‘Ill-will with the trade’: The Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals (1959-1964)

This paper deals with the history of the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals from 1959 to 1964. One of the key developments over this period is the Festivals’ emergence into a network of Australian (and international) trade relations. In particular, as the two Festivals grew in size and prestige, they come into conflict with the film trade for the first time. With growing commercial interest in ‘festival fare’ – that is, prestigious European film releases and other ‘art’ cinema – the Film Festivals found themselves perceived by the trade as competitors for both film product and audience share.

This tension between the festivals and the domestic trade was exacerbated by the commercial potential of international art cinema during this period. For example, the nouvelle vague, or French ‘New Wave’, had an enormous impact on the international film scene over this period. It produced a coherent and distinctive body of work, which stood in clear contrast to the products of mainstream Hollywood producers. Furthermore, this body of films was linked explicitly to an intellectual movement in culture (namely, “la politique des auteurs“, that is, the policy of authors or authorship) which claimed them as serious artistic productions, aimed at a sophisticated adult audience, rather than mere commercial ‘entertainments’. Such films were thus natural ‘festival fare’, but also of interest to the growing number of independent distributors in Australia.[1]

The result of these trends was that, over this period, the Festivals lost the initial freedom they had possessed to define themselves simply in cultural terms – as organisations dedicated to a certain vision of film culture – and were also forced to take into account industrial pressures. In other words, for the first time the Festivals had to deal seriously with the dilemma of negotiating between the demands of both ‘culture’ and ‘industry’. Meeting the demands of ‘industry’ was essential for their survival as organisations (for example, if they were to obtain quality product); but meeting the demands of ‘culture’ was essential for ensuring their continued legitimacy. For to ignore the cultural demands threatened to reduce the Festivals to being just another wing of the commercial trade.

The ‘Australian Film Festival’ and Trade Relations

The key mediator between international film production companies and the world’s major film festivals was (and is) the powerful Federation International des Association de Producteurs de Films (FIAPF).[2] By late 1958, the growth and increased professionalism of the Melbourne Film Festival (as discussed in Part 1 of this history), had put it in a position to acquire official recognition from FIAPF. Such recognition was necessary if a film festival wished to screen a film produced by any FIAPF member – which included almost all of the European and Asian Majors. In return, FIAPF-endorsed festivals were required to follow certain regulations governing festival structure and content. These regulations were designed to control the distribution and exhibition of these films, and thereby minimise over-exposure (which could damage the commercial potential of the films).

In late 1958, FIAPF agreed to officially recognise the Melbourne Film Festival, but this endorsement arrived too late to be utilised in sourcing films for that year’s festival.[3] Despite this, Melbourne’s 1958 programme announced proudly that “with the recognition of the International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations, the Melbourne Film Festival has reached maturity”.[4]

The Sydney Film Festival also wanted FIAPF endorsement, given the access it provided to such a rich assortment of prestigious films. However, FIAPF regulations stipulated that only one international film festival would be recognised in each country.[5] Sydney and Melbourne thus agreed in late 1958 to establish an ‘Australian Film Festival’, under the auspices of a nominally independent ‘Australian Film Institute’ (AFI). It was intended that this festival would be a bureaucratic fiction that would bypass the ‘one festival’ requirements of FIAPF, while allowing for the films to be shown in various cities across Australia.[6] However, despite these manoeuvres, FIAPF was not prepared to recognise the proposed 1959 Australian Film Festival as a single festival, and would only endorse Melbourne.[7] Rado decided to ignore FIAPF’s conditions – despite officially accepting them in February of 1959 – and conduct the Australian Film Festival anyway. He announced in April that the Australian Film Festival would go ahead as planned, and be held in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide.[8]

Word that the Australian Film Festival was still being held eventually filtered back to FIAPF, when they received formal complaints from the international film trade.[9] Irritated by Rado’s duplicity, FIAPF threatened never to recognise Melbourne again.[10] Rado’s decision to defy FIAPF, and, indeed, the attempt to establish an Australian Film Festival, was to have a number of important ramifications for Sydney and Melbourne, and would impact significantly on their early relationships with the Australian distributors.

