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HANNAY, DAVID: A PRODUCER, HIS DEMONS, HIS HEROES AND HIS HATES (PART 3)

His greatest achievements are still to come, says the controversial 61 year old film producer David Hannay; with two new feature films in pre-production (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 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. Why?
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 Watts.

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 offices]."

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."

Such as?
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 heroin addict."

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 affectionate respect.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT HANNAY:

Nick Frazer (partner, with Hannay, Peter Malycon and Larry Hirsch in Vitascope Filmed Entertainment):
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 Misconduct, 1993):
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.

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David Hannay with wife Mary Moody


with indie prod extraordinaire, Roger Corman

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David Hannay interview
Part 1 - June 1, 2000

David Hannay interview
Part 2 - June 8, 2000

David Hannay interview
Part 3 - June 15, 2000

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