Rod Webb.

Former Sydney Film Festival, Australian Film Institute, SBS and ABC executive Rod Webb died on Friday after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 76.

Among the numerous tributes on social media, former AFTRS director, degree programs, Ben Gibson said: “Rod was a great mate around the festival circuit back in the 80s when I was a distributor and he was doing SFF. Fondly remember his very definite opinions and style of argument – and a certain dandyish.”

Documentary maker Tom Zubrycki observed: “Rod and I were friends for a long time. He was a keen judge and critic of film and a sharp wit. Loved a good party. Was always very supportive to filmmakers trying out new ideas. Will be much missed.”

Antidote Films’ Gil Scrine said: “I knew him as a great curator and film buff but also as someone who challenged some of my Orthodox leftist beliefs. We got on like a house on fire.”

Ausfilm’s Nick Herd recalled: “I first met Rod in the 1970s when he was at the National Film Theatre and I was at the Sydney Filmmakers Coop. We also had mutual friends and saw each other socially as a result, which enlarged a professional friendship.

“Rod was very generous in the help he gave me at a particularly difficult time in my career. I will always be grateful for that. And he was a great colleague.”

Ronin Films’ Andrew Pike said: “He was a trusted and honest friend that I could call for advice and feedback and would receive attention. I respected him enormously as a person of real substance. He had complex aesthetics, real commitment, and was personally engaged in any transaction.”

Manchester-born, he emigrated to Australia as a child and worked initially as an accountant. He had his first taste of the screen industry as a specialist trainee (concerts) for the ABC in 1966-68.

In 1977 he joined the National Film Theatre of Australia as executive director. Three years later he was appointed cultural events officer at the Australian Film Commission.

From 1983-1988 he served as executive director of the Sydney Film Festival, followed by a stint as theatre and opera critic for ABC Radio 2BL and as a film consultant.

In the early 1990s he worked as the Australian Film Institute’s program manager followed by a 12-year career with SBS as network programmer and occasional acting head of television.

He was named head of programming at the ABC’s Australia Network in 2003 and retired from that position in 2011.

He is survived by his partner Ania Bokina, their two daughters and two sons from a previous marriage. There will be a memorial service, date to be fixed.

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  1. I knew Rod from his days at Macquarie University in the ’70s when he edited Arena.

    I also know that while Rod didn’t remember me, I certainly remember him as a leader in those turbulent days, as he had a decisive impact on this young and green student.

    1. I devised and wrote the ‘Noelene Pymble-Veneer’ column for Arena on Rod Webb’s watch, and several other features, all of them attempts at comedy. Webb was one of the very, very few student newspaper editors I’ve ever known who had a sense of humour.

  2. While at AFC Australian Film Commission in its good days Webb developed the entries of Au films in to overseas festivals (with Sue Murray, am I right? and Ian Klava)

  3. Working with Rod Webb at SBS / SBS Independent was a pleasure. His resistance to conscription campaigns and the American war in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s were dedicated, innovative and energetic. Among other activities, Rod was involved with organising screenings of newsreels from ‘the enemy’ on the third floor of Bob Gould’s Third World bookshop. Valé Rod Webb.

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