For too many people, cinema is an art form that has no history, no past.
The Hollywood studios, the broadcasters and the most popular on-line platforms have a vested interest in favouring the New: it’s where they spend their money and where they earn most of it. A few dozen “classic” chestnuts like GONE WITH THE WIND or SINGING IN THE RAIN are shown as nostalgia or are pillaged for social media memes lasting a few seconds, but otherwise, there is no depth of understanding or value placed on the “old”. Back catalogues seem to be regarded as a burden by many producers and studios, costing a lot of money to restore, rather than having immediate commercial value.
Cinema’s history lacks the ease of access and the diversity of responses that, say Beethoven and Prokofiev can command in music, or Shakespeare and Chekhov can command in theatre, or Kipling and Jane Austen in literature, or Van Gogh and Namatjira in art.
To be a culturally enriched society, we need to have familiarity with, and ready access to, the vast range of cinema’s past achievements – all of it – if we are to give depth to our contemporary cinema with ideas, experiences and stories.
Without that familiarity, stories will be lost – including Australian stories. Australians who once were major figures in world cinema – Peter Finch, Robert Krasker, Chips Rafferty, Googie Withers, among others – are being lost to the contemporary world. Our collective memory of these people and their ideas and achievements are at risk.
If we are to redress this absence, to re-tell these stories, re-gain these ideas, there is no better platform for us locally than the Canberra International Film Festival, curated by historians, designed for thinking people, and presented in close association with our national film preservation body, the NFSA. Other national cultural organisations are also relevant in expanding our broad cultural history to incorporate cinema in a meaningful, contextualised way, not as mere entertainment, nostalgia, illustration, but as experience, ideas and stories of on-going relevance.