The first thing I was told by Scheff’s partner was: “Oh for god’s sake don’t call him Edwin, he won’t know who you are talking about, call him ‘Scheff’.”
What a fabulous man, bloody stubborn though about not wanting an on camera interview… but I’m still working on him. He remembers watching the film ‘One Hundred Men and a Girl‘ on the ship to Australia in 1938. His love of film was born… wonder if Deanna Durbin had anything to do with that? No it didn’t, Scheff says, it was the conductor Leopold Stokowski…
Word has it that without Scheff there would be no MIFF. He however is very humble, insisting that he be termed ‘one of the founders’. Indeed I reckon he is a founding member of most things film culture in Melbourne and beyond. He mentions the AFI, Children’s Film Council, Scientific Films, Children’s Holiday Film Festival, the Association of Teachers of Film Appreciation (ATFA), the list goes on. His interest was always about public information rather than entertainment.
Unlike today where all things film related are ‘findable’, back then Scheff had to visit places like International Embassies, the Department of Agriculture and Government Departments to find films to screen. He worked at the State Film Centre from 1953 (now completely transformed as ACMI), building their film collection at that time to over 35,000. He was instrumental in distributing films to country areas to screen for groups like the country libraries, the CWA, Young Farmers and anyone really who was interested in film and docos.
When I arrived Scheff had with him some notes about MIFF, written impeccably on four numbered library cards. He was diligent in referring to them to ensure that dates and facts were correct. How amazing that Scheff still has in his possession a veritable library of library cards cataloging all the films he found, screened, located and heard of. If you wanted to screen anything during the 50s and 60s you had to know Scheff because he knew where everything was, likely still does.
Scheff lives his life by the adage ‘I’m going to make my life worthwhile’, he realised early he wouldn’t have a family and took his lead from such luminaries as Tchaikovsky, Oscar Wilde and Rudolf Nureyev. Good enough for them then it’s good enough for him. He used this sense of devotion to support the development of many film groups including a desire, with friends, to showcase Melbourne’s film culture, “That’s what brought us to Olinda”. Olinda 1951 is the birthplace of MIFF, where the Film Society movement screened ‘a few films’, and the influx of a huge audience completely overwhelmed the screening venues, accommodation and likely the bars and eateries too.
The fabulous Edwin Schefferie was not only there for all of that, he still is, committed to Camberwell Film Society and others that continue to use his talent, expertise and passion for all things film. I want a shrine to Scheff, and I want it now…
MIFFtales is now online at YouTube/MIFF so make sure you check it out, lots of stories. MIFFtales produced by yum productions (now Yum Studio) in association with Melbourne International Film Festival.