Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Let George Do It

Its a week before Federal Budget night so let's do a little speculating and have a ramble about what might be in store for the film industry. Last year, at 6.01 pm on 16 December to be precise, I put up a post on http://filmalert.blogspot.com/ speculating about future decisions the Federal Government may make about the film industry. I said then that ‘next year we can probably expect somebody to come up with some rejigged bureaucratic arrangements, probably putting parts of the AFC into the FFC and leaving the residue of the AFC to run the National Film and Sound Archive and the cultural activities stuff like grants for festivals. ....’. I turn my back on the country for a week, (pondering while I’m away mysterious headlines like “Campion to don gloves and follow Betham” Dunedin Sunday Star Times, (I think ) and come back to find a piece by John Garnaut and Gary Maddox in the SMH, (a version of which you may still find if you look around at at http://www.smh.com.au)

It reported that in fact the Government proposes to throw everything film related into one large melting pot and that the FFC, the AFC (and apparently all the attendant AFC functions like the National Film and Sound Archive) will come under one big roof. If that’s true then maybe one of the anonymous bureaucrats who conducted the recent behind closed doors review of the film industry has been attracted by the model of the French CNC which has as its principal missions to regulate the industry, sustain it economically, promote it across all audiences, including internationally, and conserve it. We could do worse.

We’ll probably never know the thinking went into any proposals for future arrangements. The Review process was completely opaque. Any interrogation or interlocution, that is if indeed there was any, was also conducted out of the public eye. Any consultation and the submissions that went to the Minister and the Cabinet Submission itself were naturally conducted with the usual surrounding secrecy one associates with the high level control freakery practised by the Howard Government and the ‘modern’ Federal bureaucracy.

No matter, according to Garnaut and Maddox, no doubt after information was supplied to them by someone close to the Government, we will have something that might come to appear like a Federal Film Commissiariat (FFC). It’s possible that given the proximity to the election, and the need to bed the arrangements down quickly, Brian Rosen will become pro tem the Federal Film Commissar, taking ultimate responsibility for everything from development, cultural policy, marketing, promotion and preservation. I may be wrong there of course. The Government may already have someone else in mind for the Commissar’s job, perhaps Donald McDonald’s name might mysteriously emerge again if they cant get him up as Chief Censor. But I digress into the realms of paranoid fantasy….. surely….Whoever it is, they will probably also have the task of winnowing out a number of public servants whose jobs will be seen as unnecessary, duplicatory or capable of amalgamation. That’s always messy and it takes a hard person to get it right for the longer term…Perhaps Max Moore-Wilton could be brought back. He’s a cultured sort of guy…but I digress into paranoia again…surely….

Apparently the unions are happy and maybe have already committed to saying so on Budget night when the full details are known and a mountain of positive press releases from interested parties, not just the film industry, extolling the Howard Government’s brilliance and generosity can be expected to fall into the press boxes in Parliament House and out onto the wire services. They will then be quoted from extensively as the Government takes the cudgels to Kevin Rudd in Question Time the day after. The Australian Screen Directors’ Association already is reported by the SMH as being supportive. ASDA’s concern for new money and new subsidy arrangements arises from its view that only $360 million was invested in film production last year, not enough apparently. ASDA wants transparency and for all the money invested to be spent on film-making not on lawyers’ and bankers’ clip fees. That's a laudable object. Still, when you add in the amounts spent on and by the various film bureaucracies, Federal and state, and such bodies as the NFSA and the Australian Film Television and Radio School it would be fairly easy to get the total amount, public and private, already devoted to film and its attendant activities well up over the half a billion dollar mark each year. That’s reached without any additional large scale foreign investment on projects like Superman et al that use the studio facilities built and/or subsidised by the states.
The problem for me remains the same however as it has for a number of years. Nobody of course yet knows if these arrangements will improve the quality of our films and lift our international standing, or even return it to its once much higher levels. I’d like to think that when the announcements are made there might be some focus on this element of our film production for the fact is we currently make too few films of very high quality. This year, with two of the three major European competitive festivals already past or upon us we have still not managed to make a film good enough to be adjudged worthy of entry into those elite competitions. (One of our films has of course won an Oscar) But generally, the films that are made with the support of the agencies still seem to be regarded as mediocre by international standards and are not really making much impact locally either critically or at the box office. Let me ask you if you think the most admired films of the last two years (Wolf Creek, Little Fish, Look Both Ways, Kenny, Jindabyne, Ten Canoes and Happy Feet) really stand up against the best we’ve done in long gone years.I don’t think I’m being nostalgic in being just a little circumspect about where we are at right now.
So, what would I like George Brandis to say and do on Budget night? I’d like him to say that the new arrangements will allow the sole agency to radically rethink the attention given to the process of scriptwriting, the funding of writer/auteurs and the relationships that exist between writers, producers and directors in the Australian film industry. As well, he could say that he wants a strong, forthright and full commitment on behalf of all (Federal and State) funding and investment bodies to ensure that our best film-makers, those whose work has been internationally or locally recognized and rewarded, and our best writers, are working more fruitfully and more often. I’m not holding out much hope that he will.

I also doubt that Peter Garrett will offer any similar sentiments on behalf of the Labor Party either. He’s probably happy enough to go with the rebates idea that is at the core of the new additional funding arrangements. It would make his life as Arts spokesman easier. I’m sure he’ll have been encouraged to agree by the unions and others. Garrett is a brilliant spokesman on environmental issues but in his job as Arts spokesman I think he’s a bit of a dud. I suspect he thinks that if he doesn’t have to dream up his own film scheme to placate a vociferous, demanding and well-organised lobby group he wont be unhappy. That’s one more sleeping dog to let lie in the run-up to the election.

But, if Brandis, or even Garrett, were to take a leap and make those commitments however we might just be taking the first small step towards getting back our once-held status as a nation producing films of the highest international standards and reap the rewards, psyche and financial, for so doing.

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