13 November 2002

Global warning

An eminent American academic came to Sydney last week to alert us to an ongoing war, one in which nothing less than our entire way of life is at stake, writes Michael Hutak.

Dr Stephen Schneider - adviser to every US president from Nixon to Clinton - arrived to spread the news not about global terror, but global warming.
With the issue of climate change hotting up, concerned citizens collected at the University of NSW in Sydney last Thursday to hear the accomplished "greenhouse guru" spell out the planetary consequences of the industrialised world's love affair with coal-fired production.
However, as one of the lead authors of the documents that formed the scientific basis for the Kyoto Protocol, Schneider is the first to admit that predictions of what will happen are not cut and dried.
"There's no statistical way to figure out what 2100 will look like," he told the audience. "The weather is a chaotic, dynamic system that cannot be predicted beyond two weeks. Instead what we have is climate models, which are inherently uncertain.
"Add to this the uncertainty of human behavioural activity and global warming by the year 2100 will range from anywhere from 1(degrees) or so to up to 6(degrees) -- from the relatively mild to the catastrophic."

23 October 2002

Matthew Collings: Strictly modern

Intriguing connections surround the recent Australian visit of British art critic and author Matthew Collings, best known here for his British Academy Award-winning television series, This is Modern Art.

Collings, who has charted the rise of the so-called Young British Artists movement of the mid-1990s, wound up a sell-out speaking tour last week with a talk at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art, where his subject was "The Solemn and the Trivial versus the Serious and the Playful". Collings' witty, plain-speaking accounts of the works of YBA stars such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have done much to demystify art for the general public.

But now he believes that, while the popularity of modern art is on the rise (in Britain, at least), artists should have no obligation to be popular. Indeed, art is "neither democratic nor a form of entertainment but is a specialised endeavour for those willing to make the serious effort to engage with it".

9 October 2002

Ken Burns: oxymoronic hybrid

Dubbed the world's most influential documentary film-maker, Ken Burns has made his name and fortune bringing the past to life. "I've become so influential," Burns told The Bulletin, "that one of our most respected historians said recently that more Americans get their history from me than from anywhere else, to paraphrase the [American] ABC news slogan."
Burns delivered the keynote address at the 2002 NSW Premier's History Awards last Friday. Premier Bob Carr had been trying to get Burns to Australia since he instituted the awards in 1997. He was booked to come last year but September 11 intervened. Yet the director of the most watched documentary in television history, the epic nine-part The Civil War, admits he is "completely untrained in American history".

1 February 2002

Somewhere Man: Phillip Noyce on "Rabbit Proof Fence"

“I wasn’t looking for a script to come back to Australia. I didn’t think I could come back. I thought that I had become a nowhere man, that as a migrant worker working in America I had perhaps alienated my sensibilities from the way Australia had developed in the 10 years since I had left.”
At Fox Studios in Sydney, Phillip Noyce takes a break from sound editing to talk to Australian Style about Rabbit Proof Fence, the film that after 10 years in Hollywood has brought him home; the same film that, ironically, he hopes will secure his international reputation as one of the cinema’s leading visionaries.
Back in Australia now for almost two years, Noyce has been simultaneously directing Rabbit Proof Fence, to be released nationally this month (February), and The Quiet American, based on the Graham Green novel and starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser (due for release late 2002).
A mountain of a man, unshaven and refreshingly unkempt, Noyce makes a habit of lighting up a cigarette, taking one drag then putting it out.