Debate: The way we watch favours global cultural diversity over Australian content
America has long since dominated the global film industry due to the strength of the industry and globalisation (Silver, 2007), and as we’ve been uncovering over the past few weeks, Australia’s film industry has been complicated. To strengthen ties and remove barriers between America and Australian film production, both countries signed a ‘bilateral trade treaty in 2005 providing the best means to enhance social and economic development’ (Breen, 2010). This FTA (free trade agreement) occurred against the backdrop of UNESCO’s ‘Universal Declaration of Cutural Diversity’ which was created to protect cultural rights in a globalizing world (Middlemost, 2016). Quite a contrasting image.
We can then look at digital determinism which ‘exposes the power of national technological dominance and its impact on national culture industries’ (Breen, 2010, pp. 660). This FTA therefore represents that the United States have a platform to influence and impact the Australian film industry. But will this always be beneficial? And if digital determinism is to continue in Australia, does that mean we’ll be watching more or less Australian content?
With the continuation of FTA agreements and the rise of co productions, people have developed a strong sense of protectionism which is strongly related to nationalism. We’re concerned about who will work on co produced films, where will the money go, who will come into the county… and with these questions, skeptics can then question if these decisions are good for Australian and Australians. This would then lead to strong economic and cultural protectionism which could see these FTA’s unravel and lead to fragmentation of content (Szakonyi, 2007). FTA’s should be focused around the audience and the people they are creating content for, and not companies to take advantage of free trade. However, with a FTA with the United States, this means that they ‘set the agenda for other countries and thereby retains a position of power and has intensified through FTA’s’ (Jin, 2011).
The Way We Watch
By analysing the infographic created by Screen Australia, we can see that Australian audiences are watching nearly an equal amount of Australian and international TV series on VOD services. It also states that Hollywood films are less dominant on VOD services than at the cinemas (Screen Australia, 2015). And these TV watching habits have dramatically changed in recent times. The Australian Netflix has over 1million subscribers (The Sydney Morning Herald, 2015), making it the largest VOD service in Australia. However, customers can only access limited Australian content. Plus, the Australian Netflix has about 10% of the American Netflix library. And Netflix are ensuring that we can’t access other libraries through VPN’s. So the way we watch – Netflix, ultimately affects whether or not we can access Australian content, or if we can only access international content.
Because the world is becoming increasingly globalized, we need to acknowledge the inter connectedness of the world which includes film industries. However, national film industries should be focused around consumer and audiences – not to economically benefit large production companies. If Australia is going to continue with FTA’s then we should ensure that these agreements protect cultural diversity but are also allowed to flourish to an international audience.
Breen, M 2010, ‘Digital determinism: culture industries in the USA-Australia Free Trade Agreement’, New media & society, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 657-676
Jin, D 2011, ‘A critical analysis of US cultural policy in the global film market: Nation States and FTA’s’, The International Communication Gazette, Vol. 73, No. 8, pp. 651-669
Middlemost, R 2016, ‘Making space for Australian content: Free Trade Agreements and how we watch’, BCM330, University of Wollongong, Lecture Materials, delivered 19 January 2016
Australian films are… ‘dark and depressing, full of outmoded ocker stereotypes, rubbish’ (Quinn, 2014). We’ve already discussed some of the key assumptions around Australian media and it’s content (here) and pretty well established that there’s this underlying ‘urgh’ about Australian films. I had the same impression a few months ago, they never seemed that interesting, that’s even if I heard about them. And why would I spend so much money to watch it, when I could watch a Hollywood blockbuster for the same amount of money? All of these issues give us the sense that we should just give up on Australian media content.
The following table illustrates that Australian films have either been in a state of ‘boom or bust’ as ‘screen policy is highly visible in Australian cultural policy debates due to the screen industry’s perceived cultural importance and media profile’ (Burns & Eltham). It’s easy to see that the late 70’s to 80’s returned massive profits due to the rise of Ozploitation and the liberal funding scheme at the time (read here). However we can also see that there’s periods where next to no one is going to the cinema, like in 2004 where we only received 1.3% share. So with some pretty dismal stats… is it time we give up on Australian films?
