Matthew Holmes has an obsession with bushrangers. It started when he was a youngster growing up in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. “My love of the Australian bush and the Australian guys riding around on their horses stems right back to The Man From Snowy River,” he says. “I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 13. I was always running around with a video camera making movies at home.”
Matthew went on to work for South Australian-based animation company Anifex, where he worked on television commercials and short films. He now lives in Melbourne and still has bushrangers on the brain. “I didn’t have a job to go to in Melbourne. I just started working casually and developing projects. It was filmmaking or nothing for me. I thought I’d give it all I’ve got.”
Matthew recalls watching westerns at the Mainline Drive-In at Gepps Cross and also loved the Capri Theatre. “It’s definitely one of my favourite cinemas in Adelaide because it’s so beautiful. It has character. It’s also where I premiered my first film Twin Rivers in 2007.” Set in 1939 Australia, Twin Rivers tells the story of two brothers who embark on a 500-mile journey on foot across New South Wales.
“It was around that time I discovered the story of Ben Hall and wanted that to be my next project,” he says. “Ben Hall’s story was such a fascinating one. I began researching it in 2007 and started writing a screenplay. It is the realisation of a 10-year dream.”
The Legend Of Ben Hall was released in 2016 and is based on the last nine months of New South Wales bushranger Ben Hall’s life. It was filmed in Victoria’s Macedonian Ranges. They were challenging conditions. “A lot of wind, a lot of rain, a lot of extreme heat and cold temperatures. It was definitely a very arduous shoot for everybody. Lots of horses, firearms and things like that. It was very challenging from that perspective but looks beautiful when you film it.”
Actor Jack Martin took on the role of Ben Hall and Jamie Coffa plays infamous criminal bushranger and sidekick John Gilbert (aka Happy Jack).
Matthew also called on a number of locals for inclusion in the project. Actors Jordan Fraser-Trumble and Adam Willson started their careers in Adelaide and local artist Ross Morgan created the film’s artwork.
“It’s a good time to make a bushranger film… hipsters are everywhere.”
Research is a big part of Matthew’s process. Every scene is based on true stories and historical facts. “It is a bottomless pit. I’m learning more and more as we dig. There are a lot more stories to tell. I’ve really only scratched the surface.”
His sights are set on two more New South Wales bushranger films. “They’re not sequels – they’re companion films that will form a three-part trilogy.
The Legend Of Ben Hall is the third in the series. I’ve got one and two in writing and we’re about to start chasing finances and some high-profile talent.”
There’s certainly plenty of facial fuzz around.
“It’s a good time to make a bushranger film… hipsters are everywhere. It’s very easy to find extras in Melbourne. Everyone in Brunswick has a big, bushy beard.” He laughs.
“It’s definitely a genre that has been on the shelf. We hadn’t seen a bushranger movie for years at the cinema – since The Proposition [starring Guy Pearce] in 2005. Hopefully it will make a resurgence.”
Images: Naomi Giatas
Video: Aaron Nassau