Lotterywest Festival Films Blog

40 Years of UWA Somerville: An Interview with Ron Crittall

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Ron Crittall, now retired, was a travel writer and author of Frommer’s Australia (the WA section) and Walking Perth. He and wife Penny have been enthusiastic followers of Perth International Arts Festival since 1972, and have both served on Friends of the Festival Council.  

PIAF Film Program Manager Tom Vincent spoke to Ron Crittall about his memories of 40 years of visiting UWA Somerville at the Perth International Arts Festival.

Tom Vincent: When did you start going to UWA Somerville?

Ron Crittall: Well, the first thing was in 1972, we went to our first Festival of Perth – of course, in the summer, the beginning of ‘72. We decided, ‘Oh, we rather like this’ and have stayed involved with the Festival ever since.

I was actually talking to Lynn Blenkinsop (widow of David Blenkinsop, who was the Artistic Director of what was then Festival of Perth between 1977 and 1999) this morning, because I wanted to check some things with her. As far as she’s aware, the first time films really became an official part of the Festival was with David in 1977. There were some films in ‘77 at UWA Somerville but the main focus was the Village Cinema (formerly on Waratah Avenue, Dalkeith), which is no longer there.

When the Village Cinema was pulled down, they did use the Windsor (Stirling Highway, Nedlands) for a bit but then the focus did shift entirely to UWA Somerville.

TV: I’m interested in those earlier days of UWA Somerville, in what motivated you and your friends to go? Was it the location? Was it the chance to see particular films that you were waiting for? Or was it a chance to see interesting films in general?

RC: It was partly the venue, partly the whole experience. Bear in mind, it’s always been art films to varying extents. Most of the time, you wouldn’t know what the film was going to be, or how good, but there was a group of you going and it was a fun occasion – it still is. That’s why we formed, some years ago, what we call the Monday Mob. It just happened that we all went on a Monday and we had anything between six and 12 people. You’d meet there and you’d chat and you’d drink together and you’d pass over your plates … and then, ‘Oh, it’s time for the film already!’

The films are, of course, important. We’ve always had the view that we should use the Festival to stretch ourselves, to see and do things beyond our usual comfort zone, to be adventurous – and our faith has so often paid off, seeing films that have surprised and enchanted us. And when you look at all the accolades and awards that the films have won, it’s a tribute to the Festival staff who’ve put the seasons together.

That’s the point – yes, we’re there to watch the films but it’s also a social event. But also, as I say, it’s the venue, because it’s a magical place to go. Every now and again, I have to remind people that it’s laid out in the format of a gothic cathedral. Look at where the trees are!

TV: Is that by design?

RC: I believe so. Just near the front, parallel to the chairs, you’ve got a straight line which is the inner line of the nave. Then you can look to either side and you’ve got the outer ones. But when you come up to where the front of the seating is, one of the bigger trees on either side is off-set. They’ve done it in the form of a cross.

TV: Do you think this was Dr William Somerville’s own design?

RC: I don’t know enough about the naming as to whether it was to do with Somerville or whether it was to do with Fred Alexander (UWA Emeritus Professor and founder of the Festival of Perth in 1953) who laid it out. I wouldn’t have thought it was Fred.

TV: Do you remember particular screenings from any point since you’ve started going? Are there any memories you have of any particular films?

RC: Some. First of all, one of our main memories was Wagner (1984 PIAF), but Wagner wasn’t shown at UWA Somerville. It was at the Windsor Cinema and the opening night apparently had Richard Burton’s mother-in-law present.

TV: What do you remember about Wagner at the Windsor?

RC: The music. The length of the film and the relief that it was the cut-down version! Burton, of course, because we’d both been Burton fans. Also, the Festival made it an occasion, having that film there, so that’s one of the reasons it stuck in our minds. There are a few other films which have stuck, one of which is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2010 PIAF), which is one of the more recent memories, and that was the one which was most marked by the place being full. Enormous queues to get in, even on a Monday.

TV: Have you always tried to see every film in every season that you’ve gone to?

RC: That’s been the case, certainly in the last 20 years. Before that, I would have said perhaps not as dedicated. More a case of saying ‘Should we go to the films tonight?’ and then saying, 'Yeah, OK.’

TV: I think you’ve made a list of favourite screenings throughout the years. What’s on your list?

RC: In 1984, The Draughtsman’s Contract by Peter Greenway.

TV: What do you remember about The Draughtsman’s Contract? Why did that stick out?

RC: Partly because it was a period when Peter Greenway was sort of being touted and lauded about the place. But also the extravagant costuming for that. Lovely period piece. In 1988 I’ve got Cane Toads – it was not only informative, it was actually entertaining. In 1991, we’ve got An Angel at My Table; 1992, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In 1994, Like Water for Chocolate and 1998, Waking Ned Devine. Also, The Man Without a Past (2003 PIAF) – the bloke who appeared in the village and didn’t know who he was or what he was, and created the choir.

TV: I heard that Waking Ned Devine was a huge hit.

RC: It was, and that lovely scene with Ned naked on his motorbike screaming through the Irish countryside.

Lotterywest Festival Films continues at UWA Somerville until Sunday 10 April.