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SYDNEY - STORY OF A CITY: BURTON & BERESFORD

Bruce Beresford and Geoff Burton talk to ANDREW L. URBAN about working together, directing a 45 minute giant screen film that cost twice as much as an average Australian drama - and the star is Sydney itself.

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 co-direct.

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 late August.

"different visions"

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

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 Burton.

"it's got to be something strong but simple" Bruce Beresford

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 Development.

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BIG FX
Sydney - Story of a City integrates archival footage with live action material. Photon, a visual effects design company with studios in Sydney and the Gold Coast, digitally enhanced the 65mm negative from the shoot, and the 16mm and 35mm archive footage, to suit the large format. A total of 17 effects scenes occupy 10 minutes of the final 45 minute epic. Four companies quoted for the job but Photon was the only one which could complete the work at the 5k resolution required to record to 70mm film.

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