When cinephile Michael Smith bought and lovingly restored Yarraville’s landmark Sun Theatre he never anticipated he would one day screen a full-length film about his own swashbuckling feat of derring-do.
“As someone who watches three to 10 movies a week and shows over 100 films a year, seeing myself in a movie is rather surreal,” the dapper bowtie-wearing cinema owner admits.
It would take a tiny silver Searey seaplane and a whole lot of chutzpah for this to come to pass, as Michael reveals, first in the film and now the book, Voyage of the Southern Sun.
In 2015 Michael became the first person to fly solo around the world in an amphibious plane, earning him the prestigious title of Australian Geographic Adventurer of the Year.
What began as a quest to retrace the 1938 Qantas flying-boat route between Sydney and London turned into a seven-month, 57,500-kilometre odyssey which took him to 25 countries.
Flying under the radar without fanfare or sponsor, Michael managed, not only to cheat death on occasion but also make aviation history.
He also measured the seat widths and legroom in 70 cinemas across Europe, the Asian subcontinent and North America, as part of his rather dryly titled MBA thesis, The Perceived Value of Cinema to
The MBA, for which he received a high distinction, was in many ways a pretext for the kind of adventure Michael had dreamed of pursuing since he was a teen and first read Dove – the story of Robin Lee Graham, who set out to sail the world as a 16-year-old in 1965.
Having completed the multi-million-dollar, 20-year restoration of The Sun cinema, seen his son and stepson through high school and reached settlement in a complex legal battle after a business deal went bad, it was time to take off. “The court case was hideous and I came out the end of that and I did feel like I needed to have a break and go and think about things,” Michael reveals.
“People think I am this wonderful businessman or great property developer. I am not. I bought this building (The Sun) when I was 25 with no real idea of what I was doing. But I do have a really strong conviction and if I decide to do something I tend to follow through.”
Back on the ground after his life-affirming journey he’s planning his next adventure – the construction of a second eight-screen cinema complex in Footscray.
- Voyage of The Southern Sun \ published by Black Inc, $34.99