The 5 Best Films Set in Byron Bay

Byron Bays picturesque scenery makes for a perfect backdrop to a film set
Byron Bay's picturesque scenery makes for a perfect backdrop to a film set | © Laura Gowling / EyeEm / Getty Images
Sarah Reid

With its incredible natural setting and creative community, you might expect more films to have been made in Byron Bay. The sky-high costs of doing business in Australia’s most easterly town is the likely culprit, but there are still a good handful of memorable flicks in which Byron at least makes a cameo. Here are five of them.

‘Surfing Hollow Days’ (1961)

Likely to be the first film ever shot in Byron, this surf flick by Bruce Brown (of The Endless Summer (1966) fame) is largely responsible for putting Byron Bay on the international surfing map. Brown travelled to Mexico, California, Florida, Hawaii and Australia to make the film, which features scenes of a motley crew of surfers including Phil Edwards – widely known as the world’s first professional surfer – pulling into Byron’s famous right-hander, The Pass.

Before the surfing scenes begin, the footage pans across an area of cleared land opposite Wategos Beach where only a couple of houses had been built at the time. Little did its first residents know that Wategos would eventually become one of the most exclusive addresses in the country, with a house occupying a prime corner block on Marine Parade selling for a cool 18.85 million Australian dollars in 2019.

‘FernGully: The Last Rainforest’ (1992)

OK, so it’s an animated children’s movie, but this hit musical fantasy film featuring the voices of Robin Williams, Tim Curry and Christian Slater is about as Byron as it gets. Based on the book by Diane Young, who named it after her Byron hinterland property, FernGully tells the story of a menagerie of rainforest creatures desperate to save a pristine rainforest from the clutches of loggers.

Based on the real-life 1970s logging protests that secured the formation of Nightcap National Park, an hour’s drive west of Byron, FernGully contains plenty of local references, including Mount Warning – where the film’s heartless loggers are stationed – and Byron Bay, which is listed as the home of the film’s protagonist Zak (a young logger accidentally shrunk to fairy-size proportions by a forest sprite named Crysta) on his driving licence. Never mind that Zak has an American accent…

Zak and Crysta in ‘FernGully: The Last Rainforest’

‘Free to be Me’ (2012)

A finalist at Tropfest – the world’s largest short-film festival – in 2012, Free to be Me might only be seven minutes long, but most would agree it does an incredible job of documenting the story of Tommy “The Dancing Man” Franklin, who became a viral sensation after being filmed busting dance moves in Byron Bay in the pouring rain. Franklin narrates the film, sharing the dark story behind his love of dance with the same intoxicating ability to express himself that has resonated so strongly with people who have seen him boogie.

Franklin went on to be voted into the final of the seventh season of Australia’s Got Talent, and has since teamed up with Hello Sunday Morning, an organisation dedicated to changing the world’s relationship with alcohol.

‘The Inbetweeners 2’ (2004)

The sequel to the feature film released following the completion of British coming-of-age comedy series The Inbetweeners sees suburban teenagers Will MacKenzie (Simon Bird) and his friends Simon Cooper (Joe Thomas) and Neil Sutherland (Blake Harrison) plan a trip to Australia to visit their old schoolmate Jay Cartwright (James Buckley), who claims to be working as a top DJ in Sydney and shagging himself silly.

Upon arriving to discover Jay’s claim is a sham, the quartet decide to head to Byron, and get up to their usual brand of mischief while staying at a youth hostel, which those familiar with the area will recognise as the Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge. While the film has its funny moments, not all critics were kind.

The cast of ‘The Inbetweeners 2’

‘2040’ (2019)

Directed by and starring local filmmaker Damon Gameau, this uplifting documentary explores what the world might look like in 2040 if humankind harnessed the technologies available to us today to reverse the damage caused by climate change. Designed to appeal to a family audience, the film sees Gameau visit people and communities around the world that are developing solutions and technologies with the power to ensure a brighter future for his daughter’s generation. In one scene from the film, Gameau joins locals in planting enough native trees on a property in Bangalow, just west of Byron, to offset the carbon footprint of the making of the film.

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