Record Rewind: Famous filmmaker

Thirty years, 70 countries and one police chase. This is the life and career of Eric Were.

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Eric Were in action.

A third generation Adventist, Eric Were was born on June 21, 1914 in South Australia. After two years of post-secondary technical education, Eric qualified to work as a carpenter in the building trade, and then went on to spend 25 years as a sign-writer and commercial artist, including work in photography. Five of those years were spent working in film production in Canada.

He married Elizabeth (Bessie) Fisher and, after her death, married Betty Fletcher in 1961, thereby gaining a step-daughter, Bronwyn.

Eric Were took on the role of photographer at the Adventist Media Centre in Wahroonga (Sydney, Australia), initially in a freelance capacity, before becoming a formal member of the team as a photographer and artist.

Eric’s outstanding ability soon had him on a “roving commission” to produce films for most of the world divisions of the Adventist Church.

For example, Eric spent 4.5 months in the Southern Asia Division of the world Church during 1968. He spent five months during 1970 in a similar capacity in the South American Division. Eric’s original 1950 vintage Paillard-Bolex HK-16 movie camera, over a 30-year period, did filming for the Church in more than 70 countries, according to its second owner, Pastor Max Townend, who used it in the South Asia Division and the Far Eastern Division of the Church during his time as a missionary in those regions.

One notable experience was in the late 1950s when Eric smuggled his camera into Russia by taking it out of its case and hiding it in the clothing in his luggage. While in Russia he was caught filming for the upcoming General Conference session and, highly motivated while being chased, succeeded in escaping arrest and with all his equipment too! This was no mean feat as Eric was a substantial gentleman!

Eric’s camera.

Particularly well-known and notable Eric Were movie productions were his Cry of New Guinea and How Great Thou Art. His movie documentaries were effective promotions of the mission of the Church and helped the Media Centre establish a reputation for quality creative work, which continues to the present.

A complete set of his film prints has been preserved in the Heritage Collection at Avondale College and they are progressively being digitised.

In addition to his photography, Eric was a gifted artist and writer and, in his retirement years, he engaged in meticulous research of his family history—pioneer Adventists in South Australia—and published his findings as The House that Were Built: A history of the Were family from the Conquest to the Colonies. Two of his best known other books were Perilous Paradise and No Devil Strings.

Survived by his second wife and step-daughter, Eric Were died in South Australia on January 3, 1997.


Lester Devine is director emeritus of the Ellen G White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale College.