Later this month, a concealed, curious piece of Canberra’s cinematic history titled Demonstrator will screen for the first time in decades.
Shot locally in 1971 on a $300,000 budget, Demonstrator remains the only feature film financed solely by Canberrans.
Its commercial success was limited to the Canberra market, and it received a lukewarm critical response from a number of national media outlets.
Despite this, Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive president, Ray Edmondson, says Demonstrator was thematically topical.
“The idea that we had to have workable political relations with nearby Asian countries was becoming clear, and it draws on that.
“It also draws on the idea of student demonstrations … I think half the ANU was used as extras.”
Edmonson says Demonstrator was an early attempt to revive the industry prior to the ‘New Wave’ that hit later in the decade, when films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Mad Max took the world by storm.
“In the ‘60s there were no Australian feature films. The idea of it was still novel. That’s hard to imagine now because we have 20-odd Australian features a year.”
Edmonson remembers seeing the movie in a local theatre nearly 50 years ago. Having not seen it since, he’s very excited for the upcoming screening.
“I would have seen it at the Centre Cinema, and I thought it was a good film at the time. I haven’t re-viewed it, we’re just going to take it as it comes.”
Edmonson remembers it was a thrill to see Canberra on screen in a feature film; that was in part why the film appealed to him.
“In the one sense it’s a time capture of Canberra as it was in 1971, still a young capital, still the bush capital, but becoming the centre of things, it captures that time.”
While organising the screening, Edmonson says they experienced difficulty reaching anyone involved in the production to acquire permission.
“We came to the conclusion that just about everyone involved had departed; no one knows who owns the rights.
“Tony Buckley, the editor, is still with us. He has a very pragmatic view of the film, seeing it as an early feature that’s not as good as we could do later.”
The Friends of the NFSA will screen Demonstrator at the NFSA Theatrette, 21 February 6pm; free for Friends of the NFSA; gold coin donation for others.