Bringing Communities Together

Film has been bringing communities together on the Mid North Coast for nearly 100 years. From travelling shows like that of Bill Wright to country halls to the building of small town cinemas in the 1930’s and 40’s they have created a hub of our social activity. Some classic examples still exist (albeit renovated and reinvented) while the stories of others are still told in our museums and photographic archives.  Today we have a new wave of film festivals and film makers but our history of filmmakers should not be forgotten.

Our Film Making Heritage

The region has long been recognised for nurturing the inspiring works of artists, performers, filmmakers, writers, craft artists and many more producing imaginative and award winning examples of their talent

Still Screening

We have some amazing cinemas across the region who are still screening films from across the globe to a local market.

Our Local Cinema Heritage

The people of New South Wales took to motion pictures with fervour from the time they were first screened in 1896. For country people the cinema fulfilled two roles, a place for social interaction and entertainment.

Local Film Policies

A filming permit may be required from the authorities responsible for the land you wish to film on. Local councils and State Government Departments will have contacts responsible for issuing permits and answering queries.

More Movie History

Sadly a number of the original movie halls and cinemas of the region have closed and been demolished. However their stories are still told in some of our local museums.

Our Film Making Heritage

The region has long been recognised for nurturing the inspiring works of artists, performers, filmmakers, writers, craft artists and many more producing imaginative and award winning examples of their talent. A place where history and culture collide with creativity and innovation. Combine this with our diverse landscapes and rich heritage and it is not surprising that a number of major feature films have been made in the region or by our filmmakers or tell our stories.

The Castaways (1973)

This TV period drama series followed a group of passengers on board the ship the Mary Jane who in 1840 find themselves shipwrecked on an island. The eight survivors are a German family, an English girl, a pair of convicts, a young boy and a man from the army.

The 13 part series was a co-production between the ABC, Scottish Television and Germany’s Bayerischer Rundfunk. The first episode aired in Australia in 1974.

The 1973 filming of The Castaways was a significant event for Port Macquarie. Most episodes were filmed at Miners Beach but the filming of a simulated storm scene was filmed at Town Beach

Writers: Ian Stuart Black, Ralph Petersen and Ted Roberts / Music: Bruce Smeaton / Producer: James Gatward / Directors: James Gatward, Henri Safran and Frank Arnold.

The Picture Show Man (1977)

The Picture Show Man is a 1977 Australian film about a travelling film exhibitor in the 1920s. He has to deal with the rebelliousness of his son and a rival American exhibitor.

The film was based on the memoirs of Lyle Penn, whose father, Lawrence was a travelling film exhibitor. Lawrence was also co-owner with David Gerard of the Tasma Cinema in Coffs Harbour, the finest on the Mid North Coast. The full title of the autobiographical manuscript that Lyle Penn wrote which formed the basis of this movie was Penn's Pictures on Tour - The Biography of an old-time Showman. Lyle saw Joan Long being interviewed on television about her documentary on early Australian cinema, The Pictures That Moved and sent his memoirs to her. She optioned them and adapted it into a screenplay. It won Australian Film Awards for Best Art Direction, Costume Design and Supporting Actor (Rod Taylor).

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is a 1978 Australian drama film directed by Fred Schepisi, and starring Tom E. Lewis (billed at the time as Tommy Lewis), Freddy Reynolds and Ray Barrett. The film also featured early appearances by Bryan Brown, Arthur Dignam, and John Jarratt. It is an adaptation of the 1972 Booker Prize-nominated novel by Thomas Keneally. The story is about an exploited Aboriginal Australian who commits murder and goes into hiding. It is based on actual events surrounding Jimmy Governor.

The Umbrella Woman (1987)

The Umbrella Woman (released in some areas as The Good Wife) is a 1987 film starring Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward. It also features Steven Vidler and Sam Neill. The film tells the story of a man and wife whose marriage is complicated by a relationship between the man's brother and his wife, and his wife's attraction to the manager of the local bar. The setting is pre-war Australia.

The film was shot in Bowraville and in 1986 a development application was lodged by the Bowraville and District Historical Society to relocate the boarding house facade, built as a back-drop for the film to the Museum. The late nineteenth century style facade consists of two storeys with a verandah. The second level is an attic storey with gothic style dormer windows. The hipped skillion verandah is supported by timber posts with attractive, fretted brackets. It has decorative balustrade with simple timber pieces and iron roofing. Approval by the Nambucca Shire Council was given and the façade can still be seen at the Museum.