Before examining these ramifications, however, it is first important to look briefly at the effect the establishment of the AFI had on relations between Sydney and Melbourne. Negotiations over the delegation of responsibilities and control soon created tension between the two Festivals. In particular, the formation of the AFI threatened Sydney’s independence, for not only was Rado, the AFI’s Director and Secretary, but its board was also dominated by Victorian members.[11] With the balance of power in Victorian hands, and the AFI based in Melbourne, the Sydney organising committee felt that they had little control over the development of either the AFI or the Australian Film Festival. In a letter from Sydney committee member David Donaldson to Frank Nicholls, the president of the Melbourne Film Festival, Donaldson wrote of his concerns that the AFI powers would “expand greatly”, in which case (given Victorian dominance of the AFI) “Melbourne should control our Festival”.[12] These concerns were further exacerbated when only Melbourne received FIAPF recognition for the 1959 Festival.

Donaldson’s concerns about the possibility of Sydney’s autonomy being reduced by the establishment of the AFI were confirmed when Sydney received the Institute’s ‘Terms and Conditions Statement’.[13] Implicit within these ‘Terms and Conditions’ was an almost total loss of independence for the Sydney Festival. Although the Sydney Festival would be referred to as an ‘autonomous division’ of the Australian Film Festival, it was autonomous in name only. For the real decisions about the festival – including film selection; negotiation for films with distributors, producers and customs; and festival programme structure – would be made by the AFI, with Sydney retaining only the right to be ‘consulted’ about such decisions. This threatened to reduce the Sydney organising committee’s control over its own festival to minor administrative, organisational and marketing duties only.

Given that the AFI’s ‘Terms and Conditions’ were delivered to Sydney only a few months before the Australian Film Festival was to be held, the Sydney committee felt that it had no choice but to accept them.[14] Unsurprisingly, however, it seems that there was some hostility to these terms among the Sydney committee members.

This is clear from the fact that when Sydney Film Festival President, Frank Bellingham, invited Rado to a committee meeting, he felt the need to say that “I am sure the meeting will be extremely friendly this time as we are all working for the same end”.[15] That this meeting was insufficient to allay the anger of some of the Sydney committee is shown in Rado’s later letter to the new director of the Sydney Festival, Sylvia Lawson, where he asks:

“What exactly do I have to do to make your Committee realise that I am not the enemy?”.[16]
While Melbourne and Sydney struggled to maintain relations, the Australian Film Festival came under fire from members of the domestic film trade. In particular, two independent Sydney distributors specialising in continental film, Robert Kapferer and Sidney Blake, launched a systematic attack on the new Festival. Both were concerned that the establishment of an Australian Film Festival threatened to undermine their distribution business. They believed that the proposal to hold the Festival in four cities could lead to over-exposure of the films, and thereby make commercial exhibitors less inclined to purchase them.

One part of Kapferer and Blake’s attack was to file complaints with film production companies, in an attempt to prevent the Film Festival from obtaining product.[17] The second part of the attack was to complain to both the Controller-General of Customs and the Commonwealth Chief Film Censor. In letters to these two officers, Kapferer and Blake claimed that the Film Festivals were commercial ventures and should therefore be treated as such under Commonwealth law.[18] The third part of this attack was fought out in the pages of the trade journal, Film Weekly, where a front-page article by Blake and Kapferer accused the Festivals of having become commercialised.[19]

Despite the many difficulties faced by the newly formed Australian Film Festival, it was held successfully in all four cities over five weeks during May and June of 1959.[20] The Melbourne Festival’s profits for this year were double that of the previous year (from £1,806 in 1958 to £3,571 in 1959).[21] Sydney, however, although it increased its audience size substantially (from 1,350 in 1958 to 1,712 in 1959, with 1000 of these being new subscribers),[22] nonetheless incurred a net loss of £480.

The Australian Film Festival had thus greatly increased the audience for the Film Festivals, but it damaged their reputation with the film trade. As mentioned above, FIAPF had refused to endorse an ‘itinerant festival’ held in more than one city, but Rado had gone ahead with it anyway. In an attempt to salvage his chance of obtaining endorsement for the 1960 Festival, Rado wrote apologetically to Fournier, FIAPF’s Secretary, and offered the excuse that FIAPF’s protests had been received too late to change the original plan of the Australian Film Festival.[23] Fournier responded to Rado’s letter simply by sending him a copy of the relevant FIAPF regulations, with article 8 – banning the screening of films in more than one city – highlighted.[24] Indeed, possibly as punishment for Rado’s duplicity, the Melbourne Film Festival was not to receive FIAPF endorsement for the next two years.[25] To add to its trouble, the Festival found itself being sued when a German distribution company filed for damages for the “commercial exploitation” of one of its films.[26] The Australian Film Festival had thus incurred the hostility of both the domestic trade (as exemplified by the attacks of Blake and Kapferer), and of the international trade and its representatives.

