b. November 28, 1952, Melbourne,
BIOGRAPHY:Brian McKenzie trained as a schoolteacher, studying mathematics, politics, drama and media. He started making films in the mid-'70s, with a couple of short drama films and then documentaries, receiving the Rouben Mamoulian Award at Sydney Film Festival for Winter’s Harvest (1980), his first documentary film. He received the inaugural Australian Film Commission documentary fellowship for The Last Days Work (1986), and the Grande Prix at Paris Cinema du Reel for On the Waves of the Adriatic (1990).
He co-wrote and directed the feature dramas With Love to the Person Next to Me (1987) and Stan and George’s New Life (1991). He made documentaries for ABC television including People Who Still Use Milk Bottles (1989) and Pat and Eddy’s Greyhound Racing Family (1994).
He was Executive Producer of Documentaries at the ABC, responsible for overseeing 80 hours of factual television. Highlights include Bush Mechanics (2001, dir: David Batty) and Wedding in Ramallah (2002, dir: Sherine Salama).
He returned to teaching at RMIT and independent production with the series Love’s Harvest (2007) for SBS television, winning the Australian Director’s Guild award for best documentary series. He then directed Meet Me at the Mango Tree (2009), a series of short documentaries set amidst street vending families in Tamil Nadu, India.
He produced numerous biographical programs for ABC Radio National’s Hindsight and Earshot programs.
Recently, he produced the feature documentary, In the Land of Wolves (2018), directed by Grace McKenzie, his daughter.
Projects in development include, The Fly Trap which is set in Sweden, and the drama, Boris’s Bookshop.
OVERVIEW: From the very start, Brian McKenzie’s films – whether in documentary or fiction mode – have displayed a clear, steady vision. Like, on the world stage, Pedro Costa, McKenzie’s work marries ethical rigour with aesthetic justness. There are no compromises in his approach to filmmaking, no extraneous “entertainment values” or stylistic affectations. It is cinema derived from friendship, family (he today collaborates with his daughter, Grace McKenzie) and close observation, always on the same level as the people it records or depicts. Is it any wonder that Abbas Kiarostami, on a festival jury, gave him a prize; or that Chantal Akerman considered him as potential cinematographer for her D’est (1993)? After the appearance of Stan and George’s New Life in 1992, some American producers approached McKenzie with the project of adapting – and it wouldn’t be a bad fit – Richard Ford’s novel The Sportswriter; but Brian turned it down, responding that he would rather shoot one of his own, still yet-to-be-realised scripts.
McKenzie’s overriding concern is with everyday life as experienced by everyday people – whether ejected from the social norm or just barely clinging to its edges. The homeless (I’ll Be Home for Christmas, On the Waves of the Adriatic), cab drivers (With Love to the Person Next to Me), tired office workers (Stan and George’s New Life, The Last Day’s Work), or a small circle of interconnected acquaintances, some of whom are artists (Kelvin and His Friends): McKenzie portrays their routines and rituals, their ways of quietly staying alive by following whatever odd or sublime obsession they may cling to. From Winter’s Harvest in 1980 to more recent documentary works shot in India (Meet Me at the Mango Tree), McKenzie has also closely woven human stories with the cycles of weather, farming, food production and consumption.
I'll Be Home for Christmas
A classic and telling McKenzie title: People Who Still Use Milk Bottles. It’s a familiar trope in his work: yesterday was better than today, the old ways are better than the new – because there was still room left for individual foibles and crazy dreams. The modern world, by contrast, is cold, mechanised and loveless. It’s a sentimental view (akin to that of French director Eugène Green), but McKenzie’s work is far from soft-centred nostalgia. There is toughness and anguish at the heart of this vision. The fleeting triumphs of ordinary people are counterbalanced by a sense of how hopeless, repressed and mucky much ordinary life really is. Any touch of romanticism is a hard-won and fleeting pleasure here.
Brian McKenzie’s remarkably coherent body of film and TV work is among the highest points of achievement in Australian cinema. It deserves to be recognised as such both within his home country, and also well beyond it.