77 Brighton Street, Petersham, NSW, 2049
Tuesday 26th November 2013 7.30 p.m.
Inner West Film Forum Final Screening for the Year – The Youth of Today at the turn of the 1970s
The Policeman Told Me to Go to Bed (Chequerboard Series 1) (0089330)
37 minutes Australia
Examines the conflict between a group of young party-loving people and the older, permanent residents who are their neighbours in a Bondi block of flats.
We Aint Goin’ Nowhere … [Chequerboard Series 2]
44 minutes Australia
A group of young people, living on Lamaroo Beach in Darwin and reacting against the conventional way of life, talk of their reasons for doing so and of their attitude to life. Part of the Chequerboard TV series produced by ABC.
Chequerboard was a television series the likes of which had never before been seen on Australian television in 1969. It was an in-depth social issues documentaries series in which mostly ordinary Australians told their own stories – no on-camera interviewer, no narrator (in the first few years), handheld cameras followed the subjects as they shared their innermost feelings mostly in big close up shots which virtually filled the screen.
When the series first aired it caused a furore. Never before had people told such personal stories on television. It was regarded by some as the most inquisitive program on the air in Australia. Some said it looked too hard, too close.
But along with the brickbats were the bouquets from those who believed that the program was a milestone in Australian television, a serious exercise in showing Australians as they really were.
A half hour documentary series that pioneers the ‘fly on the wall’ approach that began observational documentary filmmaking in Australia. Each week the program would be about people in situations that shape their lives, such as living with unemployment or surviving on the basic wage or getting married. There are no on-camera experts, just people telling their own story to the interviewer, whose questions we hear although the interviewer is not on camera. The interviews are overlaid with remarkable ‘colour’ footage of people’s everyday lives.
When Chequerboard began in 1969, Australia was at the cusp of an era of radical social change. The pill was becoming readily available to Australian women, the sexual revolution was gaining momentum and feminism would change our lives forever. All of this was documented in the series through the lives of ordinary Australians telling their own stories in their own words. The title comes from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: ’tis all a chequerboard of nights and days’.
Robin Hughes had recently returned to Sydney from a stint as producer at the BBC. As one of the founders of Chequerboard, she says that the concept came out of a group of broadcasters discussing their favourite BBC program, Man Alive, at a local pub. They wanted to make documentaries in the same style ‘without on-camera experts, simply people in situations that shape their lives’ as Hughes recalls. Thus the basis of each Chequerboard program was an interview interspersed with ‘colour’ footage of that person going about their life. This was very firmly in the tradition of the American filmmaker Fred Wiseman, later to be so brilliantly mastered by the Australian filmmaking duo Robin Anderson and Bob Connolly in their great stories from the PNG Highlands, Joe Leahy’s Neighbours and Black Harvest.
Only later did the Chequerboard team realise that this ‘fly on the wall’ filming was the very beginning of observational documentary filmmaking in Australia. As Chequerboard matured, more and more of this illustrative filming was used, requiring less and less of the experts – through either interviews, or ‘voice of god’ narration – to explain what the audience could see for themselves. This technique requires very acute research out in the field and one of the strengths of the series was the development of a team of well-trained researchers who would find the right individual or family out in the community. Many of those young researchers have since gone on to become some of the most renowned names in the film industry today. They include Tristram Miall, Aviva Ziegler, Stephen Ramsey, David Roberts, Bill Stellar and Robin Hughes. The camera operators for the series, including Tony Wilson and Geoff Burton, learnt their observational craft through years of honing their skills on Chequerboard. This coincided with cameras becoming lighter and more flexible, therefore easier to take off the tripod to follow the action.
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