Mad Max creator George Miller rides into Cannes on top of the world
The Oscar winner and head of the Cannes film festival jury is enjoying the lasting appeal of the frantic action films, praised for reconciling audience expectations with artistic standards
Australian director George Miller is at a high point in a masterful career. His Mad Max: Fury Road won a swag of awards, adding to a long list of acclaimed movies, and this week he will bask in the glory of presiding over the Cannes film festival jury.
Even missing out on the best director gong at this year’s Oscars, won by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for The Revenant , could not take the gloss off the success of the latest of his post-apocalyptic Mad Max action movies, released last year.
“You’d be a fool to be disappointed when we did so well,” the 71-year-old director told The Sydney Morning Herald on returning to the city in March after the movie won six Academy Awards and four British Baftas.
As a writer, director and producer Miller is a pioneer of Australian cinema – with a career that runs from the original 1979 Mad Max starring a young, leather-clad Mel Gibson, to Babe and the feel-good animated classic Happy Feet in 2006.
Miller was part of a renaissance of Australian cinema in the 1980s which included Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show), Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) and Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Salt).
But his career in cinema was not always assured, with Miller at first setting out to be a doctor, and working in the medical profession for a time.
He has said that working as an emergency doctor, and seeing “the kind of carnage as a result of car accidents or bike accidents”, affected him deeply and went on to influence his violent Mad Max movies.
“It kind of disturbed me quite a bit. And I think all those things were part of the mix of the Mad Max films,” he told Australian Screen Online in a 2006 interview.
After the original smash hit, Miller went on to make Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), but Fury Road was a long time coming.
In the meantime, he produced the coming-of-age film The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and the thriller Dead Calm (1989) – which launched his compatriot Nicole Kidman on the world – as well as Australian television series such as Vietnam and Bodyline.
He has a string of acclaimed films to his credit, including the fantasy comedy The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and the heart-tugging drama Lorenzo’s Oil (1992), as well as winning an Oscar for the animated feature Happy Feet.
Close on 40 years after he launched the Mad Max series, Miller is enjoying the lasting appeal of the frantic action films, which have been praised for reconciling mass audience expectations with the highest artistic standards.
David White, who won an Oscar for sound editing on Fury Road , has praised Miller’s ability to bring his vision to the screen, despite the difficult logistics of producing frenetic action.
The film also faced other setbacks, including Mel Gibson dropping out, making way for the younger Tom Hardy, and shifting the filming from the Australian desert to Namibia.
“There’s probably less than a handful of people in the world like George,” White told the Herald earlier this year, adding that he was “the smartest person I’ve ever met”.
“This guy has had a singular vision to do this film.”
Miller has two children with wife, film editor Margaret Sixel, and an older daughter from a previous relationship.
The Cannes film festival starts on Wednesday and runs until May 22.