australian new wave

est. 1970 – late 1980s

The Australian New Wave, knows as Australian Film Revival, was a significant film movement in Australian cinema during the 1970s and 1980s, and marked a departure from the conservative, studio-driven productions that had dominated the industry. This movement was characterized by its unique and often provocative storytelling, its willingness to engage with contemporary social and political issues, and its innovative approach to film aesthetics.

Origins of the Australian New Wave

The origins of the Australian New Wave can be traced back to a combination of factors that had been brewing for some time in the cultural landscape of the nation. Australia had traditionally relied on a model of filmmaking that catered to the mainstream audience, often producing adaptations of popular novels or straightforward genre films.

 

The industry was heavily influenced by Hollywood and British cinema, resulting in a cinematic landscape that often failed to reflect the diverse and distinctive Australian experience. Australian filmmakers frequently found themselves hamstrung by financial constraints and studio interference, limiting their creative freedom.

 

However, this began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a new generation of Australian filmmakers emerged, driven by a spirit of rebellion and an eagerness to break free from traditional cinematic conventions. They were inspired by international film movements, particularly the French New Wave and the New Hollywood, which celebrated innovation, experimentation, and a fresh approach to storytelling.

Walkabout (1971) by Nicolas Roeg
Walkabout (1971) by Nicolas Roeg

Characteristics of the Australian New Wave

A central concern of many New Wave films was the exploration of Australian identity. Filmmakers often depicted the tensions between the country’s European heritage and its indigenous cultures. They also delved into issues of national identity and the changing landscape of modern Australia.

 

The movement favored a more naturalistic and unpolished aesthetic. Filmmakers often shot on location, incorporating the vast and diverse Australian landscapes into their films. The Australian New Wave didn’t shy away from addressing controversial and pressing issues. These films explored topics like urbanization, environmental concerns, and societal inequality, often with a critical and thought-provoking lens.

Wake in Fright (1971) by Ted Kotcheff
Wake in Fright (1971) by Ted Kotcheff

Important Filmmakers And Films

The first big success of the Australian New Wave, Ted Kotcheff’s “Wake in Fright” (1971), exposed the harsh and often unexplored realities of outback life. The film’s visceral and uncompromising portrayal of Australia’s darker aspects resonated with audiences, both domestically and internationally. It demonstrated that there was an appetite for films that delved into the country’s authentic experiences.

 

The Australian New Wave was driven by visionary directors such as Peter Weir, known for films like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975), and later his successful Hollywood career. Often celebrated for his exploration of themes like identity, nature, and the mystical aspects of Australian landscapes. His works captivated audiences with their haunting beauty and deep philosophical undercurrents.

 

George Miller introduced the world to a dystopian vision of the Australian outback with the iconic “Mad Max” series. These films combined adrenaline-pumping action with astute social commentary, making them an international sensation, and showcasing the versatility of Australian cinema.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) by Peter Weir
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) by Peter Weir
Mad Max (1979) by George Miller
Mad Max (1979) by George Miller

Legacy and Influence of the Australian New Wave

The Australian New Wave left a profound and lasting impact on Australian cinema and the global film industry. It reinvigorated local filmmaking, fostering a sense of national pride, and a renewed interest in homegrown stories.


Internationally, the movement gained recognition for its fresh and authentic storytelling. Many Australian filmmakers who rose to prominence during this era continued to make a mark on global cinema. George Miller, in particular, with his “Mad Max” series, became a household name worldwide, and his influence on the action genre persists to this day.


The Australian New Wave stands as a testament to the power of film as a medium for cultural expression, social critique, and the exploration of identity. It reinvigorated Australian cinema, introduced the world to visionary filmmakers, and continues to inspire.

Please refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the film movement.