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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. 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?

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

Jetty Memorial Theatre

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

Plaza Theatre Laurieton

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

South West Roxy Cinema

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

Bowraville Theatre

Bowraville Theatre
74 High Street,

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.

Terrace Cinema, Tinonee Museum

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

The Umbrella Woman. Bowraville Museum

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

A Rich Future for Film on the Mid North Coast

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

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