Bruce Beresford had wanted to make a documentary about Sydney "even from when I
first started working in films. I once planned a film about the Harbour Bridge, but that
never came to anything." So this time, when asked to make one for the giant IMAX
screen, "I really jumped at the chance, because with IMAX, with all its detail and
that enormous screen, you'll see the city even better than you can walking around in
it." But fate intervened yet again.
"shared the task"
Just as he was setting his schedule, shooting on his latest Hollywood movie, the Tommy
Lee Jones / Ashley Judd drama, Double Jeopardy, was delayed, clashing with the Sydney
schedule, which couldn't be put back. It looked like Beresford was going to miss his
big(screen) chance. Instead, he shared the task, and Geoff Burton was recruited to
That meant staying in touch by email and Fedex, who delivered the daily rushes to
Beresford in Los Angeles, where he was finishing Double Jeoprady. "I felt a bit like
that Polish director who directed a film while he was in jail for the entire shoot - and
he won a Best Foreign Film Academy Award for it!" says Beresford, during a short stay
in Sydney before flying back to Los Angeles for the media previews of Double Jeopardy in
The two - Beresford the eminent director, Burton the eminent cinematographer - had
different visions for a documentary about Sydney, and the end result embraces both:
Beresford's strongly historic approach, complemented by the use of graphics and artwork,
Burton with a more contemporary feel and the inclusion of a gentle love story.
Sydney - Story of a City is a 70mm format documentary-drama covering Sydney from the
1780's to the present day. History is revealed through Virginia, an English girl played by
Lucy Bell, who visits Australia to investigate her family history, which may or may not
include a convict. At a dig in The Rocks, site of Sydney's historic beginnings, Bell meets
Marco, an archaeologist, played by Paul Mercurio, and together they explore the city and
its past - and by the film's end, a romance appears to be budding.
Made for around $8.5 million, twice the cost of an average Australian drama, Sydney - A
Story of A City is an impressive and informative film with enough entertainment value to
sustain for the 45 minutes - quite apart from its sheer visual power. The use of archival
material skilfully woven into the structure - a world first for IMAX - creates a depth to
the modern settings, and the extensive aerial sequences provide bird's eye views of some
of the most robust parts of Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
"that was the prime metaphor for me," Geoff
Burton was especially keen to focus on the magnificent Harbour: "that was the
prime metaphor for me," he says. "In philosophical terms, it's a very feminine
film, the way we shot it, and that's one reason why there is so much water in it."
Burton even mounted the giant camera required to shoot big format films, on the side of
one of the 18 foot speed yachts for some eyebogling footage on the water - as well as some
fun shots in the surf at Bondi Beach.
When it came to casting, Burton says he was looking for an actress who could be
"convincingly English, but I didn't want to use an import - hence Lucy. As for Paul,
I've always admired him as an actor, and he's not obvious for the role; I like the fact
that he's unexpected…." Beresford was kept informed at every stage of the
pre-production process, and "in that sense it was a genuine collaboration," says
"it's got to be something strong but simple" Bruce
Beresford and IMAX are "still talking" about another giant screen project,
which would be a drama; but Beresford says it would only work if you avoid too much
psychological elements…it's got to be something strong but simple. If you put in too
much detail, people get overload. There's so much information on the giant screen. .
Photon, the digital effects company who helped create the multi-image layers for the
film, "did some ground breaking," work, says Beresford. "We all did."
Produced by Big Screen Productions, a joint venture between producers Sue Milliken and
Phil Gerlach, the project was funded by investors including the City of Sydney, Qantas,
Accor Asia Pacific, NSW Tourism, Sydney Airport and the Office of State and Regional