How Winton has become the Outback Hollywood
WINTON in western Queensland, population 875 at the last Census, might seem a unlikely place for an international film festival.
Hollywood,California, became the world capital of movie-making early last century basically because of its hot, dry sunny climate and the rugged diversity of its scenery.
Hot and dry, rocky hills and ranges, sweeping deserts... this sounds like Winton,177 kilometres northwest of Longreach and 1500 kilometres from Brisbane where the clear blue sky is a sharp contrast to the red rocky ranges and the yellow-brown of the plains.
The hills and gorges behind Hollywood became familiar scenery backgrounds for wild horse chases and panoramic vistas.
Film-makers have found the country around Winton the perfect setting for movies like Goldstone, Mystery Road, The Proposition where the "baddies'' can hide among the rocky outcrops and the roads stretch flat as far as the eye can see.
The whole region is a giant film set. Even the town has some attractively derelict buildings.
The Vision Splendid Film Festival was inspired by the Sundance Film Festival in the US. It is now in its sixth year,and Australia's only outback film festival and the only festival dedicated to Australian film culture.
The Vision Splendid is a phrase from the iconic bush ballad Clancy of the Overflow. Its author Banjo Paterson penned the even more famous Waltzing Matilda when he holidayed near Winton in 1895.
The Waltzing Matilda Centre, the first museum in the world dedicated to a song, made national headlines and dramatic pictures when it burnt down in the early hours of a June morning in 2015. Its $22million replacement opened last year.
The Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival began in 2014, after Mystery Road was made and premiered in Winton in October 2013. The group that celebrated at a special dinner the night of the premiere came up with the idea of a film festival in the Outback.
"That inaugural festival had 1041 people attending. Last year we had 3463,an increase of 233 percent in 5 years" said Festival Director Mark Melrose'
"We've estimated that since its inception the Festival has delivered over $10 million into the local economy."
Like Sundance,Vision Splendid aims to encourage and inspire young people in the whole breadth of the industry from cinematography and production,sound and lighting to business management and funding.
So among its most enthusiastic participants are students who have a rare opportunity to meet with stars and producers,and to get involved in all aspects of film-making in unique and dramatic locations.
They come from Griffith Film School and the University of NSW, but also from the Beijing Film Academy and the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts in China, Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore,Tokyo's University of the Arts, the Film and Television Institute of India, Falmouth University in England.
There are local students too from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and the Centre for Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art.
With other visitors they can go on tours of the locations for Mystery Road,The Proposition and Goldstone.
One of the festival themes, for the year 2017, was Dinosaurs because this is a region that was once home to roaming dinosaurs and now has the world-famous Age of Dinosaurs museum.
Winton also boasts one of the only two remaining open air cinemas operating in Australia,a central feature of the festival. It's a unique experience to watch a movie under stars,in the old deck chairs that were once standard in picture houses around Australia.
The Vision Splendid which runs for nine days from Friday, June 28,is not the only festival in town throughout the year. There are a group of others which could earn Winton the title of the Festival Capital of Queensland.
Earlier this year there was the Way Out West festival where Amy Shark,Missy Higgins,John Williamson were drawcards for a crowd of 3000.
Yet to come is the Outback Writers Festival,from June 25th to the 27th when Melbourne barrister Benjamin Lindner will talk about his controversial new book, the latest on Waltzing Matilda.Also there will be Fiona McArthur whose book Red Sand Sunrise sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
Then there's the Opal Festival on July 12 and 13th because Winton is the home of boulder opal,mined at Opalton,a unique settlement of digs and diggers 123 kms away.
The Junior Bush Poetry Festival,Australia's largest bush poetry festival for youngsters takes place on September 19th.
And in September,from the 24th to the 28th, we have the Outback Festival billed as Five Days of pure outback fun which includes,according to the blurb "the eagerly anticipated dunny derby".
In Winton, there's something for everyone!
Sallyanne Atkinson AO has been a board member of the Waltzing Matilda Centre at Winton for 20 years.