Vale David Hannay

01 April, 2014 by Don Groves

Producer David Hannay will be remembered as one of the pioneers of the modern Australian film industry, a passionate cinephile, mentor and loyal friend.

The NZ-born filmmaker whose career spanned seven decades died on Monday, aged 74, after a long battle with cancer.


He entered the film industry at Artransa Park Studios in 1958 as an extras casting assistant on Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

As a producer and executive producer he was involved in more than 50 film and television productions. His feature film credits include Stone, The Man From Hong Kong, Solo, Death of a Soldier, Emma’s War, Mapantsula, Shotgun Wedding, Gross Misconduct, Dead Funny, Savage Play, Love in Ambush and the feature documentary Stone Forever.

He was Head of Production for Gemini Productions (which merged with the Grundy Organisation in 1977) from 1970 to 1973 and again from 1975 to 1976, and general manager of the Greater Union production subsidiary The Movie Company in 1974. Since 1977 he had been an independent producer and chairman of his own production company.

“One of the last of the ever decreasing members of that small group of producers who was there at the start of the new Australian industry, David was a legendary trailblazer,an industry stalwart, a mentor to many, and a loyal friend,” said producer Antony I. Ginnane.

Producer Sue Milliken said, "He was a fighter and an optimist. No matter how bad things were, he always put on a cheerful face. I will always remember him, beard in full flight, strolling up the Rue d'Antibes at Cannes, where he went every year until he got sick; he probably holds the record for an Australian filmmaker.

"I could never understand his enthusiasm for that most disdainful of festivals, but he loved it. A solid member of the producing fraternity and a founding member of SPAA, the industry won't be quite the same without him."

The Man From Hong Kong director Brian Trenchard-Smith first met Hannay in 1972 when both worked at Channel 9 in Sydney. "A  bond was forged and we worked together then and since on a number of projects," he said. "He was there from the beginning of the Australian film industry renaissance and made a lasting contribution, both in personal output and in assisting the careers of others. Whenever we worked together I was struck by his inexhaustible determination, which continued to the end. He had a commanding presence, enhanced by a beard, which at its longest was truly spectacular. He was genial, urbane, with a good sense of humour.

"As a producer he could work in any medium, had great taste and strong leadership skills. But what drove him was a love for cinema. The films that he was the most passionate about dealt with social or political issues. He had genuine concern for the working man and indigenous rights. Above all, David was a kind man. I shall miss him. My deepest sympathy to Mary and the whole Hannay clan."

Murray Forrest, a long-time friend and industry colleague, said, "He was always the supreme optimist even in most difficult times not the least being the last few months of his illness. He was an energetic producer and lobbyist working to support and preserve the art of filmmaking. I will miss his customary telephone greeting of  'Hannay here.'''

Among his many honours, he received the Ken G Hall Film Preservation Award, the AFI Raymond Longford Award, the Australian Screen Sound Guild’s Syd Butterworth Lifetime Achievement Award, the Screen Producers Association’s first Maura Fay award for service to the industry, film pioneer of the year from the Society of Australian Cinema Pioneers and a lifetime achievement award from the Producers and Directors Guild of Australia.

“I began my career in the movies behind the scenes in 1958, and it was not until 1968 that I had the temerity to call myself a producer,” he said in a 2007 interview. “I worked my way up through the system, from runner to production manager. You need to get out and practice your craft. You need to learn all aspects of filming to be a good producer. You have to earn respect that you know what you are doing, and that you know how a film is made from the bottom up. This will enable you to understand what your crew is achieving for you.

“While the film industry is a business you need passion to work in it. I say 'I don’t do it for a living, I do what I do to live. It is my passion.' I love my work. I want people to do it right, to learn from their mistakes like I did by getting out and doing it. But, the thing is, to not make the same mistake more than once.”

His final credit, according to, was executive producer of the 2012 musical documentary Once Around the Sun, which featured Billy Thorpe, Jeff St John and The Copperwine and Max Merritt and The Meteors.

He is survived by his partner Mary Moody, his brother Charles Hannah, sister Gillian Webster, four children and 11 grandchildren.

A memorial service to celebrate his life is expected to be held in Sydney in a month or so, date to be advised.