Reviews / Comments

A Place Called Robertson Documentary

Howard Greive, Assignment Advertising

Tony Williams is one of the great film makers. His early documentaries about aspects of New Zealand are genius. This one I’m sure will be another.

Ben Quilty, Artist, winner of Archibald prize

Hi tony, the light you shine on all of rural Australia glows with such warmth I cried!

Philip Bailey, former assistant to Yehudi Menuhin

The crescendo of sustained applause at the end of the film last night was testament to the huge enjoyment of the audience.  Congratulations

Neil Lawrence, owner – Lawrence Creative Strategy 

A Place Called Robertson is a truly wonderful gift that will live on for many many years. And I fully expect it will engage audiences well beyond that. The music is fabulous. It has charm and fun and surprise and approaches the subject with warmth and an open heart and mind. You can’t ask for more than that.

Andrew Ford composer/broacaster ABC ‘The Music Show’

Just a quick line to congratulate you properly on what I think is a very good film. It seems to me that it has a real and persuasive shape to it, gets us in early and then leads us on a journey that, while never obvious, is quite carefully calculated to keep our interest and even produce an element of mild suspense. Beautifully shot, beautifully edited

Excerpts from a speech given by Mr Gareth Ward MP to the NSW Legislative Assembly 27 March 2013:

I was extremely pleased to join a large crowd of Robertson residents who invaded the Empire Cinema in Bowral to watch a 72 minute feature documentary called A Place Called Robertson by Four Donkey Films, which took three years to produce. I acknowledge Tony Williams and Anna Hewgill, who organised this fantastic event and produced the film. I was so impressed by how they captured the essence and flavour of the town, and its personalities both big and small. I was incredibly impressed by the quality of the documentary. I hope that Tony and Anna enter the film into some film festivals later in the year because I am certain it will be a huge hit. Tony and Anna must be congratulated on their tremendous production and on promoting the great town of robertson. They have done our region proud and I recognise them and the town of Robertson, which is so worthy of such a befitting tribute on the silver screen.

Gareth Ward Member of Parliament Kiama

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Mary Moody has been an ABC Presenter, a documentary film maker, a journalist and is now a recognised and best seller author of many books. Here she reviews Tony and Anna Williams feature documentary A Place Called Robertson.

A Place Called Robertson

When award-winning film director Tony Williams and his musician wife Anna relocated from hectic Sydney to the tranquil village of Robertson in the Southern Highlands, the last thought on their minds was producing a self-funded, feature-length documentary. Delighted with their new lifestyle, they focused on developing small farming skills, studying pasture improvement, animal husbandry and vegetable growing. They lovingly chipped away at restoring a triangle of exquisite native rainforest, and slowly spread feelers into the local community. What they discovered surprised and delighted them.

Perched on the edge of a rocky escarpment that drops down to Wollongong and the ocean, Robertson is a moist and misty micro-climate that has attracted an eclectic band of artistic newcomers, rubbing shoulders with the old farming brigade in surprising harmony. These local characters – from the all-seeing and all-knowing Heather who runs a small village supermarket, to the arm-waving and outspoken Dyan who has been known to chase her cattle up the Illawarra Highway wearing gumboots, a dressing gown and tiara – were irresistible fodder for Tony and Anna’s creativity. Having started his long career as a cameraman and editor, Tony pulled out his camera and lenses, handed Anna the sound recording equipment, and together they tentatively started interviewing the dozens of interesting people that they met. The outcome of this three-year project is one of the most charming and visually exciting portraits ever captured of Australian rural life.

Roberston is known simply as Robbo to the locals, and their love for this lush little corner is quite obvious. With its pub, church, railway station, art gallery and smart pizzeria, it has a lot to offer city refugees who include well known composers Andrew Ford and Stephen Fearnley and artists John Olsen, Ben Quilty and Carlos Barrios. There are retired theatricals, writers, singers and academics who have embraced local traditions including the annual Robbo Agricultural Show which has been going since 1879.  For a village of its size, this show is a huge annual event, kept popular because it’s not just rides and tawdry showbags –there are events and competitions and everyone participates, from the smallest sack-racing children to their fruit-cake baking great grandmothers. It’s all about tradition, and the highlight of the show is the potato race, when muscly young farmers race each other around the showground, lugging a 50 kilo bag of spuds on their shoulders. Great stuff!

There is just so much going on in Robertson it’s hard to keep up – the musical society, the chamber music group, the ukulele club, the old railway society, the old machinery club, the football and hockey clubs, the film appreciation group and so it goes on.  It’s obvious people here love to have fun, but there’s a more serious and feisty side to their character. When threatened by unacceptable development they unite en masse, and fight to retain the essence of their small town. Apathy is not a word that applies to this rural idyll.

One of the most poignant scenes in the film is the ‘vanishing farmer’. Once, more than 200 families worked this fertile land as a rich dairy and vegetable-growing region. Potatoes were king. Now there are two families growing spuds, the others driven away by falling profit margins and soaring land values. It’s just not feasible to sit on an asset worth a million dollars (or more) when you can’t put food on the table. This is a tragic reflection of the plight of so many farming families in this country.

What Tony and Anna have chronicled in their film is the true spirit of the place.  The sweeping camera catches the mood of the ever-changing weather, as mist and cloud spill from the valleys and swirls around the houses. The free-spirited children racing their bikes by creeks and country lanes; the local artists wandering towards the cemetery for a communal painting session. The sound track combines the warm, wise and witty voices of the characters, interwoven with a music track that more often than not comes from the creative heart of the community. The quirkiness and eccentricities of some locals has been shared with such affection – never the judgmental voyeurism that bombards us with unkind reality television. It’s a delicate balancing act, carried off skillfully.

A Place Called Roberston is a gem of a film. It’s funny, frank and at times downright hilarious. It will make every Australian yearn for a way of life that, sadly, is becoming more and more impossible to achieve.

Mary Moody March 2013.

Tony and Anna Williams have captured well the spirit of the community, and the physical beauty of the district. They also show our quirks and a few “crazies” as well, which is good, because we are not all saints and movie-stars. Far from it. The visual beauty of the film stems from the district, but the character of the people is what really shines through. Robertson somehow attracts, or even creates, interesting people who combine to be a strongly bonded community. We share the mists, the rain, the mud and the occasional sunshine, and blossom into a beautiful flower which you get to see bloom in “A place called Robertson”.

Denis Wilson

Richard Ruhfus, owner of Empire Cinema complex Bowral

It was a great celebration. The comments are so encouraging

Byron Bay Film Festival

Dear Tony

Thank you so much for your patience, I am sorry to say that although your film was on our preferred list for inclusion it did not make it into the final BBFF2014 Official Selection – only because there were quite literally no spots left. You made it to the very final stage of selection  (700 filmmakers have received their rejection letters already) and so please take heart that this is no reflection on your film as we would have loved to have included it – your work stood out to us but we are just not in the position to put any more than the 50 sessions we already run. I’m not just saying that either to make you feel better – your film was in the last 20 we’ve had to let go of. If we had the population base, sponsorship or manpower to support creating enough extra screenings for the handful of films like yours that are a perfect fit for BBFF we would do it. You got lots of 5 stars from our team. Including me – we’re just keen to get bigger so we can find a home for all of the films we loved. We wish you the best in 2014 and on the festival circuit.
Apologies

Jaimee
BBFFs Festival Director


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