This broad-reaching hostility led the Sydney and Melbourne organising committees to reconsider their stance towards the commercial industry, and the roles their respective Festivals played. For example, Sydney Co-Director Sylvia Lawson stated in her report on the 1959 Festival that:

If we make a mistaken attempt to enter into any sort of competition with commercial distributors and exhibitors, however minor, we are in the first place creating ill-will with the trade that cannot fail to damage us, and in the second we are serving neither our own interests, nor those of the film industry in general. With that industry in its present state its support should be one of our major aims. I see no point whatever in a festival which can be regarded as a mere extension of commercial fare. [27]

This passage clearly advocates a return to one of the original aims of the Film Festivals: to encourage the expansion of non-Hollywood cinema. Lawson goes on in her report to propose three guidelines that would help prevent the Festival coming into conflict with the commercial operators: (1) to screen films that, whilst “worthwhile”, were “off the commercial track”; (2) to avoid screening films “in which distributors are already interested commercially”; and (3) to establish a much closer relationship with the commercial trade, by consulting them over programming decisions, and inviting key representatives as special guests to each Festival. It could thus be argued that the experience of the 1959 Australian Film Festival was a formative element in shifting Sydney’s self-conception from an amateur ‘get-together’ for film enthusiasts, to a realisation that they were now a presence in a broader national and international network of trade relations.

The Australian Film Festival forced Sydney both to reconsider its relations with the trade, and reclaim its autonomy from Rado and the AFI. In late 1959 Sydney terminated its agreement to be part of an Australian Film Festival, and announced that it would now seek FIAPF endorsement for its own festival, thus putting it into direct competition with Melbourne.[28] By April 1960, the AFI bowed to the inevitable and announced the discontinuation of the Australian Film Festival. [29]

In conclusion, the experience of the Australian Film Festival had done two things. It had alerted the Festivals to the fact that, whether they liked it or not, they now had to create a viable position for themselves in relation to the trade. Essentially, this would necessarily involve differentiating themselves from the trade (that is, keeping off the commercial turf), and / or marketing themselves to the trade as useful publicity devices. Furthermore, the conflict it had created between Sydney and Melbourne also made the Festivals aware that they were themselves in competition for scarce product.

Following Lawson’s recommendations in her 1959 Director’s Report (discussed above), the Sydney Film Festival attempted to establish a cooperative and mutually-beneficial relationship with the trade. In general, this attempt was successful: a compromise was reached with Blake,[30] and Sydney also managed to obtain formal support from MGM, Paramount and UA.[31] As a result of these efforts, Sydney obtained official endorsement from FIAPF in 1960 and 1961.[32]

Although the early 1960s thus sees the Sydney Film Festival developing its links with the trade, it should not be thought that this constituted a wholesale abandonment of its original conception as a culturally-focussed organisation. In fact, as part of its attempt to build good relations with the trade, it was necessary for the Festival to re-emphasise its role in encouraging interest in ‘film as culture’ and ‘film as art’. In doing this, the Festival was reassuring the trade that it was not a commercial competitor – that it was, in other words, keeping off the trade’s turf. In order to fulfil its cultural role, the Festival had to be able to secure a reliable supply of film product – and, as the experience of the Australian Film Festival had shown, this could not be done without the cooperation of the trade. Thus, in what might appear at first sight to be a paradoxical development, the Sydney Festival simultaneously made itself more commercially attractive as a vehicle for distribution and publicity purposes, whilst emphasising its non-commercial and aesthetic orientation.

In contrast with the Sydney Festival, Melbourne in this period was less focussed on ingratiating itself with the trade, and more focussed on developing its own image as ‘the premier film festival in the southern hemisphere’. However, in order to secure this image, Melbourne still had to deal with the industrial realities, and develop some sort of working relationship with the trade.

To begin with, the breach with Kapferer and Blake needed to be addressed. This was in large part because these distributors had cornered the ‘art cinema’ market in Australia – films that Rado believed were essential to the development of the Festival’s international prestige. [33] For this reason, Rado agreed to accept films from Kapferer and Blake for the 1960 Melbourne Festival, and he also agreed to abide by their conditions for screening. This, he hoped, “would help settle past disputes with Sydney distributors”. [34]  In response, Kapferer demanded a written guarantee that the Film Festival was not a commercial undertaking, and insisted that his representatives be given explicit rights to observe whether the Festival was complying with FIAPF screening rules. In 1960, in a letter to Sydney Director Lois Hunter, Rado complained that he found these demands humiliating, and wrote angrily that “I can’t get used to being treated like a thief”.[35] Rado rejected Kapferer’s demands – a decision which created a stalemate between the Melbourne Film Festival and the independent Australian distributors that would last for the next few years.

