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One of the vanguard filmmakers of the Australian film renaissance of the 1970s, several of his early career productions are considered to be among the most influential and successful films of that era - notably The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Don's Party, The Getting of Wisdom, Breaker Morant and The Club. Bruce Beresford later went on to establish himself as an internationally renowned director, working with some of the leading American actors of his generation. His career to date includes more than thirty feature films.
The son of Leslie and Lona Beresford, Beresford grew up in the outer western suburb of Toongabbie and attended The King's School (Sydney). After graduating from Sydney University in 1962 he moved to London but found it difficult to do so due to the heavily unionised film industry and so eventually accepted a job for two years as a film editor in where film editing job in Nigeria. He later returned to the United Kingdom where between 1966 and 1971 he served as Film Officer for the British Film Institute Production Board and as Film Advisor to the Arts Council of Great Britain. After returning to Australia in 1971 he collaborated with Barry Humphries in bringing to the screen the comedian's cartoon character 'Barry McKenzie' (qq.v.). Beresford's first feature film, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie became an Australian hit when released in 1972.
Following the success of Breaker Morant in 1980 Beresford attracted the interest of Hollywood and among the dozens of scripts he was offered was Tender Mercies (1983), which became his first US film as director. It earned Beresford his only Academy Award nomination for Best Director to date. Among his best known Hollywood films are Driving Miss Daisy, Black Robe, Double Jeopardy and The Contract. Among his most recent successes, too, has been his adaptation of Mao's Last Dancer.
In addition to his film work Beresford has also directed several operas including Puccini's Girl of the Golden West (1986) for the Spoleto Festival, Charleston, and Spoleto, Italy; Strauss' Elektra (1991) for the State Opera Company of South Australia (it won the Award for Best Opera Production of 1991): Sweeney Todd (1996) for the Portland Opera, Oregon; Wagner's The Crucible (1998) for the Washington Opera; Verdi's Rigoletto (2000) for the Los Angeles Opera; Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree (2001) for the Houston Grand Opera; and Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire (2007) for Opera Australia.
In 2012 Beresford was awarded an International Achievement Award at the 2012 Screen Music Awards.
In 2016, Beresford was one of two Australian directors (along with Phillip Noyce) to work on the American reboot of Alex Haley's novel Roots.