Thirst (2012)

Although filmed in Outback Australia around Broken Hill this film had its foundations on the Mid North Coast. Indeed a cup of coffee in Sawtell in April 2009 led to the creative collaboration for the film between Producers Mark and Megan George and Director Robert Carter. As described in an interview in the Coffs Coast Advocate:

In fact, producer Mark George believes Thirst, the independent feature film set in the Australian desert created by himself, partner Megan and Bellingen-based writer/director Robert Carter, would not have happened had the team lived in Sydney.

"Being based in Coffs Harbour gave us the space to think this project through and we used the internet to source the location, the cast, the crew and also for marketing," Mr George said.

It was very favourably reviewed by film critic, Margret Pomeranz:
This film by Robert Carter, who directed The Sugar Factory, is blessed by really wonderful performances. Despite the obvious construct of the scenario, and in fact the director does not shy away from representing that visually, it is a life-affirming film. This is not four people desperate to survive who will do anything to do over their fellow man, it is an optimistic view of decent people behaving decently in the face of disaster. Nicola Daley's cinematography is beautiful. This is a gripping tale of romance, of seeking, of connecting in a very human way, of getting joy out of what few moments you may have left on this earth.

Oscar & Lucinda (1997)

Based on the 1988 Booker Prize winning novel by Peter Carey the film was directed by Gillian Armstrong and starred Ralph Fiennes, Cate Blanchett, and Tom Wilkinson.

It tells the story of Oscar Hopkins, the Cornish son of a Plymouth Brethren minister who becomes an Anglican priest, and Lucinda Leplastrier, a young Australian heiress who buys a glass factory. They meet on the ship over to Australia, and discover that they are both gamblers, one obsessive, the other compulsive. Lucinda bets Oscar that he cannot transport a glass church from Sydney to the remote settlement at Bellingen, some 400 km up the New South Wales coast.

Peter Carey wrote much of the book while living near Bellingen and the Gleniffer Church, sitting adjacent to Gleniffer Hall near the Never Never River, provided inspiration for Peter Carey's glass church ("St John's").  The film was not however shot in Bellingen

Adoration (2013)

Adoration (also known as Adore in US, Canada, UK), and internationally as (Two Mothers and Perfect Mothers) is a 2013 Australian-French drama film directed by Anne Fontaine. The film is based on a novella by British writer Doris Lessing called The Grandmothers. The original title of the film was Two Mothers and it premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival under this title. IT starred two high profile actresses, Naomi Watts and Robin Wright. Set in a NSW seaside town it was filmed in Seal Rocks south of Forster. Seal Rocks was chosen as the shoot location after an extensive search of beaches around Australia. Producer Philippe Carcassonne said of the natural beauty of the town:

"At the same time it was so varied and rich that we managed to have all the moods that are at play in the script without changing location, and I can't think of any other country or spot where we would have that paradoxical quality of being in the same place and yet having an ever changing landscape everyday."

Director Anne Fontaine, of Coco Avant Chanel fame, says the setting became a character in itself and that the wild and untamed environment was a catalyst for the unconventional love that evolves. (Daily Telegraph November 2013)

Danny Deckchair (2003)

Inspired by the story of "Lawnchair Larry" by Larry Walters Danny Deckchair is a 2003 Australian comedy film written and directed by Jeff Balsmeyer. Its cast included Rhys Ifans as Danny Morgan, Miranda Otto as Glenda Lake, Justine Clarke as Trudy Dunphy and Rhys Muldoon as Sandy Upman. The majority of Danny Deckchair was shot in Bellingen with a major set being local Kilkenny House.

As American born Director, Jeff Balsmeyer noted - "Bellingen is the most beautiful small town in NSW. It had everything that I wanted - it was a self-contained world but it has this otherworldly tropical flavour." (SMH August 2003)

Our Local Cinema Heritage

If you delve into your communities history you'll find a connection to film in most every town on the mid north coast.

The people of New South Wales took to motion pictures with fervour from the time they were first screened in 1896. For country people the cinema fulfilled two roles, a place for social interaction and entertainment.

Kevin J Cork 2006

As Elwyn Spratt suggested in 1962, a night at the pictures was ….a get together in an atmosphere of low hum gossip that was not stilled until the lowering of the lights brought three hours of escapism to the screen.

In the early years the movies came to town by travelling shows that utilised country halls and other places of public assembly. Check out your country hall and see if you can still see a place where the projection would be at the back of the Hall. In the 1920’s the travelling cinema of Mr Bill Wright would come to Moorland every two weeks and if there were enough patrons a dance would be held after the movies. Indeed it seemed any occasion was an excuse for a dance, including the purchase of a new piano in 1927, perfect for the silent movies!