Melbourne’s lack of support from the domestic film trade was partly responsible for FIAPF’s refusal to endorse the 1960 or 1961 Festivals. FIAPF members, however, also had more general concerns about the proliferation of international film festivals around the world.[36] In response to this concern, FIAPF tightened its regulations for officially endorsed festivals in 1961. When Sydney received endorsement for its 1961 Festival, it had to abide by these new rules, which included the following: festivals had to be a maximum of 12 days long; they could show no more than two FIAPF films per day; and the audience limit for each FIAPF film was 2,000.[37]

Concerned at the loss of FIAPF endorsement for its Festival, the Melbourne organising committee voted to try to improve their relations with the trade by reorganising the 1962 Festival so that it conformed with the new regulations. They thus decided to limit audience numbers, and reduce the number of screenings by moving the Festival to a single venue – the Palais Theatre at St Kilda.[38] But the commercial trade still refused to give Melbourne its official support.[39] It was only when Melbourne caved in to the humiliating demand to provide Blake and Kapferer with full access to their financial records, that the local distributors gave their full support.[40]

FIAPF still had lingering concerns about the existence of two major international Film Festivals in Australia. [41] However, after Rado defended this situation (in part, by emphasising the great distance between Sydney and Melbourne), [42] Australia was exempted from FIAPF’s standard ‘one festival per country’ policy. Hence, in the end, both Melbourne and Sydney were granted separate FIAPF endorsements for their 1962 Festivals.[43]

Despite the Film Festivals’ efforts to build more cooperative relations with the trade, its dealings with FIAPF would continue to be problematic. In 1963, André Brisson became its General Secretary (and would retain this position for the next thirty-five years). Brisson was a strict and difficult character (indeed, David Stratton deemed him a “monstrous man”). [44] One of his first actions upon being appointed was to introduce a fee for FIAPF endorsement (set at £101 in 1963).[45]  He also put in place a policy that FIAPF would only endorse six competitive festivals worldwide, while the number of endorsed non-competitive festivals would be substantially reduced. [46]

Under this stricter regime, both Melbourne and Sydney lost their FIAPF endorsement for the 1963 Festivals. FIAPF’s withdrawal of support occurred at almost the last moment. The Melbourne minutes record that

at the beginning of the festival, a FIAPF letter had been received in which the executive of FIAPF spoke of an alleged avalanche of protest against the festival, which resulted in the withdrawal of the endorsement.[47]

Although the Festivals were not to discover the fact until later, this ‘avalanche of protest’ was triggered by Blake. Blake, who believed that “a good festival is one which buys films from him”,[48]  had filed a complaint, through the German Film Producers’ Association, about the commercial nature of the Festival. [49] The FIAPF letter itself is worth quoting, as it gives some indication of both Brisson’s character and prose style. Brisson wrote as follows:

Dear Mr Rado, I informed you that the file of your manifestation, as that of the Sydney Film Festival, was to be examined carefully by our “Festival Committee”. As a matter of fact, we have been seized of protestations against your manifestation. The bits of information we have been able to gather being contradictory, it has been impossible to use to make up a definite opinion. Under these conditions, I regret to inform you that it was decided not to recognise the Melbourne Film Festival in 1963. [50] 

The two Festivals dealt with this loss of FIAPF endorsement in different ways. The Sydney organising committee, now more confident of its relations with the domestic trade, turned to them for support. They made sure that their 1963 Festival was well-attended by numerous trade representatives from both distributors and exhibitors. These included Robert Kapferer and other independent distributors; MGM, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, United Artists and Universal; and representatives of the Gala, Lido, Savoy and Metro-Continental Theatres. After the Festival, the Sydney Film Festival President sent FIAPF a copy of the 1962 Balance Sheet, as well as numerous letters of support from the trade (but not, it should be noted, from Blake and Kapferer). [51]

Melbourne, in resolving the problems with FIAPF, took a dual approach. Firstly, Rado decided to visit Brisson in person. According to Rado, he had a “cordial and almost sympathetic hearing” from the FIAPF General Secretary.[52]Secondly, the Melbourne organising committee looked at further ways of improving its relations with the trade. To this end, they held a special meeting that was attended by delegates from the FVFS, the AFI, and Melbourne University Film Society. At this meeting, several ideas were tabled. These included a regular conference with the film trade, and a bi-annual Festival News Sheet. The latter would contain information on up-coming commercial releases of films likely to be of interest to Festival members. This would effectively allow the trade to advertise its niche products to the several thousand Melbourne subscribers. In addition, a sub-committee was established “to find ways and means to improve relations with the film trade”. [53]

