UC Journalism Series: Storm Boy Restored

20th Oct 2016

*As part of an educational partnership with University of Canberra, CIFF will publish a selection of works by UC Journalism students focussing on this year’s festival. Special thanks to Bronwyn Watson from UC.

Canberra International Film Festival will screen a restored version of Storm Boy, in celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary.

Bec Lawrence


Cinematographer, Geoff Burton, of the 1976 iconic Australian film, Storm Boy, fondly remembers the day he was filming on a South Australian beach and 100 wild pelicans disrupted filming.

“The pelicans were alone on the beach, just the three of them”, says Burton. “We would be filming them and then a whole bunch of wild pelicans would land, maybe 100 or 200. We would lose track of our pelicans even though they had slightly different beak colouring. From a distance they were just lost [amongst the wild pelicans].”

“The assistant director had a small fluffy dog who was on location all the time. This dog built his own relationship with the trained pelicans. But in this case, and we discovered this by accident, when the dog saw this big mob of pelicans on the beach he went running off towards them and all the wild ones took off in fear of this yapping little dog but our three remained behind because our three had already learned not to fear. So in future we had him on set all the time for similar identifying opportunities,” he says.

Earlier this year the Canberra-based National Film and Sound Archive completed the restoration of the 1976 award-winning film Storm Boy in preparation for the 40th anniversary and its screening at the Canberra International Film Festival.

Burton says the film was such a success because “it was a simple story well told.” The film is remembered as an Australian classic based on a best-selling book by Colin Thiele. It follows the tale of Storm Boy in his isolated life and the special bond he forms with a pelican named Mr Percival.

Surpassing the initial challenges of filming with animals, Burton agreed that he had expected far worse from the pelicans prior to filming.

“We had three trained pelicans who all had their own minder. They were all interchangeable because they all looked the same, so if one got tired or grumpy we could use a second one. They could do certain things but they aren’t like dogs, cats and horses, they aren’t trained to do tricks so getting a pelican to catch a ball for instance requires a bit of trickery rather than animal training. They were reasonable enough [to work with].”

Burton says that when they made the film they were very conscious of the power and the value of the initial book and the effect it had on young readers. “We were determined to keep the film in that same style,” he says.

The film went on to win the Jury and Best Film prize at the AFI Awards in 1977.


This year the Canberra International Film Festival (CIFF) is being hosted at the National Film and Sound Archive in a bid to showcase their restoration works and celebrate their significance as an institution in Canberra.

Festival director Alice Taylor believes that restoring films is incredibly important for Australia’s culture and the film industry.

“Films are works of art and the ones that are really successful and widely loved by audiences, they deserve to live on as continued works of art,” she says. “[Films] need to be seen in the way they were originally intended to be seen. The specialists that work on [restoring] these films are able to restore the colour, the contrast and the audio to as close to the original as possible. [They] digitise it and then it’s back to its former glory and people can enjoy it. It’s really important.”

Taylor describes Storm Boy as “an iconic Australian film that stays in the psyche of the people who have seen it. It’s a really great choice for a restoration and it’s [a film] that holds up even 40 years later.”

In the decision to add Storm Boy to this year’s programming for the Festival, the film needed to meet particular criteria and qualify to be shown.

“It’s a matter of balancing different kinds of films and trying to show a broad range,” says Taylor. “The films are chosen for a bunch of reasons and one of the focuses of the programming was to represent a diverse range in voice that you may not see elsewhere and to show stories that reflect the diversity of Australia and throughout the world. In the decision to move the festival to the National Film and Sound Archive, it was in part because of their beautiful space but it was also because of the connection that the Archives hold to the history of film in this country. The festival is really excited to be based there and to tap into the National Film and Sound Archive restoration program.”

Cris Kennedy, film enthusiast and Manager of Education and Engagement at the National Film and Sound Archive explains the intricacies of restoring an old film.

“There are two processes you can do, either an actual spool restoration of a film which is digitising the film frame by frame [or] a full restoration [which] includes going through scene by scene, frame by frame, amending the sound track and you will probably go back to the original source material.”

“You may even go back to the original people who worked on the film and take their notes and have them work on that project with you. But that is really expensive that’s kind of in the $70,000-$120,000 per film mark. We [National Film and Sound Archive] are generally doing digitisations which is just frame by frame digitising from the original and maybe a little colour tweaking where the film has faded over the years.”

Kennedy says that restoring a film can take anywhere from three months to several years until its final completion. He says there’s more to the process than people would think.

“It’s more than just our Chief Curator deciding that we are going to restore something and then we whack it in a machine and it’s done. There’s endless licensing and paperwork and permissions and if we are the ones restoring it, there’s the question of what happens afterwards,” he says.

Kennedy believes it was important that Storm Boy be restored because “it was one of the early films in the 70’s that proved that Australia could have a viable local film industry and that Australians would pay money to go see Australian content.”

Storm Boy will be screening at the Canberra International Film Festival on Sunday 30 October where cinematographer Geoff Burton will be in attendance for a live Q and A.

The 40th anniversary screening of Storm Boy is on 3.30pm, Sunday 30 October. Book here.