As the movie industry evolved from silent movies to talkies and the equipment required expanded they became more a feature in the larger halls built in the more populated towns and were to continue to hold an important place within the social life of rural communities and also the main streetscape. This continued until they faced competition from television from the 1960s. The 1950’s also saw the craze for drive in movies reach Australia from America and county areas were no exception. Word of mouth indicates that sometime over the next twenty or so years there were Drive ins at Bushland Drive in Taree, in Hastings River Drive in Port Macquarie and on the Pacific Highway south of Coffs Harbour. However much more is known of some of the main cinemas and halls, with a few remaining today and becoming an important part of our culture and heritage

Did you know?

Q. Where did Baz Luhrmann get his first taste of film?

A. As a lad from Herons Creek and his dad worked at the eclectic Plaza Theatre, still described as being at the charming edge of kitsch

Q. What is one of the most significant examples of community crowdfunding and support?

A. The community effort to raise over $140,000 to save and redevelop the 1940’s Sawtell Cinema

Q. Where is the most creative use of a cinema complex on the Mid North Coast?

A. The 1940’s art deco theatre in Bowraville now the home of film, theatre and community education

Q. Where was the smallest cinema in Australia?

 A. The Terrace Cinema in Tinonee had 22 seats. Only recently closed its projector, curtains, seats and paraphernalia can be seen at the Tinonee Museum

Q. Where can you still see part of the set of The Umbrella Woman filmed on the coast in 1986?

A. The boarding house façade is now incorporated into the Bowraville Museum

Q. Who was the fittest runner in the industry?

A. Whoever had to cycle furiously between the Tasma and Jetty Cinemas (pictured) in Coffs Harbour in the 1940’s with each reel. See much of this history at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum 

Still Screening

Next time you fancy watching a play or movie, why not check out one of our regions original theatres and see what they have screening.

Sawtell Cinema

Address: First Ave, Sawtell NSW 2452
Phone: (02) 5621 8101

Learn about Sawtells history

In 1941 Doris and Alan Brissett purchased the Community Hall on Sawtell’s First Avenue, added some wooden tiered seating and a projection room and the Sawtell Cinema was born.  For three generations the Sawtell Cinema remained in the Brissett Family.

Over the years the cinema has faced plenty of disasters, and on each occasion the community has stepped in to help. In 1955, a mini-cyclone ripped through Sawtell, totally demolishing the cinema.  The “show must go on” was the catch-cry of the community, and Sawtell had its very own open-air cinema as the building was being rebuilt.  The projector was powered by an old Ford pick up truck and patrons would bring their own cap guns for Westerns and umbrellas for rainy nights.  Twelve months later the triple brick structure that today’s Sawtellians recognise as the Sawtell Cinema was completed. In March 2009, a metre of water flooded Sawtell, causing extensive damage to the cinema and forcing a 6-week closure.  Yet again the community was there for support.  A group of citizens formed the Friends of the Sawtell Cinema, which stepped forward to support the cinema. It was the cost to change over to digital projection technology that eventually forced the closure of this much loved local treasure.  The Brissett family put the cinema on the market in March 2012.  When no buyer came forward, the cinema was closed in December 2012.

For two years Sawtell Cinema patiently waited for the community to show their support yet again. A group of local patrons stepped forward to purchase the original building.  In March 2015, Council approved plans for the renovation of the Cinema, including an upgrade to a digital projection system, division of the cinema into two separate theatres and toilets on the inside of the building so you won’t have to get wet on rainy nights! There was a buzz of excitement in the Sawtell air.  When the community was asked to help fund the cost of the new seating the response was extraordinary.  Over 400 people raised more than $140,000…enough money to fund all new seating and all new screens for two cinemas. The Sawtell Cinema reopened on 17 December 2015….and its history rolls on! (Save Sawtell Cinema.

Jetty Memorial Theatre

Address: 337 Harbour Dr, Coffs Harbour NSW 2450
Phone: (02) 6652 8088

Learn about Jetty Theatres history

The Jetty Memorial Theatre was originally opened as a public hall in 1928 to serve as a memorial to soldiers from World War One and to provide a space for community and social events. The hall was gazetted as a war memorial hall on the 24th July, 1931.The original 100 wooden seats were installed in 1931 at the theatre, by John W Gerard who had secured a license to screen films at the venue. John Gerard was a prominent Coffs Harbour identity, owning the Tasma Cinema until its closure in 1965. Both theatres played the same double feature and both theatres were open at the same time. Since Gerard had only one copy each of the two shows, how could they possibly run simultaneously?

