The Man who can’t Stop
I came back to Australia from Canada in the early 70s to teach and inspire local filmmakers. As part of that process, I managed persuade Film Australia, (FA) which at the time had none of the freedoms of the National Film Board, (NFB) to let me make a film which would be a co-production between the NFB and Film FA. Behind my thinking was the idea that this would help Film FA open up and become more like the NFB.
This project would become The man who can’t Stop, a film that proved quite difficult to get off the ground.
FA wasn’t particularly well funded and many of the staff there, including filmmakers of my own generation, thought that I was after their precious funds. There were heated public meetings at which I had to both defend the idea of a co-production and pitch the film I wanted to make. I finally got the green light when it was agreed that once my project was approved, a director from FA would go to Canada to make a film of FA’s choosing, a reciprocal co-production.
My film, The man who can’t Stop was shot by the now famous cinematographer Don McAlpine. It’s the touching story of Francis Sutton who had taken on a life-changing battle. Francis is a gentle reserved man who had spent his working life a commercial artist, specializing in beautiful drawings of watches for a famous Australian retail outlet, FarrenPrice.
Francis had a holiday house north of Sydney at a place called Bateau Bay. One day to his horror, the local council decided to cut a sewerage outfall through the rocks next to his beach. Francis was furious and appalled that this pristine spot was now so polluted. He was also increasingly angry when he realised that the effluent was water rich in nutrients which could be turned inland instead of being dumped in the sea, a precious resource being wasted. This is done in other parts of the world, especially in China.
So began a 30-year battle, Francis giving up everything to try and persuade the authorities that they should turn the pipe inland to the farmland he’d identified as suitable for enrichment. The film closely follows Francis during part of his struggle, watching his wife Joan too, a major character in the story. She is helpful but basically fed up, understandably tired of sewage being the topic of almost every conversation. She supports Francis, she encourages him, but she’s had enough and at one point she walks out.
But Francis is the man who can’t stop and though he doesn’t win, there’s something very inspiring about his determination, his dedication to do something good for this world. The film is one of my favourite documentaries and received a standing ovation at the Sydney film Festival, Francis onstage to enjoy some success at last.
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