Part 3 of 3
Who are some the filmmakers - and films - that you admire and enjoy?
I love David Lean, John Ford, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray,
Jules Dassin, John Frankenheimer, Ingmar Bergman. I love the films of Warners of the '30s
and '40s, and RKO of the 40s, those gritty black-and-white dramas. And, interestingly
enough, the so-called B movies have lasted.
You can look at them today and they don't date, they are just good pictures, whereas
the A movies, all the glossy pictures, you look at them and you think this was shit. It is
really interesting, because they [the B-films] were socially relevant to their time,
because they were about something.
The Warner pictures were against the depression. They actually said capitalism has
fucked the country. I wonder if Jack Warner realized how subversive his pictures were.
In Mapantsula there is a line in the Cannes programme that theft was Panic's [Thomas
Mogotlane] act of repossession. He was a dispossessed human being, that is why he was a
gangster. There was a correlation for me between the picture we made and all those
wonderful Cagney, Raft, Bogart pictures from Warners.
There is unfortunately a lack of enthusiasm about genre movies in the Australian film
culture which I'm constantly fighting against, because I love genre pictures. Some of the
most socially-relevant pictures of all time have been genre pictures and they work because
they say something important in an entertaining fashion. Mapantsula is a gangster film,
but it is a film that has a huge amount to say about South Africa.
My favourite pictures include: Pure Shit [Bert Deling, 1977]; Promised Woman [Tom
Cowan, 1976]; Smash Palace [Roger Donaldson, 1981]; Once Were Warriors [Lee Tamahori
1994]; An Angel At My Table [Jane Campion, 1990]; Bridge Over the RiverKwai [David Lean,
1957]; Lawrence of Arabia [David Lean, 1962]; Sunset Boulevard [Billy Wilder, 1950]; Some
Like It Hot [Billy Wilder, 1959]; Rear Window [Alfred Hitchcock, 1954]; On The Waterfront
[Elia Kazan, 1954]; East of Eden [Elia Kazan, 1955]; Rebel Without A Cause [Nicholas Ray,
1955]; Rififi [Du Rififi chez les hommes, Jules Dassin, 1955]; The Manchurian Candidate
[John Frankenheimer, 1962]; Wild Strawberries [Ingmar Bergman, 1957]; A Touch of Evil
[Orson Welles, 1958] Citizen Kane is not my favourite Welles film; Atlantic City [Louis
Malle, 1981];Breathless [Jean Luc Goddard 1960], Day For Night [La nuit americaine,
Francois Truffaut, 1973], Purple Noon [Plein soleil, Rene Clement, 1959] and of course The
Searchers [John Ford, 1956].
Two of my sons are named Aaron and Ethan.
I am still in awe of Rossellini, De Sica and
Fellini. These were people who were extraordinary, they were coming out of the most
appalling situation. Their country, with its fantastic history, had been dominated by
Germany in a most improper sense. Out of that at the end of the war came a most
extraordinary group of people, who created the environment in which Fellini and others
were able to artistically evolve. That is incredibly exciting.
How has the filmmaking mood in Australia changed in your time?
When I started out as a producer, there was an enormous level of camaraderie. I remember
1973 when Sandy and I were doing Stone and the McElroys and Peter Weir were doing The Cars
That Ate Paris, and we were sharing people and expenses. We both needed Peter Armstrong,
so we split the cost of a charter plane to get him backwards and forwards between the two
pictures. People would say that we are more professional now, that we were possibly a
little sort of cottage and amateur. If that was cottage and amateur, it was better than
the negative attitudes that exist between professionals today.
Youíve encountered your share of negativity in the industry through the years.
For me, and this is totally subjective, the worst period was actually from the end of the
Australian Film Development Corporation for the first five years of the AFC [Australian
Film Commission], which started in 1975. It went from a small organization with a tidy
administration to a huge organization with a big bureaucracy which fed off itself and
didnít, in my view, support the filmmaking process. There were all these permanent
commissioners which fortunately donít exist today. It was a bad idea. There were half
a dozen permanent commissioners, including the chairman Ken Watts, who, as far as I was
concerned, was a profoundly evil man who created a culture that was vile. Talbot
Duckmanton was on the board of the AFDC and he was asked, as he was going out the door,
would he like to recommend somebody to head up the new AFC. He thought of the one person
in his executive structure that he wanted to get rid of and it was Ken Watts, who was his
head of television. So Ken Watts got the guernsey and Talbot Duckmanton got rid of Ken
Did he do something to you?
