David Donaldson was in his B.A. Honours year in 1951 when, deeply impressed by films like ‘The River’ (Pare Lorentz, 1937) and ‘The Long Voyage Home’ (John Ford, 1940), he fell into the Sydney University Film Group,. A tipping element may have been that at an Economics staff-student debate at the end of the 1950 year, Dr H.W. Arndt had presented each of the students with a book; in Donaldson’s case it was Roger Manvell’s massively influential Film (1944, Penguin).
The Group had been founded as an offshoot of the SU Visual Arts Society in c1947. Prof. A. K. Stout was president of a committee that had included Judith Gollan, Peter Hamilton, Brian Southwell and Edgar Waters. The second wave committee included Wal Eastman, Ian McPherson, Garth Everson and Alan Brissenden. The Group presented documentary and classic films in the Wallace Theatre each Monday night of term and, in a slightly uneasy relationship with the engineer projectionists of S.U. Film Society, also offered feature films in the old Union Hall. A highlight of those years was the Group’s rescue and restoration of what is now widely recognised as a dinky-di Australian film classic, The Kid Stakes (1927, 1954). Film did not then figure in academia, but some SUFG members (notably McPherson and John Morris) found careers in film.
While kindly employed as a research assistant in economics by the newly established University of New South Wales, Donaldson was soon involved with the Federation of Film Societies, the Film Users Association and thus the Sydney Film Festival see: http://online.sffarchive.org.au/#folio=8 and anecdotes at the same website. From 1956 to 1960, a time when the commercial film industry was highly regulated and tightly cohesive, he operated an independent library of feature films for community groups while also Director and then Film Adviser of the Sydney Film Festival.
In subsequent career in adult education at University of New England, Administrative College of Papua New Guinea and TAFE in Adelaide, Donaldson continued to organise specialised film shows and became a collector of celluloid film and in the glass slide medium. His research and advocacy interests include the first Australian in Hollywood, J.P. McGowan, the founder of Commonwealth Film Laboratories, Cy Sharpe, and the “very significant” but now lost Sydney film Captain Thunderbolt (Cecil Holmes, 1953).
Donaldson will take part in a panel on 9 June