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Australian films: National Portrait Gallery exhibit shows the behind the scenes of iconic movies

Muriel's Wedding - Toni Collette as Muriel trying on a wedding dress by Robert McFarlane
The exhibition brings together some of the most recognisable images and characters from Australia's most significant films.

Supplied: National Portrait Gallery

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Hundreds of images capturing the most significant characters in 100 years of Australian filmmaking have been brought together at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

Stills from 1906's The Story of the Kelly Gang through to key moments in movies like Crocodile Dundee, Muriel's Wedding and The Dressmaker are featured in Starstruck - Australian Movie Portraits.

The exhibit showcases photos largely collected by the National Film and Sound Archive.

It celebrates the role of photography in filmmaking, with shots from casting, behind the scenes, character portraits, key scenes and promotional shots.

Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan and Everlyn Sampi as Daisy, Gracie and Molly traversing a salt pay by Matt Nettheim
Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan and Everlyn Sampi as Daisy, Gracie and Molly in the 2002 film Rabbit Proof Fence

Supplied: National Portrait Gallery

Curator at the National Film and Sound Archive, Jennifer Coombes, said photography was an often overlooked but vital element in the movie-making machine.

"[Photographers] are kind of in a pecking order, and they're not the most important person on set," she said.

Dead Calm - Nicole Kidman as Rae Ingram holding a spear gun by Jim Sheldon
Nicole Kidman in her role as Rae Ingram in the 1989 film Dead Calm.

Supplied: National Portrait Gallery

Capturing a feisty heroine

Film critic Margaret Pomeranz pointed to an image of Nicole Kidman clutching a spear gun from 1989's Dead Calm as her favourite among the collection.

"You look at this woman, who's really come through the Hollywood machine and forged such an interesting career for herself," she said.

Australian film critic Margaret Pomeranz.
Film critic Margaret Pomeranz says the fundamentals of film have not changed over a century of cinema.

ABC News: Cliantha Dawit-Dessay

"And there's a line in the film where the Billy Zane character says to her 'you'll still be beautiful at 80'.

"How right he was."

Ms Pomeranz said the spread of films showcased demonstrates how the fundamentals of cinema have not changed.

"Film is one of those collaborative artforms, where you have to bring so many elements together," she said.

"If you get just a couple of elements wrong, it's not such a good film.

"But when it works, that's just the magic of cinema for me."

The Dressmaker - Hugo Weaving as Horatio Farrat by Ben King
Hugo Weaving as Horatio Farrat in the 2015 film The Dressmaker

Supplied: National Portrait Gallery

Nailing the magic moment

Ms Coombes said the portraits offered an insight into both the character being portrayed, and the actor behind that character.

"We moved a bit beyond glamour when we were making this exhibition, and started talking about character and character transition," she said.

The exhibition runs until March next year.