The Revival Period
We just had our biggest year at the box office in 2015 ‘taking $84million at the local box office, which is 7.7% of the total – the biggest since 2001’ (Quinn, 2015). So, does this mean that instead of giving up… we should commit to transforming our national film industry to something bigger and better?
Overcoming the issues
We already know that there is a market gap. That people are turning away from American and British media, however struggle to access new Australian content (Vickery, 2015). According to Aveyard, ‘films only exist when distributed properly’ (Aveyard, 2011) and she highlights the significant issues faced by being restricted to traditional means of marketing due to budgets, and then in turn receiving little at the box office (pp. 43). As David Elfick explains in the picture above, the window in access between the cinema and DVD access dramatically effects the success of the film. Lauren Carrol Harris (author of The Mule) says that we are left with an economic situation that sets up Australian films to fail’ (McClintock, 2014). To avoid being ‘more culturally and economically marginalised’ (Aveyard, 2011), Australian film and media need to move forward with innovation, creativity and some risks.
In 2016, a new VOD service called Ozflix will be launching. The aim of this service is to ‘rediscover Australian classics, launch independent new voices and celebrate our film industry’ (Nash, 2015). Perhaps this is what Australian media needs… to step away from traditional means of distribution and access. Van Hermet and Ellison support this idea, explaining that audience engagement is at the epicentre of a films success and in this digital age, social media and online participation need to be included (Van Hermert & Ellison). Perhaps if the people consuming the content were actively involved with Australian media, they would be more willing to pay to access it and also continue to watch it?
Screen Australia propose that new strategies or business models to overcome the issues illustrated above could include and address the following; ‘audiences want to see what they want, when they want, where they want and on the device they want, that producers and distributors need to experiment with alternative strategies to engage audiences and having an easy platform to access these films will make audiences more likely to pay for VOD services’ (Screen Australia, 2015, pp.22). The biggest solution will arise from innovation, creativity and engagement of audiences, all of which can be met by taking some risks and stepping away from our ‘safe zone.’
A change of heart
I must admit, I’ve completely changed my perspective over the course of the past few months studying Australian media content. I believe we need to change the negative stigma attached to Australian films because that’s the most damaging and influential part that led me to avoid watching them. Secondly, our access to films needs a facelift. If I couldn’t find a film on Netflix (I’m already subscribed) then the chances of me buying a DVD player are extremely slim, and there’s no way in hell Australian films are easy to find on… alternate sites (definitely nothing illegal here). However, in the past few months I’ve managed to watch films I’d never heard of like Little Death, Adore, Animal Kingdom and Tracks. And admittedly, I loved all four of those films. Of course there may be some less than amazing Australian films out there – but then again, I’ve seen my fair share of bad American films as well. As technology continues to evolve, so does our film industry, the way we talk about it and how we access it. I am extremely optimistic about the future. As we see new talent, new platforms and bigger and better ideas, I think this will only transfer over to our film industry and we’re in for some fine entertainment.
Aveyard, K 2011, ‘Australian Films at the Cinema: Rethinking the role of distribution and exhibition’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No. 138, pp. 36-45
Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, ‘Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘Race to the Bottom’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No. 136, pp. 103-118
Van Hermert, t & Ellison, E 2015, ‘Queensland’s film culture: the challenges of local film distribution and festival exhibition’, Studies in Australiasian Cinema, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 39-51, DOI: 10.1080/17503175.2014.1002269
“I don’t know an Australian would have made this film” Andrew Mason (Producer)
I previously watched this film and was completely blown away by the tender provocativeness of the storyline and honest vulnerability of the characters, complemented by the stunning landscape of the NSW coastline. It was unlike any other Australian film I had seen before so I had to do a bit of research on this film. It turns out that Adore (also known as Two Mothers, Perfect Mothers and Adoration) is a French – Australian film that was released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 (Bodey, 2013). Australians love French cinema which is proven through the success of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival ,in its 27th year in 2016 and the biggest festival of French films outside of France.
Culturally, France is renowned for their unapologetic romance and passion. Bodey explains that they know how to feel and if you love something, go for it’ (Bodey, 2013). The movie And as the producer Andrew Mason confesses ‘I don’t know an Australian would have made this film.’ The film is based on a short story by British author, Doris Lessing and was directed French director, Anne Fontaine. Yet the film features predominantly Australian actors and is set in Seal Rocks on the coast of Australia. This neat fusion of culture and cinematic ideas, create a hybrid film.
