Australia, director Baz Luhrmann’s two-hour and 40-minute epic tribute to his homeland, is a feast for the eyes. Credit for the film’s succession of visual highpoints goes to director of photography Mandy Walker, who is also Australian. Filming lasted five months. It combines panoramic location shots, numerous scenes on sets in Sydney and significant use of CGI. Some 2.7 million feet of film was shot.
The story, which takes place in 1940s Australia, stars Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Brandon Walters, who plays a young mixed-race Aborigine. The movie centers on a drive of 1,500 cattle through the desolate Kuraman Desert to Darwin on the continent’s northern shore. It references Hollywood classics like Gone with the Wind and Giant.
“At times it was quite arduous,” says Walker. “We were out in the desert in the middle of nowhere for several weeks and had to bring in our whole infrastructure. It was a six-day trip from Sydney for the trucks hauling in the needed equipment.” The cast and crew lived in a thrown-up village of 250 tents.
The major set piece is the dramatic cattle drive involving a stampede. “I spent months during preproduction working out how we would achieve the effects Baz wanted from those scenes,” says Walker. She supervised a second unit that shot the stampede. “We set up a cable cam that would run over the cattle and could get very close to them” she explains. “We couldn’t work out a way to do that from the ground, so a cable was set up that ran 2,000 feet and could go as high as 200 feet.” Four and, at times, six cameras were employed.
One of the climactic scenes involves a squadron of Japanese planes bombing Darwin during World War II. “It was part CGI and partly footage from Tora, Tora, Tora, which we were able to beautifully restore,” notes t h e DP. “That’s one of the great things about shooting on negative stock, because 30 years later it holds up really well.”
Walker has won four Australian Cinematography Society awards. Should she be nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography, she would be the first woman DP to be accorded this honor.
Previous Noms and Wins
2004: Nominated, Independent Spirit Award, best cinematography, Shattered Glass.