Mini Bio: Dennis O'Rourke

Lana Wilson / June 19, 2013 05:24 PM

Australian Documentarian and Filmmaker, Dennis O’Rourke, has died of a rare form of cancer at 67 years of age.

Denis ORourke

Sources: ABC Qld, Camera Work Limited, Sydney Morning Herald

Born on 14 August, 1945, the well-known Director and Producer led a unique life that captured many stories and subjects on film across Australia and Papua New Guinea between 1975 and 2013.

O’Rourke’s directional work is best known in the films ‘The Good Woman of Bangkok’ ‘Shark Callers of Kontu’ and ‘Cunnamulla’, of which sparked keen interest and controversy amongst his peers, the Australian film industry and critics.

Beginning his career at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the early 1970’s as an assistant gardener, the Who’s Who in Australia entrant was soon promoted to an apprenticeship role as an assistant cameraman.

Frustrated at the sheer length of the six year apprenticeship, O’Rourke quit the role and headed north across to Papua New Guinea, where he filmed his first documentary, ‘Yumi Yet’ in 1975.

The film, which highlighted Papua New Guinea’s transition to national independence, was an international hit and received applause globally.

O’Rourke continued filming documentaries and followed up his successful feature with ‘Yap…How Do You Know We Like TV’, ‘Ileksen’ in 1978, as well as 1982’s ‘The Shark Callers of Kontu’, which premiered at the Sydney Opera House.  

In 1991 O’Rourke directed and produced ‘The Good Woman of Bangkok’, a documentary which followed the life of a Thai prostitute, of who O’Rourke also slept with. While many of the film and wider communities considered the topic somewhat risqué, filmmaker Tom Zubrycki told Fairfax the film was made to challenge social preconceptions of society.

“It was really pushing the boundaries, but now it’s seen as a classic” he said.

“I thought maybe he’d gone a litter far…back then documentary liked to see itself as pure even though it wasn’t necessarily so, and Dennis started to challenge those preconceptions.”

After cementing his professional reputation, O’Rourke continued to make documentaries such as ‘Half Life – a Parapable for The Nuclear Age’ in 1986 and 2000’s ‘Cunnamulla’, which followed life of a remote community of Indigenous and Non Indigenous Australians in outback Australia.    

In 2003, O’Rourke received a Centenary Medal and in 2005 was awarded two prestigious awards for his work - the Don Dunstan Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Film Industry and an AFI Award for Best Documentary his 2005 feature, ‘Land Mines – A Love Story’.

Dennis O’Rourke died on Saturday, June 15, 2013.

Sources: Who’s Who, Fairfax

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