I have previously explored the importance of landscape in Australian films (check it out here), and this film is no exception. Bodey states that the isolation of the location – a small coastal town, plays on the idea that it is an Australian film and apart from a few references to Sydney, could be any coastal town in the world.
To co produce with France also offers enormous benefits in audience reach, financial support and box office success. France has an extremely strong and unique film industry. In 2013, ‘270 feature films were produced with a combined expendituare of €1.25 billion’ (Screen Australia, 2014). Along with having a significantly larger budget, France also has a huge cinema watching audience. With a population of 66million and 196.3million annual cinema admissions, France is a strong country to co produce with (Screen Australia 2014). France and Australia have a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) which was signed in 1986 and since then have co produced over 32 productions with a total budget of $265million (Screen Australia, 2014). The Australian minimum is 40% but the French minimum is 20% (Screen Australia, 2014) which illustrates the Australian film industry’s need to exercise tight control over our national industry and identity. The benefits of co producing with France are economically and culturally viable and beneficial to both nations.
Critics have said that co-produced films are ‘oriented towards global agendas and systems’ (O’Regan & Potter, 2013) and we could risk losing our national film identity. They are also concerned that internationalising a national film industry can lead to ‘loss of creative freedom and contribute to film distribution, production, post-production and visual effects also being internationalised’ (O’Regan & Potter, 2013). However, others believe that co productions are the key to the future and success of the Australian film industry, with unique and changing stories that can capture rich appreciate from audiences (Dillon, 2013)
A film like Adore contains significant Australian content, it just has a fresh French squeeze drizzled over it. It seems however, that Australian audiences aren’t ready to embrace such a big change in our national film industry just yet.
O’Regan, T Potter, A 2013, ‘Globalisation from within?: The de-nationalising of Australian film and television production’ Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No. 149, Nov 2013
We can’t begin to talk about the issue of good vs. bad publicity without mentioning Ms Miley Cyrus. The past few years have seen this star embark on one of the most outrageous and successful publicity campaigns of all times, starting with her infamous performance at the VMA’s with Robin Thicke in 2013. Her performance generated over 306 000 tweets per minute (Robinson, 2013), which were overwhelmingly negative. However, she managed to get an extra 100 000 followers on Twitter and it kick started the following years of raunchy videos and the release of a new album. Mily Cyrus has also used her fame to advocate for youth social issues like Homelessness and mental health through her Happy Hippy Foundation. So whilst the majority of publicity towards Miley Cyrus is negative, in this case, is negative publicity good publicity for her, her fans, her career and her foundation? It would seem so.
‘Without the outback, Australian cinema might have been interchangeable with any number of other national cinemas. With it, Australian filmmakers have used the landscape to forge an identity that is of the land, while still seeking to understand its enigma’ (Shirley, 2011).
The same issue can be applied to Australian films. ‘Our national cinema plays a vital role in our cultural heritage and in showing us what it is to be Australian’ (Bowles, 2007). Australian films seem to have an obsession with representing Australian culture and Australia through vast deserts, the outback and an ocker stereotype. This idea of Australia was introduced when Crocodile Dundee was released, promoting these stereotypical ideas (Middlemost, 2015). But the question stands, is this the sort of image we should be promoting to the world (and especially America?). And even though these films and characters are getting attention, is this publicity good publicity?
A classic Australian film with strong emphasis on landscape and the Outback is Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It emphasises the stark contrast in cinematography of the ‘drag queens, heightening the apparent inappropriateness of the figures which occupy the landscape, and to highlight its dominance over them’ (Thomas, 1996).
20 years later and Tracks is released. It’s a biographical film based off of the memoir of Robyn Davidson. This film depicts a strong and independent female lead and her connection with the earth as opposed to the contrasting image of drag queens in the desert. This film made around $500 000 domestically and over $4million worldwide (Box Office Mojo, 2016) illustrating this wild, untamed and nature of the Outback to the rest of the world. The film generated a lot of money in the box office, however there is also a strong correlation with Outback adventure films like Tracks and Wolf Creek and pop- culture tourism. With the promise of a ‘life changing experience’ (Frost, 2010) the above films promote not only Australia but a lifestyle. But as Shirley points out, an issue with emphasising the Outback in films is that it neglects different groups and perspectives of people that live in Australia (Shirley, 2011), ones that would be overlooked by tourists.
