Dominic Case writes . . .

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

(Simon & Garfunkel, 1967).

I joined the Film and Broadcast Industry Oral History Group (FBIOHG as it was then) when it started in the early 1990s. At the time I was writing a research paper for the Australian Film Commission on the effects of changing technology in the film industry (incidentally, this was just before the digital revolution took hold of film), so I was interviewing filmmakers about changes in their working methods over the previous couple of decades. I lodged those interviews (on audio cassettes – talking of changing technology!) with the National Film and Sound Archive.

My interviewees were:

  • Harold Dews (editor, and former GM of Cinesound Movietone News)
  • Chris Noonan (director of Babe)
  • Yoram Gross (head of Yoram Gross studios, creator of Dot and the Kangaroo etc)
  • Dennis Noonan (MD of Samuelson Film Services Australia – camera rentals)
  • Matt Butler (experimental cinematographer)
  • Stephen F Smith (MD of post-production company Frameworks)

It is hard to find out how many of the NFSA’s collection of several thousand interviews have been accessed over the years, although I know that (apart from my own use), at least one of those interviews has been used recently as background research.

Yoram Gross holding an animation cel of Blinky Bill

My activities moved into other areas shortly after this, and although I returned to the group (now AMOHG) a few years ago, I confess to having conducted very few oral history interviews. But I believe passionately in the value of the form as a valuable way of recording and interpreting history. Here’s why:

  • There is no quicker and more effective way of capturing people’s memories of their own lives, work and circumstances than recording conversations with them. Moreover, the presence of a single, well-prepared interviewer can prompt more memories and insights than the subject would be likely to produce – say – writing biographical notes on their own, and the fact that the interview is recorded verbatim is often more telling than a subsequently written report of an interview would ever be. Tone of voice can say a lot!
  • Oral histories are an appropriate way of capturing a wide range of viewpoints of history: not just the high-profile directors, actors and broadcasters, but those specialists whose skills are so often lost as time moves on. Just as importantly, they will often cast a different light on people and events, and add extra depth to our impressions of the more well-known subjects.

So while it is so important to capture those memories before they fade (or get distorted by later events), it is also important that they are preserved and made easily discoverable and available: as written summaries, as complete transcriptions, and as downloadable and playable audio (and sometimes video) files.

Finally, one aspect of the film industry I’ve always enjoyed – perhaps more than any other – is that it brings together so many people of such varying talents and worldviews, in a common purpose. Actors, writers, directors, electrical engineers, lawyers, salespeople, producers, cinematographers, and a host of other specialists. And the members of AMOHG – the Audiovisual Media Oral History Group – are just such a group. Where else would you find a documentary filmmaker, a film historian, a lab technician, former heads of the Film School and the Film Commission, a union organiser and such a variety of others? We find so much in common with each other – from a variety of viewpoints in our industry – and a common passion to see its stories captured, preserved, shared and interpreted.

Dominic Case – July 2020

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