Australian New Wave cinema, a revolutionary movement that reshaped the film industry down under, surged during the 1970s and ’80s.

It’s known for its bold narratives, striking landscapes, and unique storytelling that captivated audiences worldwide.

We’ll explore the iconic films and directors that defined this era and how they left an indelible mark on cinema history.

Stay tuned as we jump into the renaissance that brought Australian culture to the global screen.


Australian New Wave Cinema

What Is Australian New Wave Cinema?

Australian New Wave Cinema, also known as the Australian Film Renaissance, was a movement in filmmaking that emerged in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s.

This period marked a significant resurgence and transformation in the Australian film industry, characterized by the production of numerous critically acclaimed and commercially successful films.

This era in Australian cinema is noted for its bold and innovative storytelling, often reflecting the unique cultural, social, and historical aspects of Australia. The films from this period tackled a variety of themes, including the Australian identity, landscape, history, and the complexities of urban and rural life in Australia.



Origins Of Australian New Wave Cinema

The seeds of Australian New Wave cinema were sown in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was a time when Australian cinema began to mirror the changing social landscape and cultural identity.

Government initiatives played a pivotal role – the establishment of the Australian Film Development Corporation in 1970, and the Australian Film Commission in 1975, marked a decisive push towards nurturing local talent.

These bodies provided the much-needed funding and support for filmmakers to tell Australian stories.

During this formative period, the influence of European art cinema was evident among Australian directors.


Films such as Wake in Fright and Picnic at Hanging Rock exemplified this blend of art and narrative that would come to define the movement.

Training institutions like the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, founded in 1973, empowered a new generation of filmmakers with the skills needed to excel in the medium.

They emerged with a fresh perspective and innovative storytelling techniques.

Here are some of the key factors that influenced the New Wave:

  • Desire to create a unique Australian cinematic identity,
  • Recognition of film as a significant art form,
  • Influence of international film movements,
  • Opportunities afforded by the growth of film festivals and competitions,
  • Increased investment in film education and infrastructure.

This confluence of events and the shared passion for film set the stage for a boom in Australian cinema.

The impact would resonate not just within the country but across the globe, and it’s why we still celebrate the Australian New Wave today.

Key Characteristics Of Australian New Wave Cinema

Australian New Wave Cinema is revered for its bold thematic exploration and distinctive visual style.

Directors often gravitated toward narratives that reflected the nation’s cultural identity and history, with a particular focus on indigenous stories and the unique landscape of the Australian continent.

This narrative focus led to the creation of films deeply embedded with social and political commentary.

Distinct features define Australian New Wave Cinema, setting it apart from other film movements:

  • Unique Cinematography – There was a deliberate effort to capture the vast, untamed Australian landscape, which often became a character in its own right within the narrative.
  • Cultural Reflection – Films frequently explored the tension between the country’s European heritage and indigenous culture.
  • Creative Storytelling – A tendency towards innovative narrative structures and bold editing techniques push the boundaries of conventional storytelling.

The thematic concerns of the era reflect the zeitgeist of 1970s Australia, where there was a growing interest in the complexities of national identity:

  • Social alienation and cultural displacement were recurring motifs.
  • A critical examination of the ‘Australian dream’ paralleled critiques in American cinema of the ‘American dream.’.

Australian New Wave filmmakers brought a new level of authenticity to the screen.

This authenticity was achieved through genuine, often gritty, portrayals of life in Australia.

Films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith highlighted sociopolitical issues through compelling narratives and challenging character studies.

It was this authenticity that eventually garnered Australian cinema attention on the world stage.


Our understanding of Australian New Wave Cinema isn’t just about recognizing its key features – it’s about appreciating the innovative spirit that drove filmmakers to tell stories grounded in their reality.

They used film as a medium to explore and comment on the rapidly changing social landscape, paving the way for a new generation of storytellers who continue to captivate audiences worldwide.

Iconic Films Of The Australian New Wave

The wave of Australian cinema that swept through the 1970s and ’80s brought to life films that not only captured the essence of the era but also established themselves as iconic pieces of cinematic history.

These films exhibited the daring approach and unique storytelling that would define Australian New Wave.

Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by Peter Weir, stands out for its haunting blend of mystery and the supernatural.

The film’s open narrative structure and atmospheric tension typify the innovative spirit that spurred the movement.

Weir’s work captures the ethereal beauty of the Australian landscape, which becomes a character in itself.

Mad Max, George Miller’s dystopian adventure, redefined action cinema with its high-octane sequences and unforgettable anti-hero, Max Rockatansky.

The raw energy and visceral impact of this film showcased the daring nature of Australian filmmakers to push boundaries and explore new genres.

The Australian New Wave also gave us gems such as:

  • The Last Wave – exploring themes of Aboriginal mythology and apocalyptic prophecy,
  • My Brilliant Career – a feminist narrative that challenges traditional gender roles,
  • Breaker Morant – a war drama that examines the complexities of morality and colonialism.

These films shared a common thread – the exploration of Australia’s cultural landscape and its intricate social fabric.

Whether through the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Mad Max or the lush yet menacing hinterlands of Picnic at Hanging Rock, these films transported audiences to worlds that were undeniably Australian in spirit yet universal in their thematic ambitions.

Our exploration of this cinematic epoch reveals a tapestry of films that are as diverse as the continent they represent.

