OnScreen Editorial – RT65

Dan Edwards

For anyone interested in local screen culture, or the arts in general, it’s difficult in the wake of last October’s election result not to sink into a quagmire of depression at the relentless downward thrust of arts funding, dismantling of the public sector and erosion of civil liberties and free speech. So what does another 3 years (at least) of Howard mean for the film industry? One of the key tenets stressed in the government’s film funding policy released shortly before the election was “attracting greater levels of private finance”, but there was little interest shown in seriously investing public money in the flagging sector. Of the money that was promised, some was earmarked for specific projects, such as $7.5 million for a government commissioned “10-part series of high quality documentaries on Australia’s history” from Film Australia. One wonders what the content of these documentaries will comprise, given the government’s open refusal to countenance any historical perspective that doesn’t conform to its own. Tom Zubrycki wrote about how openly censorious the government has become in RT60 (p15), describing an attempt by Joint House Leader Bob Wedgwood to prevent a screening of Zubrycki’s documentary Molly and Mobarak at Parliament House, on the grounds that the film “promotes the theme of widespread opposition to government policy.”

Most of the rest of the government’s film-related election promises were a list of vague measures aimed at attracting money from the private sector, which in recent times has been singularly uninterested in local film investment. The AFC was promised another $2.5 million this financial year, and an additional $5 million per annum for the following 3 years. This money will be used to develop “better Australian scripts” and fund “a slate of low budget, first time feature films.” Worthy aims, but tinkering with the edges of the industry in this manner will not alter the fundamental problem: a lack of money has meant fewer films and a prevailing conservatism in the form and content of the films that are being made. Nor will it change the fact that the vast majority of our first time filmmakers will never get to make a second film.

The production and box office figures for local feature films in 2004 tell a dire tale, with just 15 features produced in the last financial year, nearly half the average annual output of the mid to late 1990s. Of these, Khoa Do’s ultra-low budget video feature The Finished People (RT59, p16), conceived and shot without state funding, was one of the best, and is indicative of a broader trend that official industry figures don’t reveal.

Video features made outside the traditional funding and distribution networks are becoming increasingly common, creating a vibrant and innovative film culture running parallel to the subsidised commercial industry. In our last issue we covered David Barison and Daniel Ross’ The Ister and Paul Jeffrey’s In The Moment. In this issue we focus on a younger generation of socially engaged filmmakers taking a guerrilla approach, harnessing video and digital technologies to get their work made and distributed. In the long term this cultural insurgency may prove more effective in developing innovation and expressing dissent than lobbying an increasingly constrained bureaucracy. DE

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 18

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2005