Production company: Vega Productions Pty. Ltd.
Budget: variously $130,000 (David Stratton) and $145,000 (Cinema Papers' production report). The latter figure is more likely, but in any case the budget was low - it was partially funded by the federal government investment agency the Australian Film Commission - according to Stratton, the agency put in $70,000 and the rest of the budget was deferments.
Locations: south Gippsland, Victoria (coastal regions), Westernport, Carlton, Melbourne
Filmed: September-October 1975, reported as in editing in November-December 1975 edition of Cinema Papers; Stratton puts it as "late winter".
Australian distributor: Filmways
Australian release: Tuesday 17th August 1976, Melbourne as the opening attraction for the Australian Film Institute's new cinema the Longford in South Yarra.
35 mm Eastmancolor
Running time: 91 mins (Oxford Australian Film)
Box office: poor. The film had a short run in Melbourne, and then intermittent screenings in other states (it turned up for example as part of a double bill at the Village Twin Double Bay in the David Stratton Showcase as second feature in a double bill with The Lacemaker in February 1979).
Unsurprisingly, the film is not listed in the Film Victoria report on Australian box office, as it only did art house and indie business, and was never given a mainstream release.
The film picked up a few nominations in the 1976 Australian Film Institute Awards. The two leads competed with each other for Best Actress, but Helen Morse won:
Nominated, Best Screenplay sponsored by the Greater Union Organisation (John Duigan) (Fred Schepisi won with The Devil's Playground)
Nominated, Best Actress, sponsored by Hoyts Theatres (Judy Morris) (Helen Morse won for Caddie)
Nominated, Best Actress, sponsored by Hoyts Theatres (Briony Behets) (Helen Morse won for Caddie)
Not known outside the archive. If your idea of watching a ninety minute feature film is to watch a few clips, then the ASO has three short samples here, unfortunately in open matte 4:3.
Perhaps in due course someone will get around to releasing a copy on DVD - there was talk at one point that Umbrella would do it - not least because the film has a solid cast (Judy Morris and Briony Behets are both worth watching and both were nominated as Best Actress in the 1976 AFI Awards) and because the film represents a major step in director John Duigan's career.
It would have made an ideal double bill with director Duigan's Mouth to Mouth, which was given a good release on disc by Umbrella after many years of being unavailable for general viewing.
John Duigan wrote and directed The Trespassers in 35mm at the age of 27, and while more coherent than, and a step up from, his first 16mm feature, The Firm Man, it remained a brooding, introspective affair, with the best bits arising from the warmth in the scenes between the two women.
In an interview at the launch of the film in Melbourne (The Age August 19th 1976) Duigan talked of a private approach to film making - "like the street theatre plays he acted in during the moratorium demonstrations - as a way to "throw up ideas for people to think about."
"I'm not motivated to make a film just for entertainment, although it's pointless to make an ideological statement which is utterly boring," he said.
"At the moment I'm interested in film as a catalyst for ideas, to try to crystallise trends in society and again to give people something to think about to make up their own minds."
His films concentrated on positive and constructive views of society, not exploitative situations.
David Stratton in his 1980 survey of the 1970s revival, The Last New Wave, provided more detail on the development of the project:
The Trespassers was conceived as a film about people whose politics on the broad scale were, as Duigan saw it, admirable - who opposed the war in Vietnam, contributed to the peace movement and exposed allied atrocities - but whose personal politics were in a state of confusion. He was also interested in the early days of the feminist movement and its impact on the society he knew, the Carlton society. He had observed at first hand the impact of the women's movement on relationships and he found this one of the most dynamic social forces of the seventies. The characters of Dee, Penny and Richard were not consciously based on specific people Duigan knew at the time, but were amalgams of many people. Certainly he was familiar with this kind of backgroud; the radical journalist, the would-be writer, the actress from a radical theatre group.
Duigan's screenplay, incorporating these characters and story elements, was approved by the Australian Film Commission and Richard Brennan was brought on to the project as executive producer, an important decision considering Duigan's inexperience in the area of 35mm theatrical feature film production. It was Brennan who suggested that Judy Morris play the role of Dee, having already worked with the actress on The Great McCarthy; Duigan had always been keen to have Briony Behets play Penny, having seen some of her television work and feeling certain she deserved a better fate than The Box. This casting combination proved hugely successful and would give the film its strong centre.
Since his decision to try to work fulltime in cinema, Duigan had been undergoing a process of self-education in film; he greatly increased his cinema-going and learnt as much as he could from observations of the work of other people. Vincent Monton, the director of photography, was also immensely helpful in giving the film its clean visual look.
Because of the low budget, the film was shot more like a 16mm feature than 35mm, with the stock being one of the few indulgences.
The film opened at the Longford in Melbourne, with the world premiere also being the opening bow for the AFI's new arthouse theatre.
Reviewers were generally supportive, if a little nervous about the threshold of audience tolerance for the introspection, but the audience caught a whiff of the mood and stayed away. The film didn't travel internationally either.
According to David Stratton in The Last New Wave, Duigan later thoght he made a mistake opening the film at the Longford.
Originally Filmways had agreed to distribute the film through their Melbourne and Sydney Dendy theatres, but it was thought that the publicity surrounding the opening of the Longford would help the film:
The film fared poorly at the Longford and in retrospect Duigan feels he made a mistake in agreeing to open the film there since it took a while for the cinema to become established (by the end of the decade it was an extremely important art cinema outlet in the city). "The film never really recovered from the disappointment of its initial opening," Duigan says. Filmways lost interest in it and it was not until February 1979 that it had its first Sydney release, as a support to The Lacemaker at the Showcase at Double Day. It deserved a much better fate.
Looking back, it seems too easy to blame the cinema. The film didn't attract signifcant audiences wherever and whenever it opened.
But what wasn't of interest at the time now as a certain anthropological and culturall appeal, because the film can be seen as a reflection of a time and a place in Australia when the idea of middle-class relationships and alternative possibilities was going through a bout of intense discussion and reflection.
Setting the film in 1970 allowed a little bit of distance but also allowed director Duigan to explore activities - anti-Vietnam war resistance, alternative theatre, the Melbourne/Carlton intellectual scene - which personally engaged him - he was, after all, a member of the Pram Factory/APG collective.
Being cruel, it might be said that this film was Duigan's equivalent to Tim Burstall's earlier exploration of relationships, 2000 Weeks, though in this case the two women turn the tables on the discontented journalist.
Perhaps more importantly, the lack of interest persuaded Duigan to change gears, and his next film would be Mouth to Mouth, featuring the energetic punkish world of young people doing their best to survive on the streets.
In retrospect, that too had the whiff and flavour of a middle class view of things, but it also had energy and an absence of navel-gazing of an introspective kind.