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Wednesday
Apr022014

R.I.P. DAVID HANNAY

Few come close to the unbridled joy that David Hannay felt for cinema. The Australian producer was at the forefront of the local film resurgence in the 1970’s and remained a passionate promoter of talent up until his passing, on Monday March 31, having been diagnosed with cancer in April 2012. He was 74.

Known for shepherding such productions as the Ozploitation classics Stone (1974) and The Man From Hong Kong (1975), Hannay was, in fact, the true ‘multi-hyphenate’. He stepped before his own cameras to fill bit parts, most recently in his 2001 family film, Hildegarde; provided uncredited screenplay doctoring in conjunction with his writers on several projects, despite only seeking one writing credit, on 1988’s The Shadowed Mind; and, would oversee pre- and post-production duties on his films with an encyclopaedic knowledge that earned him the utmost respect from his colleagues.

Born June 23, 1939, in New Zealand, he began his love affair with the performing arts at the age of nine, debuting on stage in a school production. By 1958, he had entry into the production sector with a casting assistant position at Artransa Park Studios in Sydney’s north-west for Leslie Norman’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (pictured, right; aka, Season of Passion), an international production of Ray Lawler’s Australian classic starring Ernest Borgnine, John Mills and Anne Baxter. He spent the next decade accumulating experience in a multitude of production tasks across both film and television mediums.

His first production credit would be in 1970, as executive producer on Frank Brittain’s groundbreaking drama, The Set. One of the earliest and most forthright depictions of homosexuality on Australian screens, it exhibited Hannay’s particular skill of combining hot-button social issues with insightful commentary and commercial instinct. This ethic secured him the role of Head of Production at Gemini Productions in 1970 and led to his guiding influence on such projects as the top-rating docos Jesus Christ Superstar (1972) and Kung Fu Killers (1974) and hit TV series The Godfathers, The People Next Door and The Unisexers.

In the early 70s, Hannay (pictured, left; in 1973) began developing a tough-minded undercover cop story set against the world of outlaw bikie gangs. The vision began to coalesce as a vehicle for wild-man actor/director Sandy Harbutt, whom Hannay had met whilst producing the 1972 TV movie Crisis. In 1974, the R-rated action thriller Stone was released and became a box-office smash; Hannay, who also had a production credit on the bawdy big-screen version of the TV series Number 96 and executive-produced Brian Trenchard-Smith’s The Man from Hong Kong, was at the forefront of one of the most commercially successful periods in Australian cinema history.

Hannay parlayed his profile into several interesting projects. He would co-produce with writer/director Tony Williams on the drama Solo (1978), an Australian-New Zealand co-production; exhibit a playful touch with Peter Maxwell’s action/comedy Touch and Go (1980), with Wendy Hughes and Chantal Contouri; cast up-and-comer Jon Blake in the thriller Early Frost (1982), a troubled production that saw Hannay step into the director’s chair for the only time in his career; and, secured Hollywood star James Coburn for his 1986 prestige picture, the true-life story Death of a Soldier, from director Phillipe Mora.

Other highlights from a production career spanning five decades include Oliver Schmitz’s anti-apartheid thriller, Mapantsula (1988; pictured, right), for which he was given the Human Rights Australia Film Award; George Miller’s Gross Misconduct (1993), with Jimmy Smits and Naomi Watts; Aden Young and Zoe Carides in Shotgun Wedding (1993), from director Paul Harmon; the Australian/French co-production, Love in Ambush (1997), adapted from Loup Durand’s novel by director Carl Schultz and starring Jacques Perrin and Sigrid Thornton; and, Murray Fahey’s black comedy/horror Cubbyhouse (2001), with Joshua Leonard. Hannay’s final producer’s credit was David Huggett’s 2012 musical documentary, Once Around The Sun.

David Hannay’s full silvery beard made him easy to spot at industry events, where he enjoyed networking with old friends and making many new ones (he was particularly proud of the thirteen first-time directors whose debut projects he produced). An avid attendee of the Cannes marketplace, the Screen Producer’s Association of Australia (SPAA) annual conference and the exhibitor/distributor confab The Australian International Movie Convention, the adoration for the late David Hannay can be measured by the honours bestowed upon him by his peers – the Producer’s and Director’s Guild Lifetime achievement honour in 1996; the Australian Cinema Pioneers Society highest honour, Pioneer of the Year; the inaugural Maura Fay Award recipient for industry service at the 2002 SPAA event; the coveted Raymond Longford award, the highest honour bestowed by the Australian Film Institute, in 2007; and, the National Film and Sound Archive Ken G Hall Award for Film Preservation in 2011.

A long time resident of Yeltholme in the New South Wales rural western region, he established the Bathurst Film Factory co-operative in November 2012, to foster the filmmaker talent in the area. In one of his final interviews, he spoke of influencing his favourite artform long after his demise, which he knew to be imminent. “Whatever time I’ve got, I want to devote to the next generation,” Mr Hannay said. “That’s my obligation, my passion.”

David Hannay is survived by his wife, author Mary Moody (pictured, right), and their four children. A memorial service will be held at a date to be advised in the weeks ahead.

Footnote: I spent many hours talking movies with David, a gentleman whose grace, enthusiasm and experience inspired me. I lunched with him in 2011, discussing a documentary project on the loss of regional cinemas, which I regret never came to fruition. The meeting went well into the afternoon, allowing David to reminisce about his career and friends. I will be forever grateful for the time he afforded me. My prayers go to his family. He will be missed.

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