The Australian New Wave didn’t just reflect the shifts within Australian society; it also offered a window into the very soul of the nation, driven by filmmakers who were as intrepid as they were committed to their craft.

Notable Directors Of The Australian New Wave

As experts with a keen interest in the history and theory of film, we have observed that certain directors stand out within the Australian New Wave movement.

These filmmakers not only carved out unique narratives within the nation’s cinema but also helped in shaping the global perspective of Australian culture through their films.

Peter Weir is one such director, whose work encapsulated the eerie mystique and sublime beauty of Australian landscapes.

Films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave are timeless, blending natural wonder with a sense of existential dread, and are prime examples of the movement’s themes and stylistic approaches.

Another luminary of this era is Bruce Beresford, recognized for his adept storytelling and the ability to address provocative social issues.

His contributions, including the critically acclaimed Breaker Morant, have been instrumental in portraying the complexities of Australian history and psyche.

Bringing female narratives to the fore, Gillian Armstrong‘s My Brilliant Career provided a fresh perspective by focusing on the feminist viewpoint in a male-dominated industry.

Her work stands as a testament to the increasing diversity in storytelling that the Australian New Wave celebrated.

Here are a few other distinguished directors, each bringing their unique lens to the movement:

Fred Schepisi – Known for his keen eye, Schepisi’s The Devil’s Playground dissected the tensions between personal freedom and institutional religion.

Phillip Noyce – With films like Newsfront, Noyce captured the changing landscape of both the Australian media and its national identity.

George Miller – Often credited with revolutionizing the action genre, Miller’s Mad Max series introduced an anarchistic vision that became synonymous with the Australian cinematic sensibility.

The influence of these directors and their films was crucial in the propulsion of Australian stories onto an international platform.

It’s through their creative risks and diverse narratives that Australian New Wave cinema left an indelible mark on the film industry.

Impact And Legacy Of Australian New Wave Cinema

Australian New Wave cinema, a term that signifies the resurgence of Australian filmmaking during the 1970s and 1980s, brought forth rich narratives that resonated globally.

Our cinematic landscape was forever changed by the ingenuity and boldness of the films that emerged from this movement.

Innovative storytelling techniques, coupled with distinctively Australian settings and themes, allowed these films to cut through cultural barriers and connect with audiences worldwide.

The global film industry took notice as Australian New Wave films garnered critical acclaim and scooped prestigious awards.

Movies such as My Brilliant Career and Picnic at Hanging Rock did not merely stand out for their artistic merit; they served as cultural ambassadors that introduced the nuances of Australian society and history to the world.

Later, key elements of the New Wave aesthetic influenced filmmakers beyond our shores, contributing to a more diversified film dialogue.

Our understanding of the era wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the filmmakers who heralded this revolutionary period.

Here’s what we owe to some of the luminaries:

  • Peter Weir – elevated our narrative scope and visual storytelling,
  • Bruce Beresford – captured poignant social commentaries,
  • Gillian Armstrong – broke new ground for female directors.

In an industry often dominated by commercial fodder, the Australian New Wave dared to be different, offering bold visions that were both accessible and intellectually stimulating.

These films served as templates for many independent filmmakers who sought to balance commercial success with artistic integrity.

They proved that Australian cinema was capable of delivering high-quality, internationally-recognized art.

The ripples of the Australian New Wave were felt in the cultivation of upcoming talent as film schools and university courses proliferated across the country.

As a bastion for creative expression, it opened doors for the next generation of storytellers to explore film as both an art form and a medium for cultural conversation.

These influences continue to thrive in contemporary Australian cinema, ensuring the enduring impact of the New Wave movement.

What Is Australian New Wave Cinema – Wrap Up

We’ve delved into the heart of Australian New Wave cinema and its enduring legacy.

These films not only revolutionized the industry but also paved the way for future generations of filmmakers.

They’ve left an indelible mark on our cultural landscape and continue to inspire us with their unique perspectives and daring narratives.

As we reflect on the movement’s significance, we’re reminded of the power of cinema to transcend borders and the importance of authentic storytelling.

Australian New Wave cinema isn’t just a chapter in film history—it’s a vibrant, ongoing story that we’re proud to celebrate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Australian New Wave Cinema?

Australian New Wave cinema refers to a genre of filmmaking that emerged during the 1970s and 1980s, known for its innovative storytelling, uniquely Australian settings, and resonance with global audiences.

Who Are Some Notable Directors Of The Australian New Wave?

Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, and Gillian Armstrong are among the most notable directors of the Australian New Wave, each contributing to the movement’s success with their distinctive styles and subjects.

How Did Australian New Wave Films Impact The Global Film Industry?

Australian New Wave films impacted the global film industry by showcasing the uniqueness of Australian culture, history, and landscape, influencing international perceptions and providing a template for innovative filmmaking.

What Themes Are Commonly Explored In Australian New Wave Films?

Australian New Wave films commonly explore themes of Australian identity, social commentary, and historical retrospection, often set against vivid backdrops of the Australian landscape.

How Did Gillian Armstrong Contribute To The New Wave Movement?

Gillian Armstrong broke new ground for female directors, expanding narrative forms and exploring the roles of women in society through her impactful storytelling in the New Wave movement.

Is Australian New Wave Cinema Still Influential Today?

Yes, Australian New Wave cinema continues to influence contemporary filmmakers in Australia, inspiring new generations to tell bold and original stories that challenge conventional filmmaking.