The solution - send trusty worker Lloyd Erwin between the two theatres on his pushbike during intermission. In his basket would be the film just run at the Jetty. Reaching the Tasma, he'd do a quick trade for the film just run at the Tasma and be back in time for the Jetty's second feature presentation. An additional 150 seats with cast iron bases were added to the theatre after the Tasma Cinema closure.

In 2003, the theatre was closed and underwent a major restoration by the Coffs Harbour City Council, which transformed the building into a state-of-the-art 250-seat contemporary venue capable of being adapted to a wide range of community and touring shows. The theatre was officially re-opened in 2004.In recent years it has again become the heart of screen culture in the region showcasing major film festivals and regular screenings of films otherwise not picked up by today’s commercial operators.

Plaza Theatre Laurieton

Address: 47 Bold St, Laurieton NSW 2443
Phone: (02) 6559 8755

Learn about Plazas history

Laurieton’s first cinema was located in the local public hall in Bold Street, the hall having been licenced since 1911 to show movies. . The other cinema exhibitor in the area was Mrs McCormack, a touring exhibitor showing pictures in the towns and villages in the area such as Kendall and Johns River. The McCormack travelling cinema enterprise was amongst the last in existence and ceased trading in 1960.

The trade in movies in holiday periods in the 1950s was quite lucrative in Laurieton and led to the acquisition of land across the road from the old hall in which a new and larger cinema could be erected. A local builder Mr Bruce Longworth formed an equal partnership with Messrs. G and P Hatsatouris to run the cinema. The Hatsatouris family were long established exhibitors involved in the Taree Civic and Savoy theatres and the Ritz theatre at Port Macquarie. The capacity of the new Plaza Theatre was about 400 with tiered seating. The first screening taking place on 25th February 1959, when the film Peyton Place starring Lana Turner was screened.

In June 1971 the complex was sold to the Longworth family who had been involved with the Plaza Theatre since its inception. It is interesting to note that Baz Luhrmann's father was the projectionist in the early 70's, and this is the point in Baz's life where he was bitten by the motion picture industry bug. The family lived at nearby Herons Creek for a number of years.

Throughout the next 25 or so years the cinema passed through the hands of several people which resulted in several openings and closings. In 1998 the Plaza Theatre was closed permanently. The auditorium was totally stripped and the whole building was slated for demolition. However a former Queensland cinema exhibitor, David McGowan visited the region at this time with a view of establishing a cinema in the area and purchased the site and what remained.

In 1999 the Plaza Theatre was spared from demolition and was extensively rebuilt, inside and out. A new proscenium and screen was erected a few meters forward of the original. The whole cinema was fitted with new seating, the latest Kinoton projection equipment was installed as well as digital sound. The rebuild included many other speciality features giving it an art deco retro atmosphere. This personal approach by the proprietor and his programming skills have all contributed to the cinemas ongoing popularity. In 2003 he added a new 50-seat up-market movie lounge, the Deluxe Cine Lounge, which has become known for its selected films for art house audiences as well as the additional screening opportunities in peak holiday periods. (

South West Roxy Cinema

Address: 1 Gregory Street,
South West Rocks NSW 2431
Phone: 02 6566 5811

Learn about South West Roxy's history

The South West Roxy Cinema is situated in the historic 1926 School of Arts Community Hall at the beach end of Gregory St, South West Rocks. It is one of the last operating examples of the country picture shows which operated in almost every country town before the advent of television. Often screening just once or twice each week, a picture show man would ride into town and set up his projector to show movies, cartoons, and newsreels. No wonder it was the social center of every country town during that era.

Today, the South West Roxy Cinema operates all year round on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays plus ALL public and school holidays. Its films are presented with digital projection and brand new, improved digital surround sound, while selected titles are presented in 3D by Real D. The Roxy screens current major Hollywood releases as well as specializing in arthouse titles from around the world.

The Roxy is now owned by TV and Film Historian Andrew Mercado who is at every session to introduce the movie and chat with patrons as they exit. Check out his framed movie posters which now adorn the walls of The Roxy and enjoy the new deck chair and bean bag seating.

Bowraville Theatre

Bowraville Theatre
74 High Street,

Learn about Bowraville Theatre's history

Bowraville Theatre is located in the historic town of Bowraville one of the Creative Communities of the Mid North Coast. The Theatre is managed, run and staffed by volunteers and is the home of the Bowraville Arts Council.