The manoeuvres of both Sydney and Melbourne to quell FIAPF’s concerns were successful, and they were both granted official endorsement for the 1964 Festivals. [54]

Negotiating ‘Culture’ and ‘Industry: Strategies

As discussed in the previous section, the experience of the Australian Film Festival had forced Sydney and Melbourne to deal with the pressures of ‘industry’. Over this period, the Festivals essentially pursued two strategies in order to deal with these pressures. One strategy – pursued by Melbourne, in particular – was to enhance the prestige and cultural position of the film festival, so as to increase its value as a publicity device for films. The second strategy was to construct a cultural (and industrial) role for themselves as a showcase for world cinema.

Melbourne’s pursuit of the first strategy involved increasing the social importance of the festival, so that it would be a key occasion in the social calendar of the city. One step towards achieving this was the Melbourne Film Festival’s move to the Palais Theatre, as a single, and more sophisticated venue. Melbourne also attempted (without much success) to attract appropriate delegates and ‘special guests’, such as famous directors. [55]  These attempts to add to the cultural prestige of Melbourne served a dual purpose, as Rado notes in a 1964 letter to Klava:

I was thrilled to hear that the festival is becoming a social ‘must’ in Sydney too. This sort of snob appeal at least helps you fill your seats and lifts the burden of worrying about selling out!  [56]

Here Rado shows a clear consciousness that Melbourne’s pursuit of ‘snob appeal’ could simultaneously help Melbourne to survive as an organisation, by appealing to a niche audience and thus ‘filling its seats’, and also give the Festival cultural legitimacy – countering potential criticism that it had ‘sold out’ to industry.

The focus on ‘internationalism’ was, in many ways, more in tune with the original conception of the Festivals than Melbourne’s ‘snob appeal’ approach. This second strategy also had a number of other advantages. First, the theme of internationalism had elite cultural appeal. Second, such films promised a guaranteed audience drawn from the various migrant communities. Third, films from smaller film-making countries were still, at this period, not in commercial distribution. For while films from major non-Hollywood industries (such as French, Italian, and British productions) were of commercial interest to the trade, films from other countries (such as India, Mexico, and Norway) still had little chance of being commercially exhibited in Australia. The Film Festivals could therefore safely and legitimately screen such films, without incurring any trade hostility.[57]

By 1961, there are clear signs that the Melbourne Festival had explicitly decided to pursue this ‘internationalist’ strategy. In that year, the organising committee formally resolved to screen “as many films as possible from as many countries as possible”.[58] In 1962, the Melbourne Festival programme proudly announces that it would be screening films from “31 countries” – a tally that had not been thought worthy of mention in previous programmes.[59]

While this internationalist approach helped resolve various industrial and cultural issues for Melbourne, it did clash with another of their cultural imperatives: the drive to screen film of the ‘highest quality’. This is because the policy privileged diversity of national origin over ‘artistic merit’ in the selection of films. Nonetheless, the organising committee decided that, on balance, the merits of this policy outweighed its aesthetic costs. As the 1964 minutes state:

The principle of screening mediocre films for their value as a record of the development of film or social conditions in a particular country was discussed and generally approved. [60]

Like Melbourne, the Sydney Film Festival also took steps to adopt this internationalist approach. On the recommendation of the AFI, the Sydney committee in January of 1960 decided to incorporate a “strong Asian slant” in its programme.[61]  As well as the general advantages already noted, this policy would also help Sydney differentiate itself from Melbourne. This in turn would help quell both FIAPF’s and the domestic trade’s concerns about possible over-exposure of films at the two Australian Film Festivals. This policy was pursued in a number of ways in the following years.[62]

Overview: 1959-1964

Having examined the ‘Australian Film Festival’ and its ramifications, it is now worth stepping back from this look at particular themes, and providing a brief overview of the general history of the Festivals in this period. In general, this period sees Melbourne begin to establish itself as a professional, international film festival, while Sydney still retains its more amateur and small-scale approach.

