Vale Margaret Anne Smith

21 May, 2015 by Andrew Pike*

The independent documentary filmmaker Margaret Anne Smith passed away in Sydney on May 18 after a long illness. She was 69.

Margaret was a significant part of our life at Ronin Films. I knew her for maybe close to 50 years, from student days at the ANU onwards. She was a tenacious battler, holding strong principles and doing her best as a lone artist to stand by those principles.


She always did things her own way no matter what, and though she never gained the institutional support that her work deserved, she was never bitter: she took rejections philosophically and remained determined to get the results she wanted by herself.

Through her own business, Smith Street Films, Margaret had made films for broadcast and the education market since l987, when her first five minute short film Eora was bought by ABC TV.

She grew up in Sydney and studied for an Arts (Hons) degree at Sydney University, where she took a keen interest in political and social affairs. She was a Fellow at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and there met some leading writers, directors and editors who taught her to strive outside of her comfort zone for a more revealing depiction of the life and culture around her.

She lived briefly in Canberra and Brisbane, and upon her return to Sydney became involved in the Sydney Filmmakers' Co-operative and was engaged in the new cinema then emerging in Australia.

In l988 she made Crane, a 28 minute drama about a man and a machine, featuring Bobbie Noble.

Margaret then worked for TAFE NSW and travelled the state documenting the work of the Aboriginal Education Unit. This resulted in the documentary Change on Both Sides about the unit’s initiatives. It was bought by ABC TV and screens today on NITV.

Her work as a research officer at the Aboriginal Legal Service inspired her 1996 documentary, Special Treatment – Locking up Aboriginal Children. It screened on both ABC TV and SBS.

A profile of  NSW Aboriginal politician Linda Burney titled Finding our Destiny followed.

Margaret was always interested in music and made films about unusual charismatic musicians such as Seventh Spring – about Roger Woodward – and Breathing with the Earth about Riley Lee. Both of these were screened by ABC TV.

In 2012 she finished a A Smarter Country – creating the future, profiling pioneers in sustainable architecture and cities, agriculture and energy. It concentrated on the work of Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Senator Christine Milne, Professor Tim Flannery, and the young Matthew Wright of Beyond Zero Emissions.

Also in 2012 she completed North of Capricorn (currently screening on NITV), inspired by Henry Reynolds' book. It examined the early contacts in northern Australia between Aboriginal, Asian and Islander peoples, and explored the impact of the ‘white Australia’ policy. Margaret believed it was an important film about ‘the Asian Century’ and the history that has led us here.

Margaret is survived by her sister Christine.

*Andrew Pike is the co-founder and MD of Ronin Films