Although born in New Zealand, Cecil Holmes (1921–1994) is one of the most significant and ambitious filmmakers to work in Australia during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
A dedicated leftist, his work consistently demonstrated a humanist commitment to the socially disenfranchised, ranging from the underlying capitalist conditions that force decent citizens into bushranging and stealing to the social and economic conditions confronting Indigenous communities in contemporary Australia (the latter works often made in collaboration with his wife, anthropologist and activist Sandra Le Brun Holmes). In the 1950s, Holmes briefly moved from his background in documentary to feature-film production, but all of his work shares a deep concern for social justice, place and the precarious fate of displaced and dispossessed peoples in the modern world.
Although he is often regarded as a maverick director who struggled to make films, Holmes produced a wide range of challenging work for a variety of governmental, corporate and philanthropic organisations, as well as at the behest of such individuals as Australian leftist author, Frank Hardy.
7:00pm THREE IN ONE
Cecil Holmes (1957) 89 mins – G
Holmes’ opus is one of the most significant films made in Australia before the 1970s revival. A profoundly independent work that robustly demonstrates Holmes’ filmmaking capabilities as well as his qualities as a cinephile and political artist (Henry Lawson and Frank Hardy are both sources), it reframes the common theme of “mateship” within explicitly leftist contexts and provides an indelible portrait of Australia from the 1890s to the 1950s.
Words for Freedom
Cecil Holmes (1956) 19 mins – Unclassified 15+
Holmes’ fugue of Henry Lawson, union chronicle and folk tale provides a history of the Australian workers press.
35mm and 16mm prints of both films made available by the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia. Words for Freedom courtesy of Amanda Holmes Tzafrir, Cecil Holmes Estate.
G’day Comrade: Cecil Holmes’s Three in One (1956)
by Adrian Danks
9:05pm CAPTAIN THUNDERBOLT AND OTHER TALES
Cecil Holmes (1948–1968) 99 mins – Unclassified 15+
This program covers a range of Holmes’ work in documentary and fiction, moving from his pioneering films for the New Zealand National Film Unit such as The Coaster (1948) to his groundbreaking and socially committed work with Indigenous communities: The Islanders (1968). Its centrepiece is Holmes’ bold and visually adventurous first feature, Captain Thunderbolt (1953), an expansive and exciting account of the social, political and economic conditions that lead to bushranging. Only surviving in its edited 16mm TV version, it also provides an urgent reminder of the crucial role of the archive.
Prints made available by the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia and ACMI Collections. Courtesy Amanda Holmes Tzafrir, Cecil Holmes Estate.
To be introduced by film scholar and Captain Thunderbolt devotee, David Donaldson, inaugural director of the Sydney Film Festival. Read his article Looking for Captain Thunderbolt (Cecil Holmes, 1953).
Hard Labour: Cecil Holmes’s Captain Thunderbolt (1953)
by Adrian Danks