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Straford Family Films

The Straford Family Collection of films includes a diverse range of amateur films made between 1927 and 2007 by brothers Frank and John Straford and their father Vivien.

Frank and John formed SBF (Straford Brothers Films), an amateur production company, in the 1950s. The Straford Family Collection of films in the National Film and Sound Archive includes their diverse output of films: comedies, dramas, science-fiction and fantasy films, home movies, animations, documentaries and travelogues.

Frank and John Straford inherited their love of filmmaking from their father, Vivien, who made home movies between 1927 and 1938 on his hand-cranked Pathé Baby 9.5mm camera (see Vivien Straford 1927–1937). In the 1950s, the brothers filmed with a motorised Pathé 9.5mm camera, utilising a narrow gauge film format popular in the 1920s. Developed by the French company Pathé, this camera was commonly adopted by amateur filmmakers because it was compact and relatively cheap. The brothers eventually bought a 16mm camera when 9.5mm film became harder to obtain after Kodak acquired the Pathé company. They made The Piano Tuner (1960) principally to test their new camera.

Frank and John produced most of their fiction films in the 1950s and ‘60s, starting when Frank was 20 years old and John a teenager. Their first short – the silent The Workman’s Nightmare, made in 1951 and featuring John – utilises in-camera effects and stop-motion animation. Within a few years, they were enthusiastically experimenting with post-dubbed sound and adding instrumental music and sound effects (see A World to Conquer, 1956). They even made a series of animated shorts in the 1950s featuring the adventures of a character named Little Claude (see Brother Bother, 1954, and Let’s Go Roman, 1956).

The Strafords continued to make films after the 1960s, switching from film to digital video in 1997. In 2003, Frank revisited some of their earlier travelogues of north-eastern Victoria (see Roamin’ Holiday, 1954) and the Grampians National Park (see Western Wonderland, 1954), adding narration and an instrumental soundtrack. Several of the films were included in the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) Memory Grid exhibition space in 2005, and A World to Conquer (1956) screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival in the same year.

The family film archive is comprehensively documented. Frank Straford compiled and narrated a history of the family’s films in 2007, The SBF Story, and many of the early films have been transferred to DVD. The Straford Family Collection in the NFSA is a significant amateur filmmaking archive, and the Strafords’s early 9.5mm films are a particularly strong example of the use of the narrow gauge format.

Titles in this collection

The Piano Tuner 1960

Amateur filmmakers the Straford Brothers started making this comedy short to test their newly purchased 16mm Bolex camera.

Roamin’ Holiday 1954

This amateur travelogue made by John and Frank Straford records their trip to north-east Victoria in the 1950s.

The SBF Story 2007

The amateur production company SBF made travelogues, animations and short dramas in the 1950s and ’60s.

Vivien Straford 1927–1937 1927

The father of amateur filmmakers the Straford Brothers was an avid maker of home movies himself, despite losing an arm during the First World War.

Western Wonderland 1954

This 1954 travelogue of the Grampians National Park in Victoria features a poetically nostalgic voice-over recorded 50 years later.

The Workman’s Nightmare 1951

In the first short film from amateur filmmakers the Straford Brothers, a young man falls asleep on his work break and dreams that his ladder attacks him.

A World to Conquer 1956

In this amateur science-fiction short, an alien surveillance camera lands in a man’s backyard, but his wife does not believe him.