Tracks, however, does include very important voices that have often been omitted from Australian films, those of the First Australians and women. Despite the fact that many people roll their eyes at the thought of another film set in the Outback, it has provided Australian films a pivotal role in our nations film success. In conclusion, it seems that any attention and publicity Australian films can generate is good for the industry and many others like tourism. However, to avoid a calamity of a publicity stunt like Miley Cyrus, I believe we should play to our strengths as a film industry whilst steadily challenging what is on screen and what is missing. Regardless I believe landscape and the Outback will always be an iconic character in Australian films.
Bowles, K 2007 ‘Three miles of rough dirt road’ :towards an audience-centred approach to cinema studies in Australia’, Studies in Australasian cinema, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 245 – 260
Have you ever watched an Australian film from the 70’s that was so bad, it was actually good? Then you were most likely watching an Ozploitation film. During this time ‘Australia as an institution required a national identity, consisting of images of itself emanating from its own culture and reflecting the characteristics of it’s population’ (Rayner, 2000). And what better way to do so than exploit the hell out our stereotypes. Ozploitation films were genre films, including horror, bikie gangs and sexploitation, and during the 1970’s and 80’s there were over 400 Australian films made. The biggest boom in Australian film history (Middlemost, 2015). This massive boom in the industry is due to the 10BA tax introduced at the time. Long story short, the 10BA meant that filmmakers got a 150% tax deduction, meaning that they were making money. (For the long story, click here). Whilst the era of the 10BA is over and Ozploitation films leave us cringing… the case study of Ozploitation films teach us that the Australian film industry was is dominated by men.
Trailer for ‘Not Quite Hollywood.’
Male Domination of the Australian Film Industry
If you watch the trailer for Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood, you’ll notice just how masculine Ozploitation films were. The men reinforced ‘the essential Australian male, working-class, sardonic, laconic, loyal to his mates, unimpressed by rank, an improvisor and non-conformist’ (Rayner, 2000, pp. 95).
As you can see in the screenshots above, women are often portrayed as submissive, weak or victimized. In Ozploitation films ‘naked women are subjected to violence and brutal villains tend to demonstrate their power by driving fast or showing off their massive members’ (Fuchs, 2009). This submissive image of women contrasted to the macho man, highlights the inequality between men and women on screen.
Rebecca Giwing remembers working on Sandy Harbut’s biker movie, Stone (1974): “It was as sexist in production as the world that it was portraying,” she says, “The women did as they were told and the blokes seemed to have all the fun.” As explained in Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood, some of the women found it very empowering to be nude and sexual on camera, however as Giwin admits above, that wasn’t always applicable to all.
However, gender inequality doesn’t just affect the actresses in the movies. It affects every women whether they’re in the industry or not. In Monica Davidson’s essay titled ‘Knocking on a Locked Door: Women in Australian Feature Film,’, it reveals that ‘of all Australian feature films made since the 1970s, a staggering 85% have been directed by men’ (Daily Review, 2015). And as you can see in the infographic above, the gap between men and women in the film industry is huge.
The case study of Ozploitation not only highlights the gender inequality during the 70’s and 80’s, but also allows us to question why we are still facing such inequality within the Australian film industry in 2016. It’s important that we demand change because ‘with their powerful influence on shaping the perceptions of large audiences, the media are key players for the gender equality agenda’ (Mlambo-Ngcuka, 2014).
However… there is hope! Screen Australia have recently committed to supporting, financing and encouraging the role that women play in the Australian film industry. Watch below for more information.
