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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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He hits 61 on June 23, 2000, but his greatest achievements are still to come, says the controversial film producer David Hannay; with two new feature films in pre-production (as at June 2000), he has some 40 productions to his credit, ranging from the seminal cult favourite, Stone, to the Human Rights Award-winning South African gangster movie, Mapantsula. He agreed to this exclusive and comprehensive career interview with ANDREW L. URBAN, in which his life, his demons and his passions are fully exposed.

Part 1 of 3
Hannay is not easily categorised as either a failure or an unqualified success. Heís had his hits, but he is far from being a household name. Heís had his successes with first time directors like Sandy Harbutt, with whom he made the bikie-cop hit Stone in 1974. But heís had his disappointments, too: after 26 years they are both pained by the fact that a second Harbutt feature has yet to eventuate.

There have been times when Hannay has been one of the Australian film industryís untouchables, an independent filmmaker unofficially banned by film bureaucrats. And yet heís been involved in the development and production of more than 40 films and countless hours of television in his 32 years as a producer.

Above all, he has survived and is still going, still passionate, still driven.

What attracted you to filmmaking in the first place?
I was first attracted to theatre. My father was Entertainment Officer for the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Rome and he stayed there for sometime after the war. When he came home, he reprised a play about war correspondents that he directed in Rome called Love Goes to Press. My mother was in it as well, playing a war correspondent. It was my first great experience of theatre. I was eight. Then he got into radio and, in 1948, I worked with him in childrenís productions

As I grew up, I saw that the place in popular culture that I wanted to be was cinema, because there were limitations to theatre and physical limitations with radio. It was just a normal, natural progression for me to go from there to cinema.

When did you realise it was cinema for you?
My father introduced me to cinema, through his relationships in Rome with people like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. Most people of my generation were introduced to non-American cinema through the French New Wave. I was introduced to it through my father and Italian cinema. He knew these people, and was passionate about what they were doing. I saw those black-and-white Italian movies and thought we could do that. We might not be able to make Hollywood pictures, but we could certainly make pictures like those neo-realistic films.

When you said "we", were you thinking collectively of Australia or New Zealand?
New Zealand and Australia I saw very much in a unified context. ANZAC, if you will.

With the war, the Anzac theme was very strong. Also, my family settled in Australia in 1830, so I had great-grandparents who were Australians; four of them. I didnít see any separation between Australia and New Zealand when I was a kid. The difference became clear later.

To you it was socially and culturally homogeneous?
Yes. And one of the first Australian films which meant anything to me as a child was Ralph Smartís Bush Christmas [1947], which was a black-and-white Australian film with Chips Rafferty. I didnít say, "Thatís an Australian film, Iím a New Zealander." Anytime I saw an Australian film, pictures like Harry Wattís The Overlanders [1946] and Eureka Stockade [1949], I just thought they were our films. I totally identified with them. The people who were my heroes were Ralph Smart, Chips Rafferty and Lee Robinson, particularly. And I became aware of actors in various films, like Michael Pate and Guy Doleman, whom I later met and actually became mentors to me. Guy Doleman, Michael Pate, Deryck Barnes, Owen Weingott, Johnny Ewart, Willie Fennel, Queenie Ashton and Bud Tingwell are people who have been important to me in my life after I first saw them on the screen or listened to them on radio.

Did you know from the very beginning what you wanted to do in the industry?
Because my father was an actor, a director and a producer, I saw myself as a multi-faceted person. I think that is also very much a part of New Zealand culture. You do everything because that is the way it is. These days, of course, everything is streamed, whereas my background was to jump in and try to do the lot.

What drives you?
Fear and rage ...

What are you afraid of?
The first part of my life was quite idyllic, despite the fact that it was during the War. My father loved being an Italian, and became one in a social and emotional sense after the War. Then he was dragged back to New Zealand by his wifeís family. They were very powerful and unfortunately dominated his life.

My first memory of him as he came back to New Zealand was him coming off the troop ship. I had strong memories of him before he left and they were totally positive. But all I could see [after his return] was a great black cloud over his head; he was very angry.

I remember my mother driving us back to her parentís house. I was sitting on his knee in the car, and I felt the tension in this man. He had barely said a word to me; he was very angry.

How old were you?
Seven, and from that point I knew there was something I had done wrong. As I grew up and began to understand it, I knew that I had helped to destroy my fatherís life, the life that he had wanted, which was to stay in Italy and be part of the artistic regeneration of the country that he loved. The last place this man wanted to be was New Zealand. In my relationship with my father from that point on was fear and rage, and that is why I say the motivating factors of my life have been fear and rage.

I left New Zealand eventually because I came to understand that New Zealand is a culture of warriors.

New Zealand has two fundamental warrior cultures: the Maori warrior culture and the Scottish warrior culture. I am 100 percent New Zealand Scot, so I was brought up to be a warrior. Violence was part of my life, and fear. Was I frightened of failure? Constantly. I was frightened of upsetting my father, I was frightened of his extraordinary rages ...

Which you have inherited?
Absolutely, and that is why I left New Zealand. I didnít want to be a hard man. My grandfather was at one point Australasian Light Heavyweight Champion. He wasnít a working-class person fighting himself out of bad times; this was a man of privilage who liked to hit people.

My father boxed, too. He was a boxing blue at university. I boxed for five years, so I could fight my father and stand up to him. I remember the first time that I actually decided to shape up to him. Iíll never forget the glint in his eyes Ė "Oh, you want to have a go!" Ė and that fist came straight at me. He broke my nose; you can still see it. The last time my father and I had a physical fight is when I was 25; he was 56 for Godís sake. A 56-year-old and a 25-year-old beating the shit out of each other! I thought, "I donít have to do this anymore. This is stupid." It was just as much in me as it was in him as it was in my grandfather as it is in New Zealand culture.