Bowraville Theatre was first opened in 1940.  Throughout the forties and fifties the theatre was the social centre of the town showing newsreels along with the latest films. The theatre closed its doors in 1960 but around the turn of the century, the Bowraville Arts Council was established. One of its first projects was to set up a task force to plan the purchase and restoration of the building. It was purchased, in the name of the Nambucca Shire Council, in October 2001. Having been able to secure a National Trust listing and undergoing a refurbishment the Bowraville Theatre was officially re-opened in August 2003.

Today it is used for a range of theatre productions and community uses and the showing of films. Check out their website to see what films may be showing.

Visit our Museums for more Movie History

Sadly a number of the original movie halls and cinemas of the region have closed and been demolished. However their stories are still told in some of our local museums.

Coffs Harbour Regional Museum

Address: 215A Harbour Dr, Coffs Harbour NSW 2450
Phone: 02 6648 4847
Open: 10am till 4pm Tuesday to Saturday.

Learn More

The Tasma Cinema or “theatre beautiful” as it was known was opened in March 1937 on the corner of High Street and Castle Street in Coffs Harbour. Designed in their trademark Art Deco style by architects Guy Crick and Bruce W. Furse, the Tasma Theatre offered big city luxury. Seating was for 226 in the Royal Lounge and 515 in the stalls. A public competition had determined its name with the winner receiving a prize of one guinea.

The Tasma Theatre was the pride and joy of Jack Gerard and his partner Lawrence Penn. In the 1920’s Jack ran a garage servicing cars and bicycles and showed silent films in the Memorial Hall. A gifted cameraman he supplied footage for Movietone News. Lawrence had a history as a travelling exhibitor bringing films to many towns in country areas. 7,000 people showed up for opening night of the Tasma Theatre when the film was “The Big Broadcast of 1937” with Jack Benny. Owner Jack Gerard was always the showman. To mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth In 1953 he painted the Union Jack on the facade and hired Betty Sara, a Queen Elizabeth lookalike. The film showing was, A Queen Is Crowned, a 1953 Technicolor story of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne.

The Tasma Cinema projector now at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum was first purchased for a cinema in Mudgee but in 1941 was sold to John Gavin who installed it at the Tasma where it remained in use until 1968. It was then transferred to the Jetty Memorial Hall and used by Mr Victor Ball. He sold it to Mr Mains who operated a drive in cinema on the Pacific Highway south of Coffs Harbour. It was donated to the Historical Society in 1983. The Museum also a range of other fascinating objects from both the theatre and on Jack Gerard.

Terrace Cinema, Tinonee Museum

Address: 32 Manchester St, Tinonee
Phone: (02) 6553 1571
Open: Tue-Fri 10am - 3pm, Saturdays 12:30-3:30pm

Learn More

The Terrace Cinema in Tinonee was known as the smallest cinema in Australia. Indeed with only 22 seats it was only pipped to the post as smallest in the world by a 21 seat cinema in the United Kingdom.

It was housed in the historic 1881 former local maternity hospital in Tinonee, a small township south of Taree. It screened old newsreels and some old and more modern movies. It also operated as a museum with an eclectic mix of movie memorabilia. Only recently closed its projector, curtains, seats and paraphernalia can now be seen at the Tinonee Museum.

The Umbrella Woman. Bowraville Museum

Address: 86 High St, Bowraville
Phone: (02) 6564 8200

Learn More

The extensive collection of this museum fills multiple buildings and outdoor exhibition areas and includes an early church from the district, an old saddlery and the local blacksmith’s shop.

The museum’s slogan is, “If it was used in this district, you name it and we most probably have it”. Part of this eclectic mix is e a converted movie prop – the façade of an old boarding house that was used in the movie The Umbrella Woman, filmed in Bowraville in 1986.

A Rich Future for Film on the Mid North Coast

Arts Mid North Coast will be releasing a number of initiatives in 2017 to enhance the screen culture.

See whats coming in 2017:

Directory for film creatives

We'll be launching a comprehensive guide to film creatives on the mid north coast.

Filming Policies

Building on our popular SmartArt section we'll be adding a brand new section focusing on film and screen related policies across the region.

Industry Oportunities

Stay in touch with the latest industry news and opportunities through our ArtsBlast blog.

Check out current Arts Opportunities here

Location Finder

Introducing the Mid North Coast film & Screen Location finder.

In 2017 we'll be putting together a comprehensive list of locations suitable for screen and tv.