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BURSTALL, TIM - Obituary

A celebration of Tim Burstall's life and work held on the April 30, 2004 at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image attracted a large crowd of film industry personalities including Alan Finney, David Williamson, Jack Thompson, Jacki Weaver, Ross Dimsey, Bruce Spence, Rob Copping, Dave Bilcock, John Waters and many more. Many, including Hugh Jackman and Sam Neill, also sent messages, some of which we publish here.

"His pioneering spirit is one of the only reasons we're all here today doing what we're doing, in an industry to call our own". - Jan Sardi, Writer "Shine" Director "Love's Brother"

"Tim Burstall's early success was a major factor in shaping the Australian Governmen't decision to provide ongoing support for a local film and television industry that produced Australian stories for Australian audiences" - Senator Rod Kemp, Minister for the Arts and Sport.

"One of the best days/nights I had was a lunch in Soho in London with Tim. It was loud and raucous and argumentative. We both loved it. So did the restaurant. I think they were waiting for the fight to begin after the yelling and shouting. Guess that's the diff with Aussies and Poms. It makes me smile now, thinking of Tim and like everyone here I remember him with great affection.

Thank Christ for Tim Burstall. His belief in our right and ability to have a film industry and to put us up there as we are, has given many of us meaning and direction in our lives.

Does God know what he's got on his hands? I reckon Hargeaves was standing at the Pearly Gates to meet Tim saying ' Come on in here, there's a few bastards need sorting out!' We need more Tim Burstalls. Australia is a lesser place today". - Bryan Brown, Actor / Producer

"Tim Burstall was a pivotal catalyst for me to become a producer. Back in 1973 Tim asked me to Production Manage and First AD Alvin Purple. Why? Because I'd been fortunate to have been an AD recently then on big overseas movies like Age of Consent and Ned Kelly, so I was one of the few with any feature experience.

So I signed on, then watched in varying degrees of astonishment, amusement, admiration and relief as Tim shot a movie the Australian way. Somehow he made a very tough 4 week shoot in a freezing Melbourne winter fun to be part of. Believe me, having had a horrible time as an AD on 10 and 12 week shoots for big studios, Tim's approach was an eye opener. Tim was friendly, direct, powerfully articulate, fiercely intelligent but very funny to be around – a life force whose very presence said - everything is possible. We came in on schedule and it was a hit!

Inspired by his unstoppable courage and resilience under fire, my brother and I within six months had produced Peter Weir's The Cars That Ate Paris, then we went on with Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, etc, etc, etc.

Fast forward 22 years. Its 1995 now and I've got Blue Heelers shooting in Melbourne, its on air, its starting to do okay, but typically biting off more than I can chew, I've also come up with Water Rats - a police action show set on water and based on an island in Sydney Harbour. Madness. I knew I needed someone strong, agile, good with actors, able to help them build the characters, find the humour, get it done and keep everyone smiling. Who do you call? Tim Burstall of course. So I asked Tim to direct the first episode and he did it beautifully, graceful under pressure, always raring to go with that mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

157 episodes later, cast and crew still speak of him with affection and admiration.

Tim may have passed on but his legacy through his family and his work lives on - indeed will never be forgotten by the lucky ones like me who'd worked with him.

Go kick arse in heaven Tim. Love your work mate". - Hal McElroy, McElroy Television Pty Ltd

"Tim Burstall was always such a big presence ... A pioneer in Australian film, an ecclectic, artistic character, a kind man who spoke kind words ...he will be remembered by many as a man who lived a big life, surrounded by family and friends, who was celebrated right to the end. - Deborra-Lee and Hugh Jackman, Actor / Director and Actor

"He was a good sort, and will be missed by many. I'm glad I had a chance to get to know such a character." - Sam Neil, Actor

Graeme Blundell, the star of Tim Burstall's ocker film Alvin Purple (1973), described Burstall as the father of the Australian film industry. He told The Australian that Burstall "was battling against brick walls to get anywhere. The film industry at that point was completely imperialised and Tim thrust through that."

Burstall's former business partner Alan Finney, now general manager of Australian-based film distributor Buena Vista International, described Burstall as an innovator. Finney worked with Burstall at Hexagon Productions and helped produce Alvin Purple. He said Burstall was, " a fantastic, creative film-maker, who had a good sense of business strategies".

Tim's son Tom Burstall, a film producer married to actress Sigrid Thornton, said his father was a major figure in the revitalisation of the Australian film industry. He said his father "was a great conceptualiser and activist on behalf of the film industry and took personal responsibility for its development." "I think the Australian public and the industry will remember him for essentially pioneering the industry. If he had not proved that you could make commercial films, that there was an audience, I don't think you'd have an industry today."

Published April 30, 2004

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