This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007
Byron Eric Kennedy (1949-1983), film producer, was born on 18 August 1949 in Melbourne, elder child of Victorian-born parents Eric James Kennedy, engineer, and his wife Lorna, née Flynn. Byron was educated at Footscray High School and began making films with an 8-mm camera. He met George Miller, a medical student, at a film workshop in Melbourne.
In 1971 Kennedy and Miller made Violence in the Cinema, Part I; Kennedy was the lighting cameraman, co-writer and co-editor. Made with an extremely small crew and running for fourteen minutes, it was shown at the Sydney Film Festival. In the film, a dry lecture on violence in the cinema is interrupted by a shotgun-wielding thug. The lecturer, despite having part of his head blown away, continues with the lecture and is finally incinerated. The film won a silver award in the fiction section of the 1972 Australian Film Institute awards.
A recipient of a travel grant from the (Australian) Film and Television School, Kennedy travelled through thirty countries; this trip further sharpened his sense of the international language of film. His passion for cinema and his curiosity about the film-making process was immense. In 1972 he gave an impressive and largely improvised performance in The Office Picnic. On another low-budget film, Come Out Fighting (1973), he worked as the lighting cameraman.
Kennedy, as producer, and Miller, as director, spent more than a year preparing the film Mad Max, and two years raising the money. Thirty non-government investors put up $380,000 and shooting began in spring 1977. The focus on road rage and carnage sprang from Miller’s work as a doctor treating motorcar crash victims. Critics praised the film’s technical brilliance but Phillip Adams described it as having `all the moral uplift of Mein Kampf’. It launched the career of Mel Gibson. At the 1979 AFI awards Mad Max won the jury prize and those for editing, music and sound. Overseas it received the special jury prize at the Avoriaz International Festival of Fantastic Film. In the late 1990s the Guinness Book of Records listed Mad Max as the most profitable film on a cost-to-revenue basis.
Mad Max 2, also known as The Road Warrior, was filmed in 1981 on a considerably bigger budget. It was a striking, often electrifying film that displayed more technical polish than its predecessor. In Mad Max some dialogue was drowned out by the roar of machines whereas Mad Max 2 was the first Australian feature film mixed in stereo: Kennedy was one of the sound mixers. The film was a critical and commercial success: it won AFI awards for direction, editing, production design, costume design and sound. In 1982 it won the grand prize at the Avoriaz Fantasy Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s award for best foreign film. Kennedy Miller Entertainment Pty Ltd changed direction dramatically in its next venture. With Kennedy as executive producer, the company embarked on The Dismissal (1983), a six-hour television mini-series dealing with the political events of 1974-75.
A shy and intense man with a dark beard, Kennedy had a laconic expression and a dry sense of humour. He had not married. An experienced pilot, on 17 July 1983 he flew his helicopter over Lake Burragorang, near Sydney, and crashed when the engine cut out. Kennedy died next day from his injuries and was cremated. The Byron Kennedy award for a film-maker who has displayed outstanding creative enterprise has been given at the AFI awards since 1984.
Richard Brennan, 'Kennedy, Byron Eric (1949–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kennedy-byron-eric-12728/text22953, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 5 December 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007