Newsfront (Australia)

1978 Australia

Print courtesy of the National Film & Sound Archive of Australia’s Kodak/Atlab Collection

SUNDAY 26th AUGUST 10.00 am
TUESDAY 28th AUGUST 8.00 pm


The story of the many unsung newsreel cameramen/journalists in post-war Australia, before television, when a news-hungry population flocked to the cinemas for the latest story. Competition was fierce but the lads had fun, too, chasing stories (big and little) ranging from dramatic floods to exciting horse races and the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.


The opening montage of Newsfront is an impeccably chosen assembly of images, notable for both thematic establishment and emotive impact. It instantly demonstrates Phil Noyce’s natural sense of cinema. Filled with now classic names of Australian cinema on both sides of the lens – plus then Australian resident Bill Motzing providing a complex and satisfying orchestral score – Newsfront stands the test of time with honour. It is still compelling, fresh and engaging, nostalgic but never weakly so. It offers some beautifully captured moments of intimacy, inner turmoil and quiet crisis as it tells the story of Australia’s two newsreel producing companies in the years from the end of the war to the start of television.

The story is told through the eyes and lives of the camera crews and editors who captured Australian life in all its glory, drama and pathos and joy for weekly cinema reports – killed by the instant news on daily TV from the mid 50s.

It combines social history, political snapshot, and cinema industry news with the personal stories, some of these based on the real people involved, especially the camera-wielding Wood brothers who worked for competing newsreel firms.

The DVD has been crafted with the same care that director Phil Noyce brings to his feature films. His audio commentary is shared with producers David Elfick and Richard Brennan, and writer Bob Ellis, who disowned the script in 1977 after changes made by Noyce, but reclaimed it in 1978 when the AFI voted it Best Screenplay. There is a marvellous anecdote told by Noyce in the commentary over the AFI Awards ceremony included on the disc (see The Newsfront Story) about this, an incident involving him and Bob Ellis sharing a spa, symbolically naked, just prior to the ceremony, when Noyce canvasses the possibility of sharing the award.

The whole issue of the conflict between them over the script is finally resolved and closed on this DVD. This alone is worth a listen.

But it’s all worth a listen and a look; there is Elfick recalling how he went to newsreels as a kid, and how they were a form of cheap babysitter for parents who would drop the kids at a newsreel cinema, where they would watch the news plus a few cartoons, in a one hour programme that would repeat all day.

Ellis recalls how Elfick came to him with the idea for Newsfront, and how he was inspired by the notion of quarrelsome Aussie mateship during the writing. “Men who drink together and chayak and rib one another …”

The commentaries add finely detailed background and context to the film, including the recollections of many others involved, from cast to the crew, in the most wide-ranging commentary recorded on DVD to date. There are also revealing excerpts from Brennan’s daily diaries (he keeps one on every film). Together with Noyce’s compelling, Elfick’s revealing and Ellis’ introspective dialogues, this is a fabulous treasure as an entertaining, archival and educational resource.

In the background text feature on The Pitch (see The Newsfront Story) it is revealed how some at the Australian Film Commission dismissed the project as Elfick’s indulgence. It went on to be the first film to be nominated in every category at the AFI Awards, and won eight. It was also a commercial success and an international hit, screening Out of Competition in Cannes in 1978. It is a genuine Australian classic and the DVD does it proud. Fair dinkum.