Rayner, J 2000, Contemporary Australian Cinema : An Introduction, Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2000, viewed 21 December 2015
Thomas, D J 2009, ‘Tarantino’s Two Thumbs Up: Ozploitation and the Reframing of the Aussie Genre Film’, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, 161, p. 90, Informit Literature & Culture Collection, viewed 15 December 2015
The problem isn’t Australian films, it’s Australian audiences
I love Australian films, with all their flaws and mistakes and even outright crassness on occasions … But if it is to continue to be part of our culture, Australian film needs a bit of kindness, and it needs audiences. – Margret Pomeranz, co-host of ABC’s At the Movies
When looking at the success or failure of Australian films, we quickly assume it’s because of the content. However, with 2015 being Australian films ‘biggest year at the box office, taking more than $84million (Quinn, 2015), it must be something other than what’s in the movie. But maybe it’s time we start looking at who’s watching the movie. Let’s turn the lens around and look into what’s the problem with Australian audiences.
A significant ‘problem’ with Australian audiences, is that we are a leading nation of ‘pirates.’ The Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation’s 2010 report indicates that ‘more than half of Australia’s population has participated in piracy’ (The Conversation, 2014) because pirating is ‘free, convenient and quick, with 30 percent of pirates saying that legal content is too expensive (Reilly, 2015). As discussed in previous posts, price and time are big constraints restricting people’s access to go to the movies. And why would you spend money on something that you can get for free?
However, I hear from… a friend of mine… that it is extremely difficult to access Australian content online through pirating. Therefore, audiences may have to turn to Video On Demand Services like Netflix. However, the American Netflix has more Australian content than the Australian Netflix! So even if audiences are trying to do the right thing and paid for an Australian Netflix account to watch Australian content, their options are extremely limited.
But is it all the audiences fault?
Even if we want to watch Australian films, we face the massive issue of access. Kaufman states that Australian films will continute to ‘find fewer audiences if the Old World distribution system remains the only way to connect films with audiences’ (Kaufman, 2009) So it only makes sense that we need to give our distribution and access to Australian films a facelift. 2016 will see the launch of Ozflix. A unique new platform allowing audiences to access a huge amount of Australian content (watch below for more information).
The success of Ozflix is yet to be known, with its launch occurring later in 2016. Ozflix and ‘VOD (video on demand) offers the potential to tap into specialised audience demand’ (Screen Australia, 2014). This new platform will allow audiences to engage with Australian content in a positive way, easier, cheaper and faster. This cheap and easy access to multiple platforms is a crucial market that the Australian media content industry needs to tap in to (Thank you Ozflix). As the government makes it harder and harder for people to torrent illegally, there is demand and room within our current market to support Australian Content moving to Video On Demand.
So whilst there may be a few problems with us as an audience and a few problems with Australian films… all in all, we’re not too bad. The issues seems to lie in access. In order for Australian films and content to flourish, it needs a dedicated and committed audience. Hopefully 2016 and Ozflix will cater to the audiences demand.
‘We’ve got a unique lovable culture that we should celebrate. We’ve got great talent, when the writers, directors, actors all come together – when all the molecules coalesce – that’s when the magic happens.’– Gino Munari, Village Cinema’s General Manager
And somehow the magic just doesn’t seem to be happening. Australian films and media content have been incredibly influential not only domestically, but internationally. With a long history of contributing towards a cohesive identity and representing Australian culture, Australian stories are ones that should be told on a global stage. The general assumptions around Australian media content, particularly Australian films are extremely underwhelming, with Burns and Eltham describing Australian films as ‘unpopular at the box office’ and a ‘failure of the domestic screen industry’ (Burns & Eltham, 2010). Whilst these key assumptions are common towards Australian films, there are more deep seeded issues like measuring success, funding, marketing and audience watching habits of Australian films that contribute towards this stigma. The overall negative stigma of the Australian film industry and Australian films lead people to believe there has been a market failure within the industry. Whilst admittedly there are significant issues that must be addressed to ensure funding continuation, protection and stimulation of Australian content, the market has not entirely failed. Instead, it needs a makeover, Muriel’s Wedding style.
