Biography of Peter Weir

Peter Lindsay Weir is a renowned Australian Film director who is credited with helping to define the rebirth of Australian cinema in the 1970s and 1980s. He was born and raised in a harbor-side suburb in Sydney called Vaucluse. He became interested in filmmaking at a young age when his father, a real-estate agent, started taking him to the cinema. In addition, Weir has said that his father once wrote radio plays and even used to make up long-running "serials" as bedtime stories for young Peter. Weir also grew up watching the American films that flooded the Sydney cinemas, as there was a dearth of original Australian work.

As a young man, Weir was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's career, crediting the late director's work for showing him that film could be art. After dropping out of school in 1965, Weir spent a year wandering around Europe, which is where he met Wendy Stites, his future wife and the production designer for many of his films. After returning to Sydney, Weir took on odd jobs while participating in Ubu Films, a filmmaking collective with some of his University of Sydney classmates, including Phillip Noyce.

Weir's first job in the entertainment field was at the Sydney television station ATN-7, which is where he honed his craft in the mid-1960s. He worked as a production assistant and later, directed a few clips for the comedy program The Mavis Bramston Show. He was allowed to use the station facilities to produce his own work, and made two short experimental films during that time. Weir married Stites in 1966 and they had two children.

Peter Weir's first feature-length films were documentaries that he made as a trainee director at the Commonwealth Film Unit (which later became Film Australia). In 1970, he won the 1970 Grand Prix Award from The Australian Film Institute for his short film Michael and used the prize money to travel back to England, where he spent time on London film sets and started writing treatments for his early narrative feature films. A year later, he returned to Australia - and the Commonwealth Film Unit, where he continued directing documentaries, including Whatever Happened to Green Valley? (1973), in which he engaged residents of a failed social experiment to document their personal experiences.

In his early nonfiction work, Weir started experimenting with styles and themes as he developed the singular vision that would soon earn him world renown. He completed his first full-length feature film, The Cars that Ate Paris in 27 shooting days, which led to his most popular artistic achievement to date: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), based on the novel by Joan Lindsay.

Picnic tells the story of a group of Australian girls, students at Appleyard College, taking a day trip to Hanging Rock at the turn of the century. The innocent outing turns grim when three students and a teacher mysteriously disappear. Many critics credit Picnic at Hanging Rock with spearheading "the 'revival' of the Australian Film Industry in the 1970s" (Sutherland). Weir's next film, The Last Wave (1977), signified his crossover into the American market. It stars American actor Richard Chamberlain in a surrealistic exploration of a white lawyer's journey to defend four Aboriginal men who are being tried for murder.

After the success of both films, Weir went onto make Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982, his second collaboration with young Australian actor Mel Gibson). That same year, Weir was awarded the A.M. (Member of the Order of Australia) in the 1982 Queen's Birthday Honors list for his services to the Australian film industry.

However, by the mid-1980s, Weir had answered the call of Hollywood. For the next 25 years, Weir stayed in America and continued to explore the themes he had carved out in his Australian work, like the confrontation between cultures, fish-out-of-water narratives, spirituality, death and grief, and the search for one's self. Witness (1985), starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, earned Weir his first Academy Award nomination (the film won trophies for Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay).

This success was followed by The Mosquito Coast (1986), which mostly left American audiences cold. However, The Dead Poet's Society (1989) became Weir's biggest box office and critical success to date. He garnered praise for his ability to draw a strong dramatic performance out of his comedically-inclined star, Robin Williams. The film was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director, winning Best Original Screenplay. The Dead Poet's Society remains a contemporary classic, and launched the careers of many young actors like Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke.

Weir continued to make commercially viable cinema through the 1990s, though he became significantly less prolific over time. He made Green Card (1990), Fearless (1993), The Truman Show(1998), Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), and most recently, The Way Back (2010). In addition, he has been attached to many projects over the past several years that have not come to fruition. When asked if he is "weary of losing himself in Hollywood," Weir replied, "No...The only person you have to be weary of, really, is yourself... Hollywood is just irrelevant. They just provide you the room you play in."


Study Guides on Works by Peter Weir

Dead Poet's Society is a 1989 movie starring Robin Williams and directed by Peter Weir. It is set at ultra-conservative and highly prestigious Welton Academy, an aristocratic public school in the North East and tells the story of John Keating, an...

In 1995, Peter Weir was looking for his next project but found every script that crossed his desk to be "either predictable or derivative" (Weinraub). Then, a special project caught his interest - Andrew Niccol's screenplay for The Truman Show,...