Introduction

John Heyer, OBE (1916-2001) is Australia’s most internationally acclaimed and awarded documentary film maker.  His most notable work, The Back of Beyond (1954), was the first Australian film to win the prestigious Grand Prix Assoluto at the Venice Biennale, an award given to the best film across every category.

John Heyer with Prime Minister of Australia Robert Menzies - Presentation of The Grand Prix Assoluto, Canberra

John was not only a prodigious film maker, but he also worked tirelessly to develop and promote the Australian film society movement during the 1940s and 1950s at a time when the industry was in its infancy. He was president of the Australian Council of Film Societies and the Sydney Film Society, and he helped to establish the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals so that Australian films with Australian content and talent could be seen and celebrated in the domestic market.

During Prime Minister Robert Menzies’ speech at the award ceremony in Canberra, he stated that John Heyer’s achievement in winning the award was “a very remarkable event in the history of Australia”.  It was the first time an Australian film had ever achieved international recognition.

John Heyer

Much has been written elsewhere about John Heyer’s work. This site provides a more personalised account, compiled from his unpublished autobiography and written in his own voice. It endeavours to shed some light on John Heyer the man - resilient, determined, courageous and undaunted - as it traces the steps that took him from his days as an unremarkable schoolboy to a highly acclaimed documentary film maker who played a leading role in the development of the Australian film industry.