When I saw Once Were Warriors [Lee Tamahori, 1994] I was shattered by the experience. That film was not just about the Maori in South Auckland, it was about New Zealand. It is about a Maori family, but it could have been about any New Zealand family. That is what I escaped.

I went to sea. From 1956 to 1958, I was a merchant seaman. I went from what I thought was a tough, brutal environment to an even tougher, more brutal environment, which initially terrified the shit out of me, but which I came to love.

Has your rage abated?
It is channelled. That is important. I didnít become a parent until I was in my thirties, because I was frightened of what I was. One of the most important things was there would be no fear in my relationship with my children. I was terrified of being a parent but, when I became one, I knew I had to be able to stop. I came to another place, I came to a place where people are quick to anger and it dissipates completely, whereas with New Zealanders you donít know youíve made them angry until, some time later like a dormant volcano, they blow their tops and whack you [laughs].

One of the films that you are very proud of is Mapantsula [Oliver Schmitz, 1988].Did this offer you a way of channelling your rage?

Absolutely. One of the things that I am constantly angry about is injustice. Any kind of injustice drives me insane.

And there is an extraordinary similarity between the kind of people that I come from and the Afrikaner. We are Presbyterians, they are Dutch Reform Church. It is the same thing; it is Calvin, Knox, Luther.

I have a very strong identification with South Africans and also a very strong understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the Afrikaner and the black South African, and also a very strong understanding of the appalling way in which the relationship developed.

What about Stone?
Stone is the first movie from anywhere to be set against the background of the Vietnam War. It is about a group of sidelined, marginalized veterans, outlawed by the society they fought for, and it is the story of Stone [Ken Shorter], a policeman who in the final analysis fits nowhere. It is funny, moving, tragic, entertaining and totally involving. It broke 12 box-office records in its first week and the critics hated it.

Meeting Sandy [Harbutt] in 1967 was most important. It was just meant to be that I would meet this person who was going to take me on this extraordinary trip.

Stone and Mapantsula define your filmmaking...
And my relationships. My relationship with Sandy is 34 years. My relationship with Oliver Schmitz who directed Mapantsula; and with Thomas Mogotlane [Mapantsula lead actor and writer], who unfortunately is now dead, were critical to me.

Given who I am, I hope for the best and expect the worst, and it is only my relationships that have sustained me. There are four relationships which define me. My father, my brother Charles Hannah, my wife Mary Moody and, of course, Sandy.

Life with father was an emotional roller-coaster ride. He was possibly the most seductively-attractive human being I have ever met. He was enormously charming, had great warmth and generosity of spirit, and was totally unpredictable. He introduced me to most of the things that have given my life value.

I met Sandy in 1967 at Channel Seven when we were both acting in on You Canít See Around Corners. When one is an actor, one often meets other actors within the context of the work and, because of mutual need and a desire to do the best, one creates an instant rapport that may actually have nothing to do with reality. You want to like one another, you want to get on. You do the work, go home and thatís often it.

At the time, I was living in a hole in East Sydney. It certainly wasnít trendy then! I was separated from my then wife, dealing with the failure of an important business relationship and of the ensuing destruction of our production company and the loss of everything I had been working towards Ė the said destruction having been caused in no small way by drug-induced paranoia.

I was a wraith, 60 kilos (Iím now 100 kilos). My life was a kaleidoscope of drugs, drag queens, prostitutes, crims, musos and a mounting pile of dead bodies. I was really enjoying myself.then I bumped into Sandy again a couple of months later. He radiated good health and good fellowship. He was like the rescue boat coming for the drowning man. He was the right person, at the right moment. And, more than that, he turned me around and defined the rest of my life. He gave me inspiration and he tested me like no other person has since my father.

I cleaned myself up.

I met Mary Moody at Channel 9 in 1971. By this stage, my professional life was in good shape, but my personal life was in total disarray. We worked together for some months before we actually got together and have been together, personally and professionally, ever since. Where I am a pessimist, she is an optimist; where I am off with the fairies, she is grounded. She fortunately doesnít and never has taken me seriously. And she has put up with me for 29 years. How lucky could I get?

My brother Charles came into my life in 1984. I was 45, he was 33. We barely knew each other. He had already had by then a successful career as an international corporate executive. He joined me, invested a shitload of money, youth, energy, intelligence and enthusiasm, and provided me with the springboard to do a number of things that would have been impossible without him.

These four defining relationships have enabled me to be here today. They have enabled me to do what I have done, to contribute what I have contributed. Without them, oblivion would have come a long time ago. I recently sat with my children and grandchildren around me, and realized that I had become a patriarch. There were 14 of us! I never expected to be here.

Continued in Part 2 - June 8, 2000

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Öand then


†David Hannay interview
Part 1 - June 1, 2000

David Hannay interview
Part 2 - June 8, 2000

David Hannay interview
Part 3 - June 15, 2000



Stone (1974),
executive producer

The Man From Hong Kong (1975), executive producer

Solo (1978),

Death of A Soldier (1985), producer

Mapantsula (1988),
executive producer

The Returning (1990), executive producer

Shotgun Wedding (1992), producer

Gross Misconduct (1993), producer

Dead Funny (1995),

Love In Ambush (1997), producer

Stone Forever (1999), executive producer

AT JUNE 2000:
Hildergarde (with producer Heather Ogilvie, director Di Drew - family)

The Third Circle (with producer Chris Brown, director Murray Fahey - chiller)

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