Dialog Box

Arts | Education | Environment | History | Human Rights | Indigenous | Rural | Social Justice
Earth Cry - A Profile of Peter Sculthorpe
The film explores the remarkable life of the greatest living Australian composer, Peter Sculthorpe. At 85 Sculthorpe is a true legend in Australia – not simply because of the extraordinary range of the music he has written, but because he has been centre stage in Australia’s cultural life for over sixty years. In fact, the story he tells through his music, and the story we will examine in the film, is the story of Australia since the Second World War – the shift politically from being European oriented and still part of the British Empire, to being focused now on the ‘empires’ to the north – of Japan and China, Asia, Bali, Indonesia and Malaysia.\n\nSculthorpe’s understanding of landscape and environment, frequently being laid to waste by unthinking societies, how global warming is causing havoc to Australia’s ecology, and his relentless campaigning against the desecration of indigenous culture by successive Australian governments, mark Sculthorpe out as being of crucial significance in understanding Australia as it is today. Sculthorpe though his music has provided eloquent testimony, both as witness and as a warning, about the world he inhabits. “Ritual mourning for the plight of the land,” was how one critic described one of Sculthorpe’s most significant works, Earth Cry, which is also the title of our film.\n\nThe backbone of the film will be an extended interview with Sculthorpe himself, not merely biographical but ranging over his social and political concerns about Australian society today, illustrated by substantial examples of his music specially performed for the film. Principal among these will be Kakadu, a large orchestral work describing the exotic wilderness that is Northern Australia. Also Momento Mori, inspired by a visit to Easter Island with its enormous, brooding, enigmatic stone heads, which themselves represent both the indomitable nature of the human spirit, while at the same time being part of its greatest folly. In the creating of them, the land was deforested and impoverished. The Piano Concerto, one of his major works, especially the long elegiac 2nd movement with its hints of Japan and Indonesia, is both brutal in its melancholy, and yet unforgettable in its opulent bleakness.\n\nThis 120 minute film will the first full length international portrait of Peter Sculthorpe, a powerful prophet for Australia - a land whose history and culture and environment remains as yet unknown to most non-Australians.

How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

Evident in the film will be one of Peter Sculthorpe’s core beliefs, that of justice. Sculthorpe has said he learned about art and culture from his mother, a former teacher, but what is central to him, one of the driving forces in his compositions, is justice. The concept of justice and all of its implications he learned from his father when growing up in Launceston, Tasmania. In his music, Sculthorpe demonstrates how we need to understand each other, respect each other, live with each other, how human justice and social justice is vitally important to being part of a civilised society. What Sculthorpe also leads us to discover through his musical vision, is justice for the land and the environment. All great artists, be they painters, writers or musicians, have throughout history highlighted the shortcomings of human kind and have forced us to address how we live and what we value. Peter Sculthorpe is one such artist, and a major one at that.
Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

This film introduces Peter Sculthorpe to an international audience. His music is played in the USA and in the UK, but it is not known well nor his important contribution to the understanding of Australia as it exists today. We have secured broadcast of Earth Cry with Sky Arts in the UK and having received tremendous support from everyone we have spoken to about the film, we are confident other broadcast organisations will want to show this significant portrait of a contemporary musical icon. Not only will the film introduce Peter Sculthorpe to an international audience, with one of its focuses being Sculthorpe’s concern for the environment, the film will introduce him to a new audience of younger people who ask why has an older generation been so insensitive and unaware of the way they have mistreated the environment? Here is a champion of the environment who was way ahead in his thinking on the destruction of our ancient and fragile world. Of Cello Dreaming, written for Steven Isserlis, one critic wrote of the piece: “Exhilarating. With endless echoes of birdsong and didgeredoo, it’s the kind of piece that gives modern music a good name.”

What is your education and outreach strategy?

It is director Tony Palmer’s intent to use the Australian Youth Orchestra for some of the performed pieces. This will give the young musicians to work on the music of a living Australian composer. Though essentially a portrait of Peter Sculthorpe and his extensive catalogue of work, because of the nature of his work and the messages he wishes to portray, the film will have references not only to the arts in the form of music, but also to education, the environment, history, human rights, indigenous rights, rural policy and social justice. All of these are tremendously important to Peter Sculthorpe, and he examines what they should mean to all of us in his music. We anticipate that the film will be widely used in schools as an educational tool examining who we are, and what we have become.
Tony Palmer, Isolde Films.
Sally Burton, Onward Productions.
Total budget
120 Minutes