In direct contrast to the company’s name, Smart St. Films’ headquarters is
‘a 6 foot x 8 ft vertically integrated empire,’ as Haydn Keenan describes it, a
10 minute drive south of St Kilda along Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. It is not in a
smart city street, nor a monument to financial success, but Keenan likes to stay bright,
making sure there is no chip on the shoulder – and is still passionate about film.
"We're not the biggest but we are one of the oldest continuously working film
companies in Australia, and we've managed to produce high quality films without Government
production investment", says Keenan, who along with solicitor Gai Steele operates the
"We have produced three feature films, 27A, Going Down and Pandemonium. 27A is a
social realist break-through when slapstick sex comedies were the flavour. It won Best
Film and Best Actor (Robert McDarra) at the AFI Awards. Going Down is a Sydney street
movie called one of the best films made in this country and compared favourably by La
Republica in Italy to Fellini's I Vitolini. The third, Pandemonium, is a surrealist
fantasy telling the story of the dingo girl saved by wild dogs after her parents tried to
kill her at Ayers Rock and comes back to find out why. It was so reviled as to be buried
to this day. We've made a dozen documentaries, including two seminal sports pics with the
Australian Rugby team plus the odd music vid and TV commercial."
"a remarkable landmark "
Going Down, made over a number of years under difficult conditions, represents "a
remarkable landmark in Australian independent filmmaking, Unfortunately, it is a landmark
that few people noticed," writes Marcus Breen in the authoritative Oxford University
Press/AFC publication, Australian Film 1978 – 1992, edited by Scott Murray, (founding
editor of Cinema Papers).
Breen suggests that "it is Keenan’s determination to describe contemporary
Australian life, without the predictable affectations of careerist filmmakers looking over
their shoulder at their next project, that gives this film bit. Appearing seriously dated
in the 1990s, Going Down is one of the independent films that put the true grit of
Australian life on the screen in the early 1980s."
Keenan and Steele make no bones about his area of interest. "We work the left
field" says Steele, "the middle of the road is highly oversupplied. Our
intention is to contact that large proportion of Australians who want to see different
sorts of film styles and subjects but all too often are offered only foreign
We don't have a huge slate but it's all good stuff. We're in for the long haul and made
films which have clearly targeted audiences and an innovative and individual approach to
both production and distribution.
"being truly independent is when no one wants
Keenan likes to quote Francis Coppola: "being truly independent is when no one
wants you. So when production finance or distribution are not forthcoming we get out and
do it ourselves. Our national theatrical release of Going Down was followed by a roadshow
through Sydney's biggest pubs successfully taking the film directly to its audience. We
were the first to sell non-drama to airlines, initiated the government to government talks
which led to the signing of the Australia-Ireland co-production treaty and successfully
lobbied the copyright collection agency, Screenrights, to amend their payments policy to
make it easier for independent film makers to receive copyright payment for off air
recordings. In conjunction with Palace Films we have assembled, sold and serviced more
than 50 Australian feature films to Pay TV. We distribute a small catalogue of films
ranging from our own to Phil Noyce's Backroads, British film maker Peter Watkins'
The Media Project to Esben Storm's classic In Search Of Anna."
In its first serious relationship with government funding, Smart St. is currently
financing a slate of 3 feature projects and a TV documentary. Shadow Boxing is the story
of the all Australian boy, a tough as nails fighter who's gay and what happens when his
two lives collide.
Trouble In Blonde is an inheritance comedy as the Domineeri brothers struggle to win
control of their father's porno studio after he dies and leaves it to his leading lady.
Death By Water is a low tech video murder thriller. "Budgets are tight, parts
highly castable and the potential good," quips Keenan, "and we haven’t
resiled from what we set out to do, but we’re delighted to be working on this."
Published December 21, 2000