This Italian-born, Australian-raised screenwriter and novelist won international acclaim for "Shine" (1996), but has been a rising writer Down Under since the early 1980s, recognized for his films and TV-movies. Still "Shine", the story of pianist David Helfgott's descent into mental illness and ultimate renaissance, put Jan Sardi on the list of top screenwriters internationally. His first produced screenplay, "Moving Out" (1983), a semi-autobiographical account of an Italian immigrant family coping with life in Australia. Directed by Michael Pattinson and starring Vince Colosimo, the film received mixed to positive reviews but was not released internationally. Sardi seemed to have found an alter ego in Colosimo who portrayed an outcast, rebellious teenager in Pattinson's "Street Hero" (1984), one of several films of that period that dealt with urban youth. Most local critics felt the script lacked subtlety and was too narrowly focused, but it (like "Moving Out") earned a nomination for Best Original Screenplay from both the Australian Film Institute and Australian Writers Guild (the Augie Award).
A third collaboration with Pattinson (co-directed by Bruce Myles), "Ground Zero" (1987), found Sardi developing his themes of nonconformists fighting societal (and in this case, governmental) conventions. The film explored the Australian government's investigations into deaths linked to atomic testing in areas where Aboriginal populations were residing, suggesting a cover-up. Starring Colin Friels and Jack Thompson, the feature was both a conventional thriller and a political treatise and went on to be a finalist at the Berlin Film Festival. He followed up with "Breakaway" (1990), a taut thriller about an escaped convict searching for his wife. In 1993, Sardi scripted "Secrets/One Crazy Night". Directed by Pattinson and borrowing its structure and themes from such American fare as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" (1978) and "The Breakfast Club" (1985), it depicted the story of teens caught together in a basement during a Beatles concert in Australia, but failed to deeply develop the characters beyond the symbolic. Again, the film's catalyst was an outsider who challenges the other teens views.
In David Helfgott, the protagonist of "Shine", Sardi found the ultimate outcast on which to hang a story. With his mental condition, rapid fire vocal delivery and artistic bent, Helfgott provided the perfect embodiment of the themes Sardi touched on in his previous efforts. Using the standards of conventional biopics, the writer was also able to explore familial relationships, particularly an immigrant father and his rebellious son. For his efforts, Sardi earned an Oscar nomination (one of seven total for the film).
In his adopted homeland, Sardi has also worked extensively on TV. He wrote "Just Friends", which won the Chicago International Festival of Children's Films Best Film Award. He has also written for the Australian TV series "The Man From Snowy River", about a family in the late 1800s, and his work was seen in the USA on the syndicated "The New Mission Impossible", starring Phil Morris, that was distributed worldwide during the mid-80s. He is also the author of the novel "A Cast of Thousands" and wrote the novelization of his script for "Just Friends".