David Stratton has been passionate about cinema since long before he became a household name as a film reviewer on SBS’s The Movie Show and then ABC’s At The Movies. He understands that great films are made to be seen in great cinemas. Which is why he has stepped forward to support our iconic Sawtell Cinema.
In July, a major crowdfunding campaign will kick off to raise funds for the Cinema’s new seating, and David Stratton will be the face of that campaign. We spoke to him about life after television and the importance of regional cinemas.
We all miss seeing you on At The Movies! What have you been doing since the last episode aired in December?
I certainly haven’t been idle. I still review films and attend previews for The Australian, and I still lecture on film history in the Continuing Education programme at Sydney University. Plus, I’m hosting screenings on cruise ships in July (in the Mediterranean) and January 2016 (New Zealand). In addition to all this I’m writing a book on Australian films. So I’m pretty busy.
I’ve read that your favourite film of all time is Singin’ in the Rain. Is that true and if so, what is it about the film that is so endearing and enduring?
From a very early age I was an avid filmgoer, and in the late ‘40s, and for most of the 50s, musicals were one of the most popular genres. A new musical was released just about once a fortnight in those days. I enjoyed them all, but Singin’ In The Rain was by far the best of them – not only a beautiful piece of cinema, but a truthful examination of the problems associated with the arrival of talkies. I don’t claim it’s the BEST film ever made, but it’s my personal favourite.
When you are watching a movie for review, what are the key things you consider in your assessment?
First and foremost I consider the attitude of the filmmaker(s). Was the film made with passion and commitment, or was it merely an assignment? And then I look at the story, the screenplay, the dialogue, the acting, the cinematography, the use of music and all the other elements that make up a movie.
You have long been a champion of the Australian film industry. How would you rate the current state of Australian film?
I love Australian films, because at their best they provide an antidote to the American films that swamp our cinemas and television screens. But Australian films struggle to find an audience, not because they’re bad, but because we lack the finances for adequate marketing and promotion, so often they’re simply overlooked. I always tell people that if they want to see a particular Australian film, they should go on the opening weekend – after that it may have gone.
On Australia Day just past you were honoured with an Order of Australia for service to the film industry. How did it feel to be so highly awarded?
I was very pleased to be honoured with an AM on Australia Day. It made me realise for the first time that what I’ve been trying to achieve since the 1960s has been worthwhile and is appreciated.
Your autobiography is titled I Peed on Fellini. Is there a story behind that title?
In 1966 I attended my first Venice Film Festival, representing the Sydney Film Festival. At the opening night party, held in the Palazzo del Doge in St. Mark’s Square, I’m afraid I drank rather too much champagne and when I finally located a toilet, and found myself standing next to the director whose work I admired so much, I made the mistake of turning towards him – he was not amused.
You are supporting the reopening of the Sawtell Cinema – for which we are very grateful. How important do you think local cinema is in regional Australia?
Regional cinema is incredibly important, because films were made to be seen on a cinema screen, with an audience, not on a television screen or, heaven forbid, on a smart phone. Where I live in the Blue Mountains we have a small, privately owned cinema that shows the films the major cinemas ignore, and they have a loyal and passionate audience. I’m sure the Sawtell Cinema will fill the same role.
Will you be coming to Sawtell to see the new cinema when it opens?
Yes, I plan to come to Sawtell early in 2016 to see the reopened Sawtell Cinema. I believe that the crowdfunding campaign offers the opportunity to join me for dinner and a movie at the Sawtell Cinema. I’m looking forward to it!
To find out more about the Sawtell Cinema’s crowdfunding campaign, go to www.sawtellcinema.com.au. Dinner and a movie with David Stratton … that must be every cinema buff’s dream!