A shining case study

BY ADAM BLACKSHAW

'It is a real privilege to be part of a team that is responsible for preserving Australia’s audiovisual history' – Danny Dawson

Danny Dawson, Audiovisual Preservation Manager
Danny Dawson, Audiovisual Preservation Manager

When did you get your start in the film industry?

Danny Dawson: When I finished studying Business Administration at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) in 1994 my first job was working for Ronin Films as a distribution assistant. So I’ve been in the audiovisual-film industry for over 20 years.

That was an exciting time for Australian films.

Absolutely. At the time Ronin was distributing Strictly Ballroom (1992) and it was going spectacularly well. I was employed at its peak to keep up with the demand of sending publicity materials, trailers and film prints to cinemas. It was a huge task and one that kept us very busy for over a year!

Geoffrey Rush in Shine (1996)
Geoffrey Rush in Shine (1996)

But probably my biggest highlight working for Ronin was when we distributed Shine (1996). It was an awesome experience to be part of the team that crafted a winning release, making over $10 million dollars at the Aussie box office. I will never forget the excitement and sense of overwhelming achievement I personally felt when Geoffrey Rush won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

And just this year in August at the NFSA we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Shine with a screening, performance by David Helfgott himself and even had Geoffrey Rush and director Scott Hicks take part in an audience Q&A session. So the films I worked on at Ronin seem to have followed me to the NFSA.

So your experience at Ronin Films gave you a good foundation for other work in the industry?

Working with Shine was especially useful. It was the perfect case study for me to learn how strategy, planning and working as a team under a solid vision (and a little bit of luck) can yield the most amazing success. I later moved to the exhibition side of the business as Operations Manager for Electric Shadows and Center Cinema in Canberra. Electric Shadows was the home of art-house cinema in Canberra. At Electric Shadows and the Center Cinema I had the privilege of doing the programming, local marketing and publicity, as well as hosting and working on events such as the Canberra International Film Festival, hosting our famous Preview Club sessions as well as Q&As. I got to meet and work with some of Australia’s finest directors, the most notable being Phil Noyce.

Danny leading a tour of the NFSA preservation areas with His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove.
Danny leading a tour of the NFSA preservation areas with His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC.

Tell us about your role at the NFSA.

I started at the NFSA in 2006 as a Film and Video Archivist. The depth and breadth of Australia’s screen and sound culture blew me away, especially when I was exposed to my first quality control screening from our nitrate preservation program.

Later I had the chance to work as Film and Video Specialist where I was responsible for the Atlab/Kodak and Deluxe/Kodak projects to preserve classic Australian feature films through a fantastic partnership with Atlab (who later became Deluxe) and Kodak. I negotiated agreements with filmmakers to include their titles in the project and worked with Atlab who facilitated the lab work in their Lane Cove premises. Six films were preserved while I was in the role, the most notable being Malcolm (1986).

I also had the privilege of finishing the restoration project for Wake In Fright (1971), as well as being a part of theNFSA team that formulated its release to market which included entry into the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

Digitisation is a big issue at the moment – how are you meeting the challenge?

The team’s preservation skills need to cover the expanse of the earliest forms of media through to today’s modern digital formats. One of the most rewarding things is being part of a team that is growing and transitioning into new digital frontiers. There are significant challenges such as that facing the magnetic media collection and our understanding of Deadline 2025, which poses big questions for us. We are doing the best we can within our means, but it may not be enough. The risk is that we may lose large parts of our Australian culture and identity forever.

What do you get up to outside of the NFSA?

I play indoor cricket. If I hadn’t fallen into film I wanted to play cricket for Australia. Sadly, that was never to be! I’m also a big fan of television series and occasionally find myself bingeing on the latest Netflix offering.

I love to travel and see new parts of the world with my friends and family.

 

I love to cruise and have mainly cruised Europe – the Mediterranean, Baltic and a river cruise on the Danube from Budapest to Amsterdam. I’ve also cruised the South Pacific and New Zealand.

My favourite place to go back to is Rome, but I also have an affinity with Amsterdam as that is where my mother’s family is from. I was in Egypt on the first cruise ship to go there after the 2011 revolution. Seeing Tahrir Square where the protests had occurred and seeing the devastation of the looting, especially in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, really hit home as to how lucky we are in Australia and it highlighted for me the significant responsibility we have as custodians of our culture.

The getaway car from Malcolm (1986) split in two.
The getaway car from Malcolm (1986)

And your favourite collection item?

Not my favourite but the most unusual thing I’ve seen was Franklyn Barrett’s false teeth. They arrived as part of his collection that our curators had acquired. I’m pretty sure they weren’t selected for preservation though! But my favourite item in the collection is the car from Malcolm (1986), the one that splits into two. How that thing was ever able to be driven is beyond me. It’s going on temporary display soon at the NFSA so I’m really looking forward to that.