One of the important differences between Sydney and Melbourne was Sydney’s lack of a permanent director. By 1962, when Ian Klava took up the position, Sydney had changed directors four times.[63] This regular change of personnel made two things more difficult for the Sydney Festival. Firstly, it made it harder for the Festival to establish a coherent policy and direction. This was in contrast to Melbourne, where Rado developed a clear strategy to establish Melbourne’s position as both a prestigious international event, and the pre-eminent Australian film festival. Secondly, the regular changes in directors at Sydney made it harder to foster and maintain relations with important figures – such as distributors, FIAPF, and, of course, Rado and the Melbourne organising committee.

Contributing to this problem was the fact that during this period the Sydney director’s administrative role differed from that of the Melbourne director. Rado wielded more executive power than was possessed by the Sydney director. For while Rado had substantial control over programming and managerial decisions, in Sydney, the various sub-committees had more autonomy, and the director was restricted to being a sort of ‘head administrator’.[64] Even when Ian Klava took the directorship in 1962, his vision for the Sydney Film Festival remained an administrative one – as he recalls, “I just wanted to make sure it was an efficiently run organisation”.[65]

In further contrast to Melbourne, which could afford to send Rado overseas to source film product, the Sydney committee had to rely upon more haphazard methods of film procurement. Prior to 1960, the Sydney Festival had relied for its films largely upon the NSW Film Council, and other Australian film culture organisations – and also drew, when it could, from unrelated sources (such as the embassies). After 1960, Sydney attempted to establish a more autonomous and systematic method of procuring films. This included taking out subscriptions to trade magazines, and seeking advice from overseas contacts.[66]

However, despite these attempts, by the end of this period Sydney’s selection process still remained much less systematic and professional than Melbourne’s.[67]

The distinction between the two Festivals in this period is also made clear by the difference in venues. The Sydney Film Festival remained at the University of Sydney, and continued to be plagued with problems associated with inappropriate screening technology, and a confusing ticketing system.[68] Melbourne, on the other hand, (as discussed above) had moved to the Palais Theatre in 1961.[69] This meant that while the Sydney films continued to be shown in a rag-tag collection of lecture-halls and theatres, the Melbourne Festival occurred in a single, prestigious venue.

In terms of festival profits, there was great disparity between Sydney and Melbourne. Both of the Festivals were well-attended, but Sydney did not always sell-out its 2000 tickets during this period, while Melbourne did. Although Sydney continued to make small profits (£448 in 1964),[70]  this figure was small when compared with Melbourne’s 1964 profit of over £3000.[71]

All of these differences between the two Festivals created a clear distinction between them: by 1964 Sydney was still a university-based, largely amateur festival, while the Melbourne Film Festival had established itself as a prestigious event in the city’s social calendar. This distinction is beautifully expressed by Sylvia Lawson, in the following passage from an article in Nation:

Melbourne is the Australian film-viewers’ capital. Mutter “Antonioni” in a St Kilda espresso and you are surrounded by friends immediately. This helps to explain why the Melbourne Festival enjoys such prestige in its own city, and why the list of subscribers – 4,000 not counting the waiting list – is twice as long as Sydney’s. The Festival, too has always had strong support from Victoria’s magnificently equipped State Film Centre; the NSW Film Council is only a pale shadow of it. But there are less tangible factors; film consciousness seems to be simply an attribute of the community. The Festival has hundreds of devoted subscribers who do not belong to film societies; the societies, in fact, seem to have grown with the Festival (the best way to get on the waiting list is to join one). The event has the prestige of a season of theatre or opera. [72]

* * *

Over the period from 1959-1964, the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals had been forced to take account of the fact that, although they existed as organisations dedicated to ‘culture’, they were nonetheless still subject to the pressures of ‘industry’. The Festivals were thus forced to begin negotiating between these opposing demands, by constructing a role and identity for themselves that could simultaneously serve both masters.


