Production

 

The production of Jedda was a lengthy and laborious process. Chauvel began searching for film sites in early 1952 and continued until July 1953. Filming in the Northern Territory took five months, and editing sounds and color in Sydney Avondale Studios took up most of 1954 (Cunningham 1987). The color of the film proved a major task in itself because it was made on the newly established color process of the time, Gevacolor. This very fragile system required storage in the cool caves to prevent deterioration from the hot temperatures of the outback. Exposed film had to be flown to London for processing since there were no labs in Australia that could process Gevacolor. Also, last minute filming had to take place in the Blue Mountains after final scenes were lost in a plane crash (Great Moments on the Australian Screen).

Years later the film continued to encounter problems when Gevacolor proved to be unstable, and the prints and negatives faded. In 1972 Elsa Chauvel found tri-separations in a vault in London and was able to save the film. Tri-separations are three black and white negatives made from a color print of red, blue, and green filters. When printed back on color stock tri-separations can give a pretty good reproduction of the original film. Unfortunately, shrinkage of some film and loss of some soundtrack was unable to be avoided (Great Moments on the Australian Screen).

The cast of Jedda was a first in Australian cinema in that it hired actual Aborigines to play Aborigines. Jedda, played by Ngarla Kunoth, and Marbuck, played by Robert Tudawali, contributed to an authentic Aboriginal cast that Charles Chauvel sought to produce an authentic Australian film. Chauvel worked with Bill Harney on collecting information about Aboriginal culture. Chauvel also accredited Marbuck's character to his native name 'Robert Tudawali', and not the name given to him by Native Affairs, 'Bobbie Wilson.' (The Herald-Sun Times 25 March 2003).

Chauvel was a head figure in the Australian film industry during the 1930s to the 1950s, and his exceptional roles as director, writer, and producer for Jedda proved him even more triumphant. After the success of his film Sons of Matthew in 1949, despite local worries of international impact, Chauvel and his wife Elsa sought to tell a uniquely Australian story that could only come from Australia. Elsa began writing the story of Jedda, the true account of an Aboriginal girl torn between two races. Charles established his own production company under the name Charles Chauvel Productions Ltd. The companies that had produced his earlier movies, Expeditionary Films Ltd. (Herritage 1935, and Uncivilised 1936), Famous Feature Films (Forty Thousand Horsemen 1940), Chamun Productions (Rats of Tobruk 1944), and Greater Union and Universal (Sons of Matthew 1949) were either no longer in existence, too unstable, or just unwilling to finance his new risky venture. However, Chauvel Productions succeeded in gaining support from the Federal government in the form of petrol rations and technical assistance. Chauvel received private finance from Avondale Studios in Sydney. Columbia Pictures also provided post production financing, which proved vital since Jedda had exceeded the £10,000 limit on capital set by the Board of the Department of National Development in 1951, a motion to reduce inflation in 'non-essential' industries (Cunningham 1987).

The release of Jedda came during a barren decade of Australian films. The 1950s were dominated by Hollywood films and by foreign influences that were controlling local productions. Chauvel's only other major contribution to Australian cinema during this decade was his 13-part TV documentary series entitled Walkabout (1959). Chauvel's commitment to documentaries, or 'quasi-documentaries' depending on the critic, was a reflection of his involvement in the international scope of cinema, as he established a main characteristic of Australian national cinema: the desire to make itself known internationally through the stories of truly Australian individuals (Cunningham 1987).

Click here for Charles Chauvel Filmography


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