Restoring a Significant Debut Film

BY ELENA GUEST

The NFSA has completed a full digital restoration of Rachel Perkins' acclaimed directorial debut, Radiance (1998).  

Emerging Indigenous Talent

Radiance (1998) was the first full-length feature directed by Arrernte woman Rachel Perkins. It was only the third feature film to be directed by an Australian Indigenous person and the second to have a commercial release. Based on a 1993 stage play by playwright Louis Nowra, who also wrote the screenplay, it was made on a shoestring budget and featured cinematography by a young Warwick Thornton.

The film was highly acclaimed on the domestic and international film festival circuit and won a slew of local awards for the cast and crew. Radiance was made at a time when Indigenous talent was being identified and supported by government funding agencies and broadcasters alike, including the now internationally recognised Screen Australia Indigenous Unit, which began in 1993.

This short behind-the-scenes clip from the film's electronic press kit features cinematographer Warwick Thornton on set, several years before he became an acclaimed director in his own right:

Secrets and Memories

The story centres around three sisters – played by Rachael Maza, Trisha Morton-Thomas and Deborah Mailman – who reunite following the death of their mother. Each of the women have led very different lives and they bring different perspectives to their relationships with their mother and with each other. Each character's journey involves reliving shared memories and revealing personal family secrets.

This behind-the-scenes clip features director Rachel Perkins and actress Rachael Maza (who plays Cressy):

The NFSA selected Radiance for restoration because of the significance of the film's talent, its cultural importance and our ongoing remit to digitally preserve our valuable 16mm film collection for future generations.

Restoring Radiance

Shot on Super 16mm, the restoration involved 3K scanning of the original A and B film rolls on a Northlight scanner, with postproduction partners Vandal. Prior to scanning the original A and B rolls, NFSA conservators conducted some conservation work on splices. The audio restoration was complex as the final mix was not one of the components held by the NFSA. Part of the audio restoration was completed in-house by the NFSA’s audio services department. 

To reach the exacting archival standards of digital restoration of heritage analogue material, an NFSA Restores title enjoys an automated pass through contemporary cleaning and grading software. To achieve optimum results, we follow this with an additional and time-consuming frame-by-frame analysis. After cleaning the original print negatives and scans, there were some residual vertical scratches that required additional work – and were painted, frame-by-frame, using Flame software.

The following paragraph and clip contain spoilers about the plot of Radiance.

The scratches mainly appeared over the sequences of the burning house. That house – located in Queensland – was burnt down for the film, so the crew had only one chance to shoot it. As an integral moment in the film’s narrative, it was key for us to ensure the restored result looked as good as it did upon first release. This behind-the-scenes clip shows Perkins and her crew shooting the burning of the house:

End spoiler

 

Back on the Big Screen

With all the restorations from the NFSA Restores program, the aim is to take the film back to how it was when it was first seen on the big screen. Whenever possible, we collaborate on a restoration with the filmmaker and, in this case, we worked with producer Ned Lander.

The restoration process doesn’t allow for any changes to lighting, framing, audio levels or changing edits or voice-overs. The end result shows what audiences saw when the film was first screened in 1998, but Radiance can now also be seen in today's digital cinemas.

Film credits – Director: Rachel Perkins; Producers: Ned Lander and Andrew Myer; Director of photography: Warwick Thornton; Original score: Alistair Jones; Screenplay: Louis Nowra, based on his play; Cast: Rachael Maza, Deborah Mailman and Trisha Morton-Thomas.

For inquiries about distribution, contact ned.lander [at] gmail.com (Ned Lander).