[1] By 1957, there were at least six Australian distributors specialising in ‘foreign’ (i.e., Continental) films. For more discussion of the growing commercial success of such films in Australia, see C. Hope, “A history of the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, 1945-1972” (University of Canberra, Ph.D. diss., 2004), 48-50.
[2] FIAPF was an international umbrella organisation for film production companies and independent film producers, which aimed to protect and enhance the financial and cultural status of its members. Since its inception, FIAPF had developed official relationships with some of the largest production and distribution companies and organisations in Europe, Asia, North and South America and the Middle East. In 1958, FIAPF members were: Germany, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, USA, Finland, France, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey. (Bulletin mensuel d’information, 12 June 1958, Seige de la FIAPF. Contained in the Melbourne Film Festival Archives, Box No. 36, State Library of Victoria).
[3] Melbourne Film Festival, Minutes of Meetings, 29 January 1958, Archive Box No. 6.
[4] Melbourne Film Festival – 1958 programme, 1.
[5] The concerns underlying the ‘one festival per country’ rule were that showings at more than one festival, in a relatively small market for international film, could lead to over-exposure – which could in turn discourage local distributors from purchase.
[6] Sydney Film Festival, Minutes of Meetings, 3 June 1958, Archive Box No. 1 (State Library of NSW).
[7] MFF – Correspondence, 19 December 1958, Box No. 36; MFF – Corr., Fournier to Rado, 19 December 1958, Box No. 36.
[8] SFF – Min., 7 April 1959, Box No. 1. MFF – Corr., Rado to Fournier, 6 February 1959, Box No. 36.
[9] MFF – Corr ., 30 April 1959, Box No. 36.
[10] MFF – Corr., 14 May 1959, Box No. 36.
[11] SFF – Min., 22 January 1959, Box No. 1.
[12] MFF – Corr., 15 December 1958, Box No. 12. Emphasis as in the original.
[13]  SFF – Corr., 3 March 1959, Box No. 1.
[14] SFF – Min., 7 April 1959, Box No. 1.
[15] MFF – Corr., 2 March 1959, Box No. 12.
[16] MFF – Corr., Rado to Lawson, 12 April 1959, Box No. 12.
[17]  MFF – Corr., Berard to Rado, 5 May 1959, Box No. 36; see also MFF – Corr., 14 May 1959, Box No. 36.
[18] Prior to 1959, the Festivals had come to an unofficial understanding with the two government departments. Accepting that Festival films were shown to a small and ‘educated’ audience, Customs processed the films more swiftly (due to the frequent late arrivals of imports), and imposed less rigorous censorship requirements than on films destined for commercial release. As a result of Kapferer’s and Blake’s complaint, this unofficial understanding was scrutinised. However, after a number of interviews with relevant officials, Customs and the Chief Censor decided to maintain the agreement with the Film Festivals. See MFF – Corr., Rado to Bellingham, 21 April 1959, Box No. 19, and SFF – Min., 5 May 1959, Box No. 1.
[19] Blake and Kapferer, Film weekly, 14 May 1959, 1-2. Following editions contain replies to this written by Bob Connell (SFF co-director), and Rado. See Film Weekly, 21 May 1959, 3, and 11 June 1959, 7.
[20] Melbourne Film Festival – 1959 programme, 2.
[21] MFF – Min., 3 December 1958, Box No. 6; MFF – Min., 15 July 1959, Box No. 6.
[22]  SFF – Min., “Director’s Report: 1958 Sydney Film Festival”, 3 November 1958, Box No. 1; and SFF – Min., “Director’s Report: 1959 Sydney Film Festival”, (date not supplied), 1959, Box No. 1.
[23] MFF – Corr., 9 November 1959, Box No. 36.
[24] MFF – Corr., 20 January 1960, Box No. 36.
[25] MFF – Corr., Drury to Rado, 14 February 1962, Box No. 36.
[26] MFF – Corr., 24 June 1959, Box No. 36.
[27] SFF – Min., “Director’s Report: 1959 Sydney Film Festival”, (date not supplied) 1959, Box No. 1. All other quotations in this paragraph are from this report.
[28] SFF – Min., 13 October 1959, Box No. 1; SFF – Min., 7 September 1959, Box No. 1; see also SFF – Min, “Director’s Report: 1959 Sydney Film Festival”, Box No. 1.
[29] SFF – Min., 3 May 1960, Box No. 1. It is perhaps worth noting here that Rado, in 1962, attempted to reanimate the corpse of the Australian Film Festival under a new moniker – the ‘Australian Cine-Parade’. This was, however, rejected by FIAPF. See MFF – Corr., Rado to Drury (Secretary of FIAPF), 2 March 1962, Box No. 36.
[30] SFF – Min., 2 February 1961, Box No. 1.
