Relaxing in a gorgeous garden, under a clear sky of stars, glass in hand, serenaded by a chorus of late summer crickets, watching an iconic Australian movie on a big screen. When is life better than this?

Last weekend Murray and I attended the inaugural Wollombi Classic Film Festival.

Most of the community, many local tourists, and a scattering of interstate visitors, gathered on Friday evening for the film festival premiere evening in the garden behind Gray’s Inn. The surroundings were lush and relaxed. The weather was warm and kind. Before the movie, the friendly crowd mixed and mingled, feasting on tasty delights and enjoying flowing local wine. As the darkness came, the movie began. The moviegoers gasped, laughed and applauded Scott Hastings in his iconic Bonds singlet as he shocked the celluloid dancing community by performing daring steps that were not ‘strictly ballroom’. The movie was as fresh and engaging as when it first premiered 24 years ago. The edge of the big screen dissolved into the audience, as if we were all attending the ballroom dancing Australian Pan Pacific Championships. As the final credits rolled there were cheers and tears, as much for the movie as for the beautiful setting in which we had enjoyed it.

The following afternoon we gathered again, in the exquisite interior of St Michaels Church, in the Main Street. In these holy surrounds we watched the reverent ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’. This spiritual classic, with its mysterious riddles haunted by pan flutes, was ideal for viewing in such a hallowed place, which heightened the effect of this exalted Australian icon.

That evening, with the weather continuing to support us, we reassembled in the Gray’s Inn garden with drinks and chatter for a screening of the seminal ‘Rebel without a Cause’. This 1955 tale of rebellion was highlighted by its screening in a non-conventional cinematic environment. Under the stars in a beautiful garden, those of us who had seen the film in our youth were once again infatuated by James Dean’s charisma. And those who were experiencing the drama for the first time, were enthralled by the timeless themes and relevance of teen tragedy.

Many other movies were screened over the weekend with appearances by Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson, Montgomery Clift, and Richard Burton. The local restaurant designed a menu to celebrate, and stores and cafes held movie sales and Hollywood offers.

For three days, the golden age of movies touched the entire community. This was still Wollombi though, and the glamour of the screen was contrasted by the relaxed casual culture of this historic village.

As with all local events, the community supported and embraced the film festival. This small parochial community always celebrates way beyond its number. Although we have to wait another year for the next Wollombi Classic Film Festival, the hundreds of community events held throughout the Wollombi Valley over the next twelve months will sustain and enrich us all til then.
Wollombi Classic Film Festival – 5 stars!