The Australian film industry has had a long history of being delicately intertwined with government policy, ultimately affecting the success of films. It is said that ‘screen policy is highly visible in Australian cultural policy debates due to the screen industry’s perceived cultural importance and media profile’ (Burns & Eltham, 2010). The 10BA existed throughout the 1970’s to 1980’s offering generous tax deduction of up to 150%, resulting in a boom in the industry (Burt, 2004). Some of Australia’s most successful films, like Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max, were produced in this time. However there were also a substantial amount of terrible films produced, some of them not even being released. With ‘skyrocketing budgets, shady deals and erosion of Australian cultural identity in an effort to appeal to global audiences’ (Burt, 2004), the 10BA days are well and truly over. In 1988, the Film Finance Corporation was created as a means to replace the 10BA and was to act as a film bank, becoming the ‘major source of finance in the 1990’s’ (Middlemost, 2015). Ultimately it was a failure, with only 25 movies produced a year in the 90’s and little profit. In 2008, Screen Australia was created under the Labor Government, a combination of the FFC, Film Australia Limited and the Australian Film Commission (Screen Australia, 2015). Screen Australia ‘aims to create an Australian industry that is innovative, culturally important and commercially sustainable’ (Screen Australia, 2015). With fluctuating policies, taxes and companies funding the film industry, it’s easy to see how the history of Australian film has either been in a ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ period (Burns & Eltham). However, with 2015 being the biggest year for Australian films since 2001, taking $84million or 7.7% of the local box office (Quinn, 2015), perhaps there is hope for future years.
An issue with films is how we measure the success or failure of a film. Traditionally and currently, a films success is measured by the amount of money it generates at the box office (in selling movie tickets). It is expensive to go to the cinemas. The minimum price of a ticket for a student is $10, plus the petrol to get there and the overpriced popcorn and soft drink… the whole experience can easily set you back $20. These limitations are highlighted in Torsten Hägerstrand’s three constraints on a audiences movement with money, time and transportation greatly influencing their ability to go (Holland, 2015). We have already acknowledged a huge information and research gap in Australians online movie watching habits (Middlemost, 2015). Personally I prefer streaming or watching a film on Netflix and eating my own food at home… cost efficiency. According to the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority), 9 in 10 teenagers use the internet for entertainment purposes for approximately 14hrs 42mins per week (Raco, 2014). If there is a whole demographic of people who are actively choosing not to go to the cinema to watch Australian films because the whole experience is too costly, then the box office success is not a true indicator of a films popularity. It’s therefore evident that funding should go to future research to fill this knowledge gap. As Kaufman suggests, we should be asking questions like ‘how many people watch Australian films or television programs, or Australian content made for new platforms?’ (Kaufman, 2009). By addressing these questions we will be able to furthermore understand the ways in which Australians consume Australian media and work towards protecting and enhancing the Australian film experience for everyone involved.
Another aspect contributing to the supposed market failure of Australian films is the way that we talk about them. Timothy King argues that commentary, reviews and marketing play a crucial role in contributing to a films success at the box office (King, 2007). In his research, he found that if a film has a glowing review, then the success should be reciprocated at the box office. However, is it common to see the Australian press criticize the Australian film industry for lack of success with the implication that it should be doing better (Middlemost, 2015). Whilst commentaries of Australian films are predominantly negative, film critics on the other hand, are criticized for being too soft on Australian films (Quinn, 2014). Many people base their decision off going to watch a film off of reviews (King, 2007), so it’s important to place value and trust in film critics. It is argued that the Australian film industry needs to be re-branded (Kaufter, 2009). If not re-branded, at least a botox injection, something to give it a bit of liveliness and something for people to talk about.
Despite the behind the scenes issues like marketing, commentary and audience viewing of Australian films, we must also discuss that perhaps some of our content needs improving in order to protect the future of the Australian film industry. Criticisms of Australian content are generally affiliated with the films being ‘dark and depressing’ and ‘full of outmoded ocker stereotypes’ (Quinn, 2014). Sponsored by Screen Australia and Screen NSW (Tropfest, 2015), Tropfest is an annual competition that sees hundreds of short films submitted. Tropfest is a way to provide up and coming talent the opportunity to break into the film industry and have their creative and new innovative ideas heard. Or at least it was. Tropfest for 2015 was cancelled due to ‘terrible mismanagement of funds’ (Mackander, 2015). This illustrates the crucial role that funding plays in the Australian film industry. However, thanks to CGU Insurance, a private investment was made so that Tropfest will take place on the 14th of February 2016 (Tropfest, 2015). If we are looking for ways to improve the Australian film industry, then holding Tropfest is fundamental to not only encourage aspiring filmmakers, but also bridge the gap between them and large production companies (Mackander, 2015). This also illustrates that perhaps the film industry needs a mix of both private investors and government funding in order to maintain a healthy industry.
