ommission of "wonderful" recent films such as Simon Stone's The Daughter and Rachel Ward's Beautiful Kate  "you have to make so many compromises". 

If Stories of Australian Cinema hits  and Transmission can successfully tap into the audience still mourning At The Movies  there should be plenty of room for a sequel.