Yes, he did, and not just to me. There were people who worked at the AFC at the time,
people of courage, such as Shirley Wyndham, but not many, who actually said, "You
canít behave towards David Hannay in the way you are behaving. You canít do what
you are doing."
One of the least aggravating things Ken Watts said was, "As long as I am here,
David Hannay will not be welcome at 8 West Street [the then-address of the AFCís
Was there a reason for this?
In that mid-í70s, I was not perceived in the nice, respectable, bourgeois fashion in
which people were acceptable. I was perceived to be rough, a heavy drug user, a ratbag and
a maverick and therefore somebody to be discouraged. I didnít fit in. I wasnít
effete, coming in the door and wanting to make frock movies. Iím not knocking frock
movies, but the kind of things that I had done and was interested in doing were possibly
dangerous and aggressive and made people say, "We donít want to do that anymore.
That is not very nice."
Like Stone. When it came out in 1974, it was vilified by the bourgeoisie, the trendy
left-wing establishment that had grown up since 1972, which was interesting because
Sandyís and my politics was probably far more radically left than the people who were
gently left, who were now giving us a serve. I suppose we were seen as nasty.
How did it negatively manifest itself?
Let me be very clear: I did get assistance. There were people who did stand up for me,
part-time people on the Board, like Tony Buckley [producer and part-time commissioner] for
example, and the odd internal person as well, for example John McQuaid. Iím not
negating the fact that I had levels of support inside, but there was disinformation, like
"How do we destroy Hannay. One way we destroy him is by putting it about that he is a
I was also politically stupid. I would be in screenings and I would light up a joint. I
didnít have to do that [with] people who clearly were offended by what I was doing. I
certainly did not do myself any favours.
Do you feel that perhaps your experience is not unique?
Absolutely not unique. There were others having just as difficult a time.
As someone who has felt the chill wind of disapproval, as a human being, cronyism has
got to be guarded against, constantly. To say that it never existed and hasnít
existed is naÔve in the extreme. I had a conversation at Cannes with a producer who had
been on the AFC Board and she didnít want to know. She was saying, "It
wasnít so. It must have been because of your projects." But the reality was
writers and directors would come to me in that period and say to me: "Iíd like
to put something in to the AFC with you as producer." I would say: "there is no
point; Iím a non person." And people at the AFC would say : "You canít
say this. There is no attitude against you." But of course there was. I got projects
through at the time of my disfavour, but only because collaborators like John Sturzaker
and Ric Kabriel insisted I be supported.
So how do you think the AFC views you now?
Now, Iím the avuncular, grandfatherly, elder statesman, and they treat me with
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT HANNAY:
Nick Frazer (partner, with Hannay, Peter Malycon and Larry Hirsch in Vitascope
Iíve known him since 1973. He didnít have to teach me anything, but he did.
Heís always had a mentoring mentality and I learnt as much from what he did wrong as
from what he did right. I feel I owe a debt to Hannay, one that I probably canít ever
fulfil, and one that he doesnít expect me to pay. Heís the most creative
producer I know, which pisses directors off, although I do think heís made some poor
choices of directors. Heís probably one of the most honest men Iíve ever met.
Heís amazingly knowledgeable and heís a true raconteur.
Oliver Schmitz, writer-director of Mapantsula:
He took an important stand in a situation where a lot of other people would not, who
merely stood on the sidelines criticizing and did nothing to fight apartheid.
Writer Phil Warner: (Amberman, a forthcoming screenplay)
Hannay is full of energy Ė sometimes even more than I can handle. But unless
heís working hard, heís not happy. For me, thereís nobody better for what I
need. Heís got the producing nouse, as well as the pre- and post-marketing knowledge.
[But] It can take a while to get through to him if you disagree.
Director Paul Harmon (David OíBrienís Shotgun Wedding)
I find him problematic, a man of great passion, whose emotions can get in the way of his
logic. He can be almost Machiavellian and sometimes gets threatening. We had a supreme
argument over casting on Shotgun Wedding : we were like two bulls in a field and had
moments of hating each other. However, once this was resloved, he was a delight.
Richard Sheffield (co-producer with Hannay on George Millerís Gross
His great strength is as a line producer. I couldnít fault him for looking after a
film and getting it on time and on budget and getting it finished. Heís a great
hands-on producer, well organized.
Heís a showman and he loves the business.
Sandy Harbutt, writer-director-producer of Stone:
David is a great encourager and stimulator. When we started on the script in 1970 it
seemed impossible that we could write an Australian film. It was an impossible dream, but
David said, "Yes, you can do it." He was Executive Producer, which could mean
anything Ė in this case, it meant he did everything.