Australian films are unique and crucial to Australians and Australian culture. It’s a hybrid type of film that should be allowed to change and evolve over time. The only way that can happen is if creative and innovative communities are given the opportunity to access the industry. It is also apparent that policies and funding directly affect the reception of films, visible through the 10BA tax, the FFC and Screen Australia. Another important note is that the audience has a large role to play in the industry. This being said, I don’t believe there’s been a market failure within the Australian film industry as such. More like a market glitch that can be resolved, and when the right molecules coalesce, that’s when the magic happens.
Winner of Tropfest 2014
Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, ‘Boom and Bust in Australian screen policy: 10BA, The Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘race to the bottom’’, Media International Australia, No. 136, pp. 103-118
What are the key assumptions surrounding the production of Australian content?
Australian Media… for some reason, it just doesn’t have a ring to it. Whenever I think of Australian films, I subconciously roll my eyes. Don’t get me wrong… I do enjoy (some) Australian films (Muriel’s Wedding being a personal fave) but overall they leave me questioning a lot about the Australian film industry. And then I discovered that apparently the Great Gatsby is classified as an Australian film (and who doesn’t love a bit of Leo?) So why is it that when we think of Australian media, we think of the following things?
Overall, Australian Media Content kind of leaves us with this look on our faces.
A way to understand and change the look above from drab to fab, is to explore some of the key assumptions and expectations of Australian film and media content.
What is an Australian film?
Do the actors need to be Australian? Does it need to be set in Australia? What if the director is Australian? Or the crew? Or the production company?
Screen Australia are the people behind most of these Australian films. It is funded by the federal government to support ‘Australian screen production, with an aim to create an Australian industry that is innovative, culturally important and commercially sustainable’ (Screen Australia, 2015). Screen Australia was a product of the merging of the Australian Film Commision, The Film Finance Corporation Australia and Film Australia Limited. For a film to be classified as Australian it must primarily be under ‘creative control’ (Middlemost, 2015). That’s why films like the Great Gatsby can be classified as Australian.
The clip below discusses some of these points and highlights it’s commonly believed a film is Australian if the majority of creative content and control is by Australians, or if it showcases our culture or people.
The Conversation offers an interesting point, suggesting that by trying to limit and narrow our definition of ‘Australian content’ and emphasising ‘Australian-ness’ is ‘actually holding back the Australian film industry’ (The Conversation, 2012). They argue that a films success should not be determined by their ‘cultural worthiness,’ and instead should be based on merit of the film as a whole.
What does it mean to be Australian?
By questioning the definition of an Australian film, does this in turn question Australian identity?
Australian media has had a long history of contributing towards the creation and reinforcement of Australian identity. Price suggests that the consistent representation of Australians as beach goers from Bondi Beach, or bushman living in the outback, contributes towards a national identity myth (Price, 2010). These ideas have been present within Australian society since Federation, where through print media like The Bulletin, Boomerang and Lone Hand, the image of a ‘white male, a practical working man, stoic, irreverent, anti-authoritarian and the epitome of loyalty and mateship,’was perpetuated and reinforced by the media at the time (Sievwright, 2012).
What’s the solution?
This image no longer reflects Australian identity and therefore must evolve that represent the real Australians living here. ‘Make films that engage Australian audiences. Make films that are good quality. Make films that have characters that resonate with Australian audiences. People just want to be entertained, to be swept away by the story’ (Quinn, 2014).
But is it that simple?
Audiences are torn between claiming ‘Australian films’ like the Great Gatsby and celebrating success, and being represented accurately as an ‘Australian.’ But then again, is it a films purpose to represent national identity, or tell a story? The ideas and issues that arise from discussing Australian media content are complex but necessary to start talking about so that we can wipe that ‘urgh’ look off our faces when we talk about Australian films.
Middlemost, R 2015, ‘Key Concerns of Australian Media Content’, University of Wollongong, Lecture Week 1, delivered 1 December 2015