[31] SFF – Min., 5 May 1961, Box No. 1.
[32] Sydney Film Festival – 1960 programme, 1; MFF – Corr., Drury to Rado, 14 February 1962, Box No. 36.
[33] MFF – Min., 12 April 1960, Box No. 6. Indeed, according to Rado, Blake’s “films (unreleased) alone … could make a Festival”. See MFF – Corr., Rado to Williams, 13 March 1962, Box No. 20.
[34] MFF – Min., 12 April 1960, Box No. 6.
[35] MFF – Corr., 3 March 1960, Box No. 11.
[36] MFF – Arch., FIAPF press release, 30 August 1960, Box No. 36.
[37] SFF – Min., 4 April 1961, Box No. 1.
[38] MFF – Min., 7 July 1961, Box No. 6.
[39] MFF – Min., 3 August 1961, Box No. 6.
[40] MFF – Min., 14 December 1961, Box No. 6.
[41] MFF – Corr., 14 February 1962, Box No. 36.
[42] MFF – Corr., Rado to Drury, 2 March 1962, Box No. 36.
[43] MFF – Min., 4 April 1962, Box No. 6; SFF – Min., 6 March 1962, Box No. 1.
[44] David Stratton, interview by C. Hope, Leura, 29 March 1998.
[45] MFF – Corr., Brisson to Rado, 5 April 1963, Box No. 36.
[46] SFF – Min., 7 May 1963, Box No. 2.
[47] MFF – Min., 26 June 1963, Box No. 6.
[48] MFF – Min., Blake quoted in “Director’s Overseas Report”, 14 November 1963, Box No. 6.
[49] MFF – Min., 14 November 1963, Box No. 6.
[50] MFF – Corr., Brisson to Rado, 31 May 1963, Box No. 36.
[51]SFF – Min., 5 November 1963, Box No. 2.
[52] MFF – Min., “Director’s Overseas Report”, 14 November 1963, Box No. 6.
[53] MFF – Min., 29 January 1964, Box No. 14.
[54] SFF – Min., 7 April 1964, Box No. 1.
[55] E.g., both Orson Welles and Satyajit Ray were approached, but rejected the offer. MFF – Min., 21 May 1962, Box No. 6.
[56] MFF – Corr., 2 July 1964, Box No. 28.
[57] This would also allow the Festivals to diversify their program and give them more programming autonomy, whilst still adhering to FIAPF regulations. For if an international film festival wished to show a large number of films from one country (such as France), it had to follow tight restrictions on which films it could screen. However, if a film festival selected only a few films from each country, FIAPF allowed a much wider choice. See Article 8 of the FIAPF regulations, contained in MFF – Corr., Fournier to Rado, 20 January 1960, Box No. 36.
[58]MFF – Min., 7 July 1961, Box No. 6.
[59] Melbourne Fillm Festival – 1962 programme, 2.
[60] MFF – Min., 27 July 1964, Box No. 14.
[61] SFF – Min., 5 January 1960, Box No. 1.
[62] In 1960, the SFF attempted to organise an Asian specific category; but it proved too hard to secure enough Asian films to justify its existence. See SFF – Min., 3 November 1959, Box No. 1, and Sydney Film Festival – 1960 programme.
[63] In 1959, Garth Hay had been employed as external director. However, the arrangement between the Festival and Hay ended swiftly when it was discovered that Hay was embezzling festival funds, and he was asked to resign (see SFF – Min., 7 April 1959, Box No. 1). Sylvia Lawson and Robert Connell then took on the dual-directorship for that year. In 1960, the director was Lois Hunter, and in 1961 it was Patricia Moore.
[64] Ross Tzannes, interview by Graham Shirley, Sydney, 7 September 1992 (Sydney Film Festival, Oral History Archives).
[65] Ian Klava, interview by Graham Shirley, Sydney, 28 October 1992 (Sydney Film Festival, Oral History Archives).
[66] SFF – Min., 3 October 1961, Box No. 1.
[67] See, e.g., SFF – Min, ‘Statement of Duties’ for the film selection sub-committees, 3 March 1964, Box No. 1.
[68] SFF – Min., 2 July 1963, Box No. 1.
[69] MFF – Min., 3 August 1961, Box No. 6.
[70] SFF – Min., 1 December 1964, Box No. 1.
[71] MFF – Min., 10 October 1964, Box No. 14.
[72] Nation, 19 June 1962 (MFF – Arch., press clippings, Box No. 19).

Created on: Thursday, 30 November 2006 | Last Updated: 30-Nov-06

About the Author

Cathy Hope and Adam Dickerson

About the Authors

Cathy Hope

Cathy Hope is a lecturer in communication theory and practice at the Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra. Cathy's research interests include the history and operations of cultural organisations, and non-profit sector marketing strategies.

Adam Dickerson

Adam Dickerson studied history and philosophy at the University of NSW. He has been teaching at the University of Canberra for the past ten years, first in Communication and Media, and now in International Studies. His research interests include epistemology, communication ethics, and cultural history.View all posts by Cathy Hope and Adam Dickerson →