Back to The Back of Beyond
Although he continued to travel between Australia and his home in Putney, and continued to try to get funding for Capricornia, either as a TV mini series or a feature film, John’s active film making life was over.
He was however the subject of a 1997 documentary created and filmed by John Izzard called Back to the Back of Beyond. In this touching film, which co-starred his good friend and fellow film maker Pat Jackson, John travels back to his home in Alsace. En route, the two friends discuss John’s career and he shares his thoughts about film making which for him was one long hobby. He tells Pat that, even in his 80s, he would love to make another film. “Once you have the feeling of wanting to create movement and design and so on, it never leaves you”. He viewed cinema as a graphic art, not merely a method of recording entertainment. His films about the lives of ordinary Australians combined documentary footage with scripted scenes to enable the story to emerge.
This cinematic impressionism distinguished him from all other Australian film makers of the time. In Back to the Back of Beyond, Pat encapsulates the essence of John’s film making. His films “revealed to a nation, mauled by a depression and a war, a side of their character which enthralled and inspired them. Here were films that were neither dramas nor documentaries in the conventional sense, but creations of ‘cinema art’ that made an unbelievable impact. Within a period of 15 years, John Heyer became the most internationally honoured film-maker in Australia’s history”.
As they travel to the Heyerhaus, John and Pat discuss the difficulties facing film makers in the early years when there was no Australian film industry and, most significantly, no channels for distribution. The market was flooded with American films and distributors didn’t want Australian films when they couldn’t even place all the American ones. John wanted to depict aspects of Australian life and put Australia on the screens of the world but he knew he couldn’t make these films if no one would be able to see them.
It was for this reason, that he worked so hard to create film societies and ultimately a national film board. Getting the Australian Film Board going was one of the major achievements of his career. Pat observes that, had it not been for the groundwork that John set, there would never have been a rebirth of any film industry in the 1970s in Australia.
Three years after Back to the Back of Beyond, John died in Putney, London on June 19th, 2001.