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Turkeys and swans
The West Australian Turkeys and swans

There is a general consensus, with a few exceptions, that movies made in WA are cheap, cheesy, boring or arty turkeys.

There is plenty of wind, for example, in the windsurfing romance Windrider - shot off Cottesloe Beach and starred a young Nicole Kidman and Tom Burlinson.

Then there is the Rottnest Island - set drama Under the Lighthouse Dancing, which The West Australian's film editor, Mark Naglazas, dubbed "the worst Australian film ever made".

More recently, Rai Fazio's much hyped boxing drama Two Fists One Heart was knocked out at the box office, taking a featherweight $400,000.

But when you actually delve into the history of our local film industry - going back 55 years and covering a surprising 215 films, documentaries and TV shows - the results are refreshingly uplifting.

Bran Nue Dae, Rabbit Proof Fence and Australia - all shot in our far north - are recent success stories. Further back, the jazzy Miles Davis film Dingo and the acclaimed outback thriller Shame are high points in our often derided, but misunderstood, film history.

"I think people will be surprised by the strength of our screen history," says WA Screen Academy director John Rapsey, who is programming WA-made movies on the new community TV station West TV.

"There was an era in the 1980s when there were a lot of features made here. It was pretty dry in the 90s when we focused more on TV and documentaries. But it's picked up again recently.

"We're trying to get our hands on as many WA-made features as we can."

The program - Australian Screen Gems - runs on Friday nights on WTV, which has taken the reins after Access 31 folded. It begins tonight with Windrider.

"It's not a great film but it's a lot of fun and it has Nicole Kidman in one of her very first roles," Rapsey says.

In coming weeks, viewers can take in Tudawali, about the first Aboriginal movie star (played by Ernie Dingo), and then Bush Christmas, another early Kidman film by local production kings Barron Films.

Fran, Shame, Dingo, Boundaries of the Heart and Love in Limbo (starring a young Russell Crowe) will also be screened as well as mini-series A Fortunate Life and A Waltz Through the Hills.

"It's all about showcasing WA-made production or films shot here by other companies," Rapsey says.

Rapsey, who is currently searching for a sponsor for the program, says the initiative has a second important function - to start the process of preserving these films.

"Most of them were shot on 35mm film or Beta and were left degrading in storage. One would have expected ScreenWest or the Battye Library would have all this but they don't," he says.

"I'm really appalled by the fact that WA hasn't created an archive. This is our screen history and it's really important. So what I'm trying to do is acquire an archive of these films and digitise them."

Barron Films chief executive Paul Barron, who has produced many of the WA-made films and TV shows to be screened, says the program proves that WA "punches above its weight".

"It's not Melbourne or Sydney or Hollywood and I doubt it ever will be," Barron says. "And there's no quick fix. Given our geography and talent pool, we've been producing award-winning and critically acclaimed films, documentaries and kids' dramas for 25 years.

"I think our State has punched well above its weight and it will continue to do so."

According to Rapsey, there are some really exciting local films coming out soon like Blame and Little Sparrows.

"And Wasted on the Young is getting great buzz," he says.

"Without these past films, the local industry wouldn't be as strong as it is now."

Australian Screen Gems starts with Windrider tonight at 9pm on WTV (channel 44) and continues every Friday night at 9pm. The series has been changed from its original Saturday timeslot so will not appear in today's TV program guide on page 4 or Seven Days magazine tomorrow.