Winton film festival
Iconic movie maker’s grandson reflects on trailblazing life
THE grandson of pioneering Australian filmmaker Charles Chauvel says the director of classic Australian films such as Jedda and Forty Thousand Horsemen was a social commentator ahead of his time.
Speaking at the Vision Splendid Film Festival in Winton yesterday, Rick Carlsson said that after his grandfather made his 1955 film Jedda, the story of an Aboriginal girl raised by a white woman on a Northern Territory station, he was told he would never make another film in Australia.
He said Jedda’s unflinching examination of White Australia’s paternalistic attitude to black Australia during the conservative postwar Menzie’s years was seen as an affront to Australian values.
Chauvel, as a result, was pil- loriedl i in some circles as a class traitor, but he rode out the criticism and controversy to become a star in his own right.
“Jedda was Australia’s first feature film made in colour,” Mr Carlsson said. “The reason it was such a success was because my grandfather was such a great writer and storyteller. He was an artist.”
Jedda was released to an Australian audience, most of whom in 1955 had never ventured beyond big city suburbs.
Few Australians in the ’ 50s had ever been in a position where they might have come away with an understanding of the intricate and sometimes blunt nature of black- white relations in the vastness of the Australian inland. “You could imagine that it was a very difficult film to make at this time,” Mr Carlsson said.
Chauvel was ahead of his time, an artist with a social conscience, but a terrific yarn spinner as well.
Mr Carlsson doesn’t know which direction his grand- father’s storytellingt lli would have headed, but he does know one thing: he would have been amazed at today’s technology.
“He was using old film stock. He was dealing with difficult natural conditions in remote locations,” he said.
Winton identity Peter Evert said that when Jedda was shown at his open- air Royal Theatre in 1955 more than 600 people came over two nights. “It was a big show at the time,” Mr Evert said.
Mr Carlsson said he never knew his grandfather who died in 1959, aged 62.
“I knew my grandmother Elsa Chauvel well,” he said. “She always told me how determined he was.
“He believed in helping create an Australian film industry and telling Australian stories to a worldwide audience.
“This was during a time when there was hardly any support for Australian filmmakers.
“You could imagine that it was a very difficult film to make at this time.”
Through films such as Jedda, Forty Thousand Horsemen, Rats of Tobruk and Sons of Matthew, Chauvel helped launch the cinematic careers of actors such as Peter Finch, Errol Flynn, Michael Pate and Chips Rafferty.
“It is a great honour now for me to be here in Winton and to see Jedda and Forty Thousand Horsemen being shown in the open- air picture theatre,” Mr Carlsson said.
RICH HERITAGE: Rick Carlsson, grandson of legendary Australian film director Charles Chauvel, in Winton for the Vision Splendid Film Festival; ( inset from left) Mr Chauvel and wife Elsa, and a scene from Jedda.