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27A (1974)


An alcoholic man in the Queensland prison system is transferred to a psychiatric hospital at his own request, for treatment. What he doesn’t realise is that under section 27A of the Queensland Mental Health Act, he can be held indefinitely. Bullied by a vindictive orderly (Bill Hunter), doped with psychotropic drugs and given no real treatment for his alcoholism, Bill Donald (Robert McDarra) escapes to Brisbane and gets drunk. Returning to the hospital, he realises he has few options, either outside or inside the system.

Curator’s notes

27A was made in response to a specific political problem, an unjust Queensland law that has since been changed, but it manages to tell a story of much wider significance. The film begins as a portrait of one man’s fight for self-respect, but it becomes a story of a community of men, all of them struggling. Even the orderlies who tend the wards are victimised by the system. The key to the film’s success is the performance of McDarra portraying Bill Donald, whose endurance and resistance become quietly moving as he progresses from outrage to acceptance of his fate.

Esben Storm and Haydn Keenan met in high school in Melbourne, and were both 21 when they made the film. They were highly influenced by social realist films coming out of Britain by directors such as Ken Loach. Both would go on to make significant features later in their careers.

27A was shot on 16mm and in a semi-documentary style but it has a highly developed sense of performance and drama, with some harrowing scenes. Robert McDarra won the AFI Award for Best Actor for this performance in 1974. He died in December 1975.