History of the ANU Film Group

Small Beginnings

The ANU Film Group began life in late 1965 with sporadic film screenings. Regular screenings didn’t start until 1966, with programmes published at the time still in existence and currently archived at the National Library.

All screenings were from 16mm film in the Physics Lecture Theatre, near Bruce Hall on the ANU campus. Screenings eventually moved to the H.C. Coombs Lecture Theatre (our current venue) in third term of 1968. In 1973, the Group managed to acquire 35mm film projectors and had them installed into the theatre. These projectors were some years old, however, and soon had to be replaced.

In 1975, the Group managed to convince the University to jointly fund a completely new set of projection equipment, consisting of two 35mm projectors, and one 16mm projector. The Group's half of the funding for this equipment was lent to it by the University and slowly paid back over a number of years, with the equipment ultimately being donated to the University following the repayment of the loan.

Through Difficult Times

The early 1980s was a difficult time for the Group due to falling membership levels. This was not a problem unique to the Group; cinema attendance was falling all over the world due to the introduction of home video equipment and the sudden surge in video hire shops. The Group’s finances were stretched badly and the Committee was forced to give serious consideration to winding up the group on a number of occasions. Thankfully, they persevered and by the late 1980s, membership levels had begun reaching record highs with each passing year.

In 1990, the Group arranged for the purchase and installation of Dolby Stereo sound. This also necessitated the acquisition of a replacement screen because the old screen didn’t allow for sound transmission through it (a requirement of Dolby Stereo’s centre speaker). Once again, the University agreed to jointly fund this equipment, the total cost of which came to some $22,000. This time, however, the Group needed no loan and paid for its half in one payment.

At the same time, a closer inspection of the Group’s financial records by the Committee found that the records were in such a poor state that the Group could not be effectively audited. Changes were then put into place and passed by resolution in 1991 that dramatically altered the way the records were kept, and introduced film hire journals, projectionist and freight logs, among other accounting practices.

A Major Achievement

The beginning of 1996 saw the purchase and installation of Dolby Digital Sound (SR-D), together with the replacement of all amplifiers and speakers. The processor had just been released by Dolby and the ANU Film Group (by sheer coincidence) managed to receive the first one in the country! This meant that a voluntary, not-for-profit University film society had the most technically advanced equipment in the country at the time, surpassing all commercial cinemas in what was a major achievement for the Group.

The purchase and installation of this equipment cost over $52,000, and the University was only willing to contribute $10,000 of it, as opposed to the 50-50 split they had agreed to in the past. Therefore, a decision was made by the Group to reappropriate the University’s fund to instead commission electronic security for the projection room and speakers, and to install sound absorption panelling on the rear walls of the theatre. The Group’s operations had been so successful over the preceding few years that it had built up enough capital to completely pay for the $52,000 sound system upgrade all by itself.

The start of 1997 saw a bigger screen installed, together with an upgrade to the existing projectors for brighter lamps and new lenses. The cost of this (approximately $18,000) was once again borne entirely by the Group.

Throughout 1998, the Committee worked to purchase new 35mm film projectors for the Group, once more with the assistance of the ANU. This was completed in late 1998, and the projectors were installed for the start of the 1999 university year. At the same time, membership levels continued to rise, with the number of members exceeding 2000 for the first time in Semester One, 1999.

The New Millennium

In 2000 the Group turned its attention to improving the administrative side of the Group. This involved updating the membership and guests tracking system from paper cards to a fully computerised system. Semester One, 2000 also saw the largest single program the Group has ever run, with over 120 feature films shown.

The Group celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2006 with a number of events to commemorate the milestone, including a Cineball, mystery screenings and our first ever Annual Trivia Night. In 2007, the Group introduced a third membership option in addition to Annual and Semester memberships: the Weekly membership, allowing for entry into all screenings within seven days from the date of purchase. This proved to be particularly attractive for those only wishing to catch one or two screenings, as well as for visitors from out of town.

The Present

As of 2013, the ANU Film Group is still going strong and is currently looking into digital projection technology in light of the changing nature of film distribution in Australia and the gradual phasing out of 35mm film. Be sure to keep an eye on this space for more exciting changes to the Group coming up very soon!

Written with contributions from Craig McGill and Robert Ewing.