Local veteran film enthusiast Tony Wickert will be sharing his love of film fortnightly with the Bellingen Shire, with the support of the Bellingen Community Arts Council. The Bellingen Vintage Film Club will meet at The Nexus Gallery to watch vintage films, with a discussion about the film to be led by Tony. Tony’s career actually began as an actor with the ‘Independent Theatre’ in North Sydney in the 1950s when he was only 18 years old, under the tutelage of Dame Doris Fitton. When asked if the dramatic arts were his calling, Tony revealed “it was more to fix a speech impediment.” He later joined Hayes Gordon’s classes which eventually became the Ensemble Theatre in North Sydney, of which Tony was a founding member. This time afforded Tony his first stage roles, including the lead in a George Bernard Shaw play. Even in these early days, Tony was fascinated by directing and film and was dabbling in 8mm film with his acting buddies at the Ensemble. However, at this time his career was in acting, securing parts in several early Australian films then with ABC television, before landing the 2nd lead role in the TV series “Whiplash”. This was the first Australian TV series ever made, with funding and support from America and Britian. Tony’s modest account of the audition process had the director announcing “if you can ride a horse, you’re a contender.” However, Tony does acknowledge that this was the biggest break in his career, despite lying about his horse-riding proficiency. After 18 months of secure work on this series, Tony had one return play at the Ensemble, acting with Reg Livermore and Lorraine Bailey, before setting off for London in 1961.
Initially Tony worked as a screen actor in London, playing the lead in a B Feature film “The Painted Smile” and other parts at Shepparton, then at MGM at Bourham Wood and with Rediffusion TV. He then made the move to the other side of the camera. Tony managed to get a coveted ‘holiday relief job’ at BBC1, when the staff would be holidaying in Europe. Tony realised this could be be his big chance, so set about “doing good things.” He must have impressed, as he managed to secure full-time employment at the BBC. Two years later, a 2nd BBC TV Channel was created- BBC2. Tony realised he “was in the right place at the right time,” as he was given a place on the ‘New Directors Program’, a very competitive 6 week intensive course. He does acknowledge his good fortune, “a working class boy from Sydney was making it at the BBC.”
During his time at the BBC, Tony directed the first ever ‘live’ colour TV drama ‘Thirty Minute Theatre’. This was broadcast to millions of viewers live, which was “both exhilarating and terrifying,” says Tony. Later as a freelancer he directed for Westward TV in Plymouth, Yorkshire TV in Leeds, and LWT in London. In 1972, Tony established Liberation Films in London. Then followed several years teaching film and television at North East London Polytechnic, then 6 months with UNESCO and the Ford Foundation teaching at the All India Film Institute. These years were devoted to more political and community development projects. He directed the first ever documentary on women’s liberation and was involved in a documentary revealing the “truth about the Vietnam War.”
At this time the Thatcher Government were “removing grants from the arts and interfering with education and Britain’s cultural development,” explains Tony, so he and his wife Rosie realised it was time to leave England. They returned to Sydney, Tony at the behest of the Australian Film and Television School to teach Directing and Multi Camera, eventually becoming co-head of the inaugural Directing Workshop. Later he became head of AFTRS’s Industry Training Program. Following AFTRS, Tony coached TV directors on the Specialist Trainee Program at ABCTV in Sydney until becoming TAFE’s Industry Specialist for Arts and Media (1991-92). As a freelancer Tony taught screen acting at NIDA, Ensemble Studios, The Actors Centre in Sydney, Film & Television Institute (WA), among many others. He currently runs classes in Coffs Harbour and Sydney for Screenskill, which he founded in 2000 with Denny Lawrence and Graham Thorburn. Tony is also a principal of Summer Hill Media in Sydney which he launched in 1982.
Tony knows that a truly poignant film can “arouse us in so many ways.” Film has the capacity to “broaden people’s lives and way of thinking,” says Tony and this is his vision in creating the Bellingen Vintage Film Club. To leave a film in silence is “sacrilege,” as film should “evoke intense discussion if the director’s vision has been realised.”