Vale Joe Petranovic
Announcements August 6 2019 by Jenny Neighbour
The festival has received the sad news of the death of Honorary Life Member Joe Petranovic, a much-valued member of the festival board. Joe provided vital support to the projection team as well as being a keen supporter of the festival team.

Joe Petranovic was an invaluable member of the SFF committee for many years during the time David Stratton was Director and I was President. In those days, with no government funding the Festival had a very small staff of just three or four and it was necessary for volunteers, particularly the committee, to assist in the physical running of the Festival. One of the most crucial and difficult to fill roles was the supervision of the technical aspects of the festival including ensuring all the projectors could project the films and were in good condition. With his technical knowhow Joe was a godsend in this role which he discharged superbly. Quiet and unassuming and always a team player, he was most popular with his peers. The Festival is indebted to him and all he worked with will be most saddened at his passing. – Ross Tzannes, SFF Committee Member/President 1969-1987

The very sad news has reached me that long-term SFF Board Member Joe Petranovic passed away today. Joe was on the Festival Board during my time as Administrator and offered his expertise in giving technical support across all Festival venues, ensuring the smooth running of screenings during each year’s Festival. To have this crucial aspect looked after by an expert was a huge weight off the Festival Director’s shoulders.
Joe could always rise to any technical challenge. I recall that one year, a film arrived with the soundtrack on a separate spool of magnetic tape, not optically printed on the actual film, as one would expect. Undaunted, Joe virtually rebuilt a 16mm projector to accommodate the two reels and run them side by side. Amazing!
Joe was always supportive of the staff, acknowledging our efforts in pulling each year’s Festival together. He loved watching the films as well.

I have nothing but fond memories of one of nature’s true gentlemen. – Ross Barnard
SFF Administrator 1985-1999

Joe Petranovic, Ferrucio Genzo and Roger Doyle came into my experience when they turned up at the Dendy Cinema, Martin Place in 1982 or 3 bearing an audio mixer, some leads, a radio microphone and a few other bits & bobs just before the Dendy cinema began duty as a venue for the Sydney Film Festival’s docos and independent films. Which is how I first met Joe. He seemed brusque and efficient, though the banter between the three (volunteer) blokes belied something more. But at first it was the competence and care that registered.

For the next 20 years, Joe continued every year to fulfil this same back-up role at the Dendy, the State 2 theatrette and the State Theatre itself, sometimes accompanied, sometimes solo, but unerringly. The rear projection at the theatrette could have been a difficult ask for 16mm (in which format most docos were shot). Joe designed a prism box which allowed the (reversed) image to hit the screen perfectly, if a little alienatingly for the projectionists.

Upstairs, the PA for the stage presentations, Q&As and the like, were his done via a simple re-routing of the surround (film) audio via a plug in switch (which I still have), marked “PA/Film” to re-purpose those speakers for the audio stream from the stage. When the Hilton (hotel, next door)’s walkie talkies began being intrusions on Q&As, Joe designed an efficient unconventional work around to remove them.

In the 1980s, many docos were produced with multiple soundtrack languages on alternative rolls of (sprocketed) tape to reduce print costs. Joe refurbished a double head projector, (ex-ABC which used such for the news bulletins in the days before video tape) with a big bright lamp & voila, at little cost to then eternally penniless Sydney Film Festival, a world class image on the big screen. And it took a three-hour movie if need be!

The above was as much a tribute to his brilliant and unconventional logic as it was to the ease with which he related to various levels within the Greater Union organisation which was nominally in charge of everything to do with the State, (but which had technical challenges of their own) and were comforted by his intrusion. Who else would give their time to polish projector mirrors and clean lamphouses for a sparkling image? In many hours of conversation, it became obvious that he had been filling this role since the festival was at Sydney University and had an intellectual and emotional attachment to the film festival and in fact the whole film culture; to its wellbeing, relevance, continuance, and progress. It would be easy to just admire Joe for his technical prowess, but his greatest gift to us all was his generosity; generosity of spirit, of time and of labours.

There will never be another like him. The 21st century environment can and will spend money to solve problems that in earlier times were solved by competence, love, dedication and wisdom. In the 21st century we rely on a professionalism of technical service providers which simply didn’t exist in the 60, 70s, 80s or even the 90s. – Bob Gamlen, Festival Projectionist

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