David Stratton's 50-year service to film honoured

David Stratton, appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), pictured at Olympian Rock in Leura. Photo: Jennie Curtin
David Stratton, appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), pictured at Olympian Rock in Leura. Photo: Jennie Curtin

For more than 50 years, David Stratton has lived movies. As a critic, reviewer, promoter and teacher, as well as an avid viewer, he and film have been inextricably linked.

It is for this life's work, cited as his "significant service to the film industry", as well as his efforts as an ambassador for Australian cinema, that Mr Stratton has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

The Leura resident was delighted at the news.

"I'm very honoured and surprised and gratified," he said.

Mr Stratton's association with movies began as a teenager when he set up a film society in his native England. A few years later he moved to Australia and, at just 26, was appointed director of the Sydney Film Festival, something unlikely to happen today, he concedes.

"I think they'd be looking for someone with more experience," he said.

"Though I had started a film society when I was 19 so I knew something about programming films and stuff but still I was very lucky to be offered that job."

He remained at the helm of the festival for 18 years, doing his best to advance the cause of the local industry.

"At that time there was a lot of effort to promote Australian film through the festival. In fact, we did a big retrospective in 1975, something that had never been done before."

He also wrote two books about the local cinema industry. But he is undoubtedly best known for his 28-year collaboration with Margaret Pomeranz, first at SBS with The Movie Show, then later at the ABC with At the Movies. The pair finally filmed their last episode in December.

The experience, he said, allowed him to travel all over the world and gave him the opportunity to meet and interview some of the greatest names in the cinema world.

One of his favourites was Dustin Hoffman. "He is an incredibly nice guy, easy to talk to - I have always liked talking to him."

He also enjoyed the company of Australian actors such as Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe.

"It's always really great to catch up with them when they've got something big at an international film festival. I did find there were more nice people than not in film," he said.

Mr Stratton said of his television career, he enjoyed it "most of the time".

"The only thing about that is to do a program like the one we did for 28 years, you had to see basically all the movies that opened every week.

"Increasingly I found many movies I didn't want to see. It's pretty hard to sit down and not like what you are going to have to see for the next two hours."

Mr Stratton and his wife, Susie Craig, moved to the Mountains in 1991.

"Sydney had already become, in the early '90s, a bit of an acquired taste. If you had the money to live at the beach, it was fine. But we weren't particularly beach people and we didn't really have the money."

They loved Leura; its beauty, clean air and the peaceful lifestyle.

The downside has been having to travel to the city to work or to get to the airport.

Although he has stopped At the Movies, the 75-year-old is not thinking of retirement. He still writes movie reviews for The Australian newspaper and is also still teaching.

It is one of the lesser known strings to his bow but Mr Stratton has lectured in film history at the Centre for Continuing Education and Learning at Sydney University since 1990. His contribution was recognised there in 2006 with an honorary Doctor of Letters.

"I enjoy it very much, not just the teaching but the research. It's very time-consuming but it's very rewarding," he said.

He and Margaret Pomeranz have also been named patrons of this year's French Film Festival.