Ground Zero (1987 film)

Ground Zero is a 1987 Australian drama-thriller about a cinematographer who, prompted by curiosity about some old film footage taken by his father, embarks on a quest to find out the truth about British nuclear tests at Maralinga. It stars actors Colin Friels, Jack Thompson and Indigenous activist Burnum Burnum.

Ground Zero
Ground zero film poster.jpg
Directed byBruce Myles
Michael Pattinson
Written byMac Gudgeon
Jan Sardi
StarringColin Friels
Jack Thompson
Donald Pleasence
Distributed byHoyts (Australia)
Avenue Pictures (US)
Release date
1 October 1987
Running time
109 minutes
BudgetA$7 million[1]
Box officeA$178,576 (Australia)

Production and castEdit

Ground Zero was produced in 1986[2] and released in 1987. IMDb, and the DVD release of the film, both credit Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles as producers,[3] but only Pattinson is named in other sources.[2][4] Pattinson went on to direct several other Australian feature films, including Wendy Cracked a Walnut (1990), Secrets (1992), and The Limbic Region (1997).[5] Myles did not go on to other directing, but acted in numerous subsequent Australian films, including The Bank (2001).[6]

Ground Zero was made for A$7 million, and filmed on location in Coober Pedy and Woomera in South Australia, as well as in Melbourne.[4]

Sound for the film was created by a team including Roger Savage and Gary Wilkins, who had both worked on the Mad Max series of feature movies.[7]

Context of the filmEdit

In the 1950s, the British government had conducted a number of nuclear tests at a site called Maralinga in outback South Australia. It was subsequently demonstrated by medical evidence, witness statements and archive documents that during those tests, armed forces personnel and Indigenous Australians were exposed to nuclear fallout that affected their health and reduced their lifespan. This led eventually to a major inquiry, the McClelland Royal Commission, which reported in 1985. The inquiry attracted a lot of publicity, and ultimately a deal was struck with the United Kingdom to fund rehabilitation of the test sites.[8]

Ground Zero was made immediately following this inquiry. While fictional, it explores the idea that the exposure to radiation of Indigenous people and army personnel may have been deliberate, or known about at the time and concealed. The political topicality of the film at the time of its release was reflected in the profile of some of the actors involved: Colin Friels has played a number of roles involving social activism, most notably years later in the Australian television miniseries Bastard Boys; Burnum Burnum was a long-time Indigenous rights activist;[9] while Jack Thompson had previously played a leading role in another film sharply critical of the British military: Breaker Morant.

Reception and legacyEdit

Despite its success at the 1987 AFI Awards, reviews of the film were mixed. Pointing out that the film contained elements of both action thriller and political commentary, reviewers were unsure that it did either with great success.[4][10] However, Janet Maslin, reviewing the film for the New York Times, wrote of "taut, clever conspiracy-theory thrillers, of which the new Australian film Ground Zero is a prime example".[11]

Ground Zero has been rated at 6.4 stars out of 10 on IMDb.[3] It was shown on Indigenous television station Imparja 'as a tribute' to Burnum Burnum after his death in 1997.[9]


Actor Character
Colin Friels Harvey Denton
Jack Thompson Trebilcock
Donald Pleasence Prosper Gaffney
Natalie Bate Pat Denton
Burnum Burnum Yami Lester
Simon Chilvers Commission president
Neil Fitzpatrick Hooking
Bob Maza Walemari
Beverley Dunn Commissioner #1
Alan Hopgood Commissioner #2
Peter Cummins Ballantyne, Australian veteran
Brian James Vice-Adm. Windsor
Bob Hornery Meteorologist
Steve Dodd Freddy Tjapalijarri
Alfred Austen Aboriginal elder

Awards and nominationsEdit

AFI Awards, 1987

  • Won: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Won: Best Achievement in Editing
  • Won: Best Achievement in Production Design
  • Won: Best Achievement in Sound
  • Nominated: Best Actor
  • Nominated: Best Supporting Actor
  • Nominated: Best Director
  • Nominated: Best Film
  • Nominated: Best Original Screenplay

38th Berlin International Film Festival, 1988[12]

  • Nominated: Golden Berlin Bear

Box officeEdit

Ground Zero grossed $178,576 at the box office in Australia.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Australian Productions Top $175 million", Cinema Papers, March 1986 p64
  2. ^ a b Hall, Sandra (1992). Australian Film Index: A Guide to Australian Feature Films Since 1990. Port Melbourne: Thorpe.
  3. ^ a b IMDb, Ground Zero. Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  4. ^ a b c Gardner, Geoff (1995). 'Ground Zero', in Murray, Scott (ed.), Australian Film 1978-1994: A Survey of Theatrical Features. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, Australian Film Commission and Cinema Papers.
  5. ^ Yahoo! Movies, Michael Pattinson film credits. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  6. ^ Yahoo! Movies, Bruce Myles filmography. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  7. ^ Cinephilia, Review of Ground Zero Archived 22 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 13 March 2009.
  8. ^ David Stratton, The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry, Pan MacMillan, 1990 p249
  9. ^ a b Norst, Marlene (1999). Burnum Burnum: A Warrior for Peace. Roseville NSW: Kangaroo Press.
  10. ^ Hinson, Hal (30 September 1988). "Ground Zero (review)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  11. ^ Maslin, Janet (23 September 1988). "'Ground Zero (1987): A nuclear cover-up in Australia". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  12. ^ "Berlinale: 1988 Programme". Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  13. ^ "Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2010.

External linksEdit