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The world’s first feature film

Australia’s contributions to filmmaking are significant – for example, we were the first in the world to extend films to feature-long narratives. Very few people know that Australia is also responsible for the world’s first feature-length film – The Story of the Kelly Gang. It’s also the first ever film about Ned Kelly, the first in the bushranger film genre and the first full-length film to get lost…

First screened on Boxing Day 1906 at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre, the film showcases the adventures and escapades of Ned Kelly and his infamous gang. It went on to run for seven weeks to a full house – it was a commercial success. According to one of the film’s producers, William Gibson, it eventually returned £25,000 to its backers. Keep in mind that it cost £1000 to make!

At the time, moving pictures were usually only 12 minutes in length – this movie went for over an hour, which was an amazing feat. Produced by the Taits, a family of prominent show businesspeople, it was financed by the Taits and Millar Johnson and William Gibson. Even though Johnson and Gibson were chemists, they owned a projector and had already started showing films all around Melbourne.

Apart from being ‘the longest film ever made’, it is also one of the earliest examples of government film censorship. It was controversial due to its portrayal of the police in a negative light and its sympathetic approach towards the Kelly gang. The Victorian Government tried to censor the film, but filmgoers were keen to see the film and were not deterred. In April 1912, the Victorian Government banned a revised version of the film from being screened – authorities blamed the film for rising crime. Even though the film was so successful, it was thought completely lost by the mid 1940s. According to the National Film and Sound Archive, more than 90 per cent of all Australian films made during the pre-1930 silent era are now missing. Over the last few decades, bits and pieces of the film have been found through chance discoveries and secret donors. There is now a 20-minute-long segment left of the original film that gives current viewers insight into what watching the film would have been like at the time. It shows us how important Australia is in the global history of filmmaking, and how it has innovated filmmaking from the very start.

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