Production company: Stockton Ferri Films
Budget: A$36,000 (Oxford Australian Film), with most coming from the General Production Fund of the federal government investment body Australian Film Commission. Bob Hill was first offered a "loan" (effectively a grant) towards the production of the film by the Film and Television Board of the Australian Council for the Arts, approved by PM Gough Whitlam on 28th December 1973. The initial amount was for $10,212. The NFSA also lists assistance from the Music Board of the Australia Council. In an interview with the Adelaide Advertiser on 27th April 1978, producer Robert Hill put the final cost at $38,000.
Filmed: listed as editing, Cinema Papers production survey June/July 1976. Two week shoot, with the surreal end sequence done after Safran finished shooting Storm Boy.
Locations: Sydney, in areas then frequented by homeless people - Haymarket, Belmore Park, tunnels around Central, tip near airpot at Mascot, etc.
Australian distributor: Self-distributed
Australian release: June 1977 Sydney Film Festival, then 5th September 1977 at the Union Theatre, University of Sydney. It received a television screening two years later on the Ten Network's Australian Playhouse series (Tuesday January 29th 1980 at 9.30 pm)
16mm colour Eastmancolor 7247
Running time: 52 mins (Oxford Australian Film), 53 mins (NSFA)
Box office: minimal. The point of short features of this kind at this point in the Australian film revival was to achieve a success d'estime, which would lead to feature films, though in this case director Henri Safran had already got to do Storm Boy before Listen to the Lion was given a limited release.
In his review of the film for Cinema Papers, Basil Gilbert outlined the difficulties a 16mm film faced on the indie/co-op/film society/festival circuit:
From a market research point of view, Listen to the Lion is something of a paradox, for it seems intent on breaking every rule of commercial success.
For a start, the film is a 53-minute short. This means that, like many of the Australian films made with the assistance of the Experimental or Creative Development funds, it must compete on the open market with petrol company documentaries and government travelogues which can be hired for a nominal fee or obtained gratis.
Secondly, the Eastmancolor print is in the 16mm 'substandard' gauge which restricts its commercial distribution to art houses and filmmakers' co-operatives.
Finally, the film deals with a subject most people would like to forget: the sufferings of aged male derelicts in a hostile urban environment.
Sydney Film Festival June 1977:
Best film, fiction section, GUO Film Distributors award.
Rouben Mamoulian award for the 'most distinguished Australian short film'.
The film was ignored in the AFI Awards.
Not known outside the archive. The archive has preservation materials, details here.
Apparently the film was once part of the AFI catalogue and released on VHS, but if that was the case, copies no longer circulate, not even amongst collectors.
Sadly the commercial problems which bedevilled 'short features' in the 1970s revival continued into the age of the DVD, and it is unlikely that the world will see a collection of these films issued at any time in the future. This is a pity because collectively they represent the flowering and/or experimentation of many who went on to make major feature films, including Gillian Armstrong (The Singer and the Dancer), Ken Cameron (Temperament Unsuited), and Stephen Wallace (The Love Letters From Teralba Road).
The film was written, produced and designed by Robert Hill, who had worked as a journalist in Sydney, and who later worked as a production assistant at Film Australia. Hill spent months researching the lives of Sydney homeless people, their refuges, their social codes and the places where they lived, especially around the Sydney city area of the Haymarket.
According to Basil Gilbert in Cinema Papers, the film was also inspired by John de Hoog's survey of derelicts in Sydney, published by Sun Books in 1972 with the title Skid Row Dossier, which also looked in detail at the Haymarket and related areas.
According to an interview in the Adelaide Advertiser on 27th April 1978, Hill spent some two months doing preliminary research (he hired sociologist Liz Fell to help him with the research). He started scripting in early 1974, travelling with "soup patrols", visiting flop houses and meeting derelicts in bush shelters and abandoned buildings.
Hill discovered that derros naturally resented being picked up by the police, but also had a dislike of the Salvation Army and other religious suppliers of charity, only grudgingly accepting the preaching as a way of gaining food and a bed.
The film explores something of this ambivalence by bringing the derelict Hunter (Wyn Roberts) up against an evangelical preacher played by John Derum.
The title for the film, Listen to the Lion, is a reference to the song with the same name by Van Morrison, which can be found on his sixth solo album St. Dominic's Preview.
Hill had intended to use the music - a long 11'07" track about lost love and lost opportunities and sailing to America for a brand new start - in the film, until rights and union issues made it too expensive.
(Below: the John de Hoog book that served as an inspiration for the film).
2. Henri Safran:
Director Henri Safran, who had recently returned from England, after working on British TV shows such as Softly, Softly and Love Story, was signed to direct.
Safran next directed Storm Boy, which was released before Listen to the Lion in 1976. This helped draw attention to his work in the short feature, a film which he is proud of and which he believes showed new paths that could be followed in the Australian feature film revival.
Safran himself had difficulties follow the path, and his next feature would be "Norman Loves Rose" in 1982, a strange Jewish-Australian comedy about a school-age student getting an older woman pregnant, followed by The Wild Duck with Jeremy Irions in 1983 and a re-make of Bush Christmas in 1983. Thereafter he mainly worked in television, making miniseries such as A Fortunate Life in 1985 and The Lancaster Miller Affair in 1990.