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SMART ST FILMS - 30 AND STILL BLAZING

Smart St. Films, a guerilla production company founded and run by Haydn Keenan, celebrates it's 30th birthday in 2000, an award winning filmmaker outside the establishment who was a trailblazer then – and remains one now, as Andrew L. Urban reports.

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 company.

"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 productions."

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 you."

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

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Robert McDarra AFI Best Actor in 27A


Best friends Claudia Karvan and Samantha Rebillet
from Going Down, Claudia's first film role.


Pandemonium

Clips:
27A (1972)
Under section 27A of the Mental Health Act the Queensland Govt. was able to lock anyone in a mental hospital until they could prove their eligibility to be released. Bill Donald is a liar and alcoholic but sane. It took him two years to get out. Stars Robert McDarra, Bill Hunter, Richard Moir. Dir: Esben Storm, Prod: Haydn Keenan

Going Down (1983)
Four girls on the town in Sydney, the night before one goes to New York. Their last night together is a gesture of defiance. Stars Tracy Mann, Verra Plevnic, Julie Barry, Moira Maclaine Cross, David Argue, Esben Storm. Dir/Prod Haydn Keenan

Pandemonium (1989)
It's the second coming and it's a woman. The dingo girl comes back to find out why they wanted her dead. Stars, David Argue, Amanda Dole, Esben Storm, Arna Maria Winchester, Lex Marinos. Dir/Prod Haydn Keenan







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