Jedda (1955) was a very controversial film at the time of its release. It was the first Australian film to use Aborigines as main characters. Director Charles Chauvel had some difficulty in finding financing for the film as a result of unsympathetic views of the indigenous society and the fear that it would be as costly as his previous film Sons of Matthew (1949). Therefore, Chauvel had to establish his own production company to finance this movie that aimed to provide a film "only Australia can give the world" (Cunningham 1987, section 4, para 1).
Despite difficulties that arose in filmmaking, Jedda proved to be an international success. It was the first Australian film to be shot in color, and this fact along with it being shot in the beautiful setting of the Northern Territory drew audiences worldwide. At its Australian premiere, the Sun-Herald regarded Jedda as the "best Australian film yet produced, full of action, and at the premiere here it made even the toughest territorians bring out their handkerchiefs" (The Sun-Herald 3 January 1956). Jedda was the first Australian film to be shown as the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, where it won for competing film. The film was released a year later in the UK, and in 1957 in the US as Jedda the Uncivilised, where it continued to be a commercial success.
Poster slogans for the film in Australia and internationally included:
"The magic of the native mating call was stronger than the habits of civilisation."
"Filmed in colour deep in the brooding savage expanses of an unexplored country."
"Filmed in colour against a never before seen background of grandeur."
"The drama of a girl torn between civilization and the call of her native instincts."
(from Publicity Files, ScreenSound Australia Collection)
In terms of its discursive importance in contemporary discussion, essayist Vijay Mishra (1987) regards Jedda as "the most successful of Aboriginal representations in a white Australian literary or fiction film form. The film is framed within available discourses and generic limitations - its high melodramatic note, mythic resonances and epic vistas are obvious to even the most casual viewer - but it has a strong authorial presence, an excitement and an awareness of the very radical nature of the experiment itself" (section 8, para 1).
Today, the film is still regarded as a momentous
occasion in Australian cinema. Andrew Urban (Urban Cinefile) attributes Jedda's
significance to its use of color, Aboriginal cast, and Arunte dialogue, which
was not used again until 1966 in Dead Heart.
Urban claims these aspects make the movie both tragic and entertaining for
its time, and remarkable as a historical Australian film.