Northern exposures

Dixi Joy Bankier

A land of documentary fodder, scenic locations, tourist icons and a very long shiny rail line, the Northern Territory is populated by just 200,000 people of whom around 110,000 live in and around Darwin. Another 50,000 Aboriginal residents live mostly in remote outposts. The young, extremely multicultural population and the amazing landscape make the NT totally different from the rest of Australia in character and culture.

The Territory’s film and television industry employs about 200 people. Although 3 NT-based broadcasters have their own production facilities (the ABC, Channel Nine and the Indigenous-owned Imparja Television), they produce little more than a smattering of local origin news, sports and current affairs. Seven, without production facilities, tends to be supportive of local independent production.

Those 100 or so in private enterprise work hard to win and create work, surviving on an eclectic mix of TV commercials, corporate videos and whatever jobs large or small pass through. Possessive of their hard-earned market, these multi-skilled practitioners are not happy when interstate production companies take jobs. Indigenous education and training in radio and television broadcasting and organisations, like CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) and BRACS (Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme), have given the NT numerous emerging filmmakers in remote communities, producing for remote broadcasts but with little opportunity for further training and work experience in the industry.

The NT arts community is strong and the current government has begun cultivating the talents of their constituents in all fields of the arts. The absence of any substantial training or education and massive skill gaps in the arts sector have also been acknowledged, with practitioner needs just starting to be explored. The long forgotten and neglected film and television industry, for example, has toiled away for years with little or no assistance or intervention. The small rogue industry is extremely active, with a conservatively estimated annual turnover of $30 million including broadcasting, production-related activities and the new media sector. After much consultation with smaller stakeholders, the Northern Territory Film, Television and New Media Office (the name may change) will open its doors in Alice Springs in late February 2004.

Much humbug concerning the location of the office and available grants followed the announcement of its creation. Alice Springs was chosen, as it is located closer to the rest of Australia’s capitals and is better known in the film world. Time will tell if Alice Springs is a more advantageous location than the more populous Darwin.

Only $300,000 has been allocated in grants for projects and production over the next 3 years. The first round of grants was announced in late January, with 22 applications for the available $30,000 and another $20,000 to be allocated to skills development and special projects, both using the existing Arts NT grants administration system. Given such a meagre starting point, stakeholders are hoping that the Director’s priorities will include finding investment and funding avenues. Arts NT is about to announce the Director for the Office who will work with one staff member.

FATANT (Film and Television Association Northern Territory), a mob of industry professionals, was also recently established to help local players catch up with the rest of Australia. With government assistance, FATANT will eventually create a network via a directory web site, lobby for industry needs like professional development and training opportunities and guide government and the Office in their decisions.

Held in early August as part of the Darwin Fringe Festival, Fist Full of Films, the Territory’s growing annual short film festival, is a true representation of the eclectic lifestyle and character of the NT. The second Down Under International Film Festival in Darwin in April will bring together the many emerging filmmakers and industry professionals for workshops, production and a hoot of an awards night. With the lack of training and the few jobs available in the industry, film festivals have been essential in cultivating local talent.

Territorians have waited eons for the train to arrive for film and new media industry support. Hopefully establishing an effective and responsive Film, TV and New Media Office will take much less time to set up. Increased funding and support for the rich potential in Territorian screen arts can only enrich the entire nation’s film and new media culture.

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 18

© Dixi Joy Bankier; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2004