The following is going into the MUFF X catalogue (with maybe minor alterations). We will then be inviting people to sign it online at: muff.com.au and then we will send it to the various Ministers and funding bodies, etc. Thoughts? Suggestions? You have to Sunday night to make them…
An Open Letter on the State of the Australian Film Industry
Drafted by Australian filmmakers, industry practitioners and cinema-lovers
August 1, 2009
As members of the Australian film industry we can no longer sit idly by and watch our nation’s cinema continue to slide into critical and commercial obscurity. The Australian Government’s bureaucratic infrastructure is failing the Australian film industry, and it is unaccountable to anyone for its failure. It invites feedback, but does not listen to it, and thereby proves itself unaccountable. Its lack of response to criticism when change is so obviously needed and should be actioned is symptomatic of this unaccountability. We need new ideas for innovation, rebirth and vitality in the Australian film industry. We need to stand together, and be counted, in support of real change in the local film industry and culture, and to bring new ideas to bear on a system that has been out of control for many years.
We demand change in the Australian film industry. The changes we suggest are canvassed below.
The current, perpetual crisis in Australian film has been well documented by the Australian media. Much coverage has been afforded to the crisis on network television and in the country’s newspapers, most notably in The Age, whose film critic, the courageous Jim Schembri, has tackled the debate head on. The issue of industry failure has also been covered in alternative/grassroots venues and publications: the Melbourne and Sydney Underground Film Festivals, The Bazura Project on Melbourne’s Channel 31, the world-renowned cinema journal Senses of Cinema, and countless cinema blogs. Two independent documentary projects about the Australian film industry crisis are currently being produced: Into the Shadows and Nothing but the Struth. Last year, Film Victoria even held a summit on the crisis called Mindshift.
Needless to say, we have seen no actionable changes.
The industry crisis has also been the subject of much obloquy in private discussions, not only between filmmakers and industry insiders, but also among members of the general public; those people who, faced with the decision between seeing an American film at the cinema and an Australian one, will doubtless turn to their partner and say: “Better not risk it.” These people want change: they want a dynamic and exciting Australian film industry.
And we, the undersigned, think it is long overdue that we gave it to them.
Australian filmmakers, industry practitioners, cinema-goers, and the mainstream and underground media are all in agreement: there is major problem with our film industry that needs to be addressed at both state and federal levels.
The issues concerning what to do about the continuing failure of the Australian film industry have been hotly debated. From these debates a consensus for action has been forming over time, and its broad outline, and our demand that it be acknowledged and addressed, is the reason we have compiled this document.
We wish to outline twelve steps, like those of Alcoholic’s Anonymous or some other recovery program, to wean Australian filmmakers and the funding bodies off their addiction to unentertaining, uninteresting, unworthy movies. We insist on change in the Australian film industry: even if only six of these twelve steps were to be actioned, it could well lead to a Renaissance once again in Australian cinema, and not a continued fall from grace out of the world cinema spotlight and increasingly towards critical insignificance.
We make these suggestions humbly, and with the hope that it open channels for real discussion and actioning of these matters, that can follow the tabling and publishing of this document. We wish only to encourage, foster and make possible change in the Australian film industry.
Our demanded agenda for change is as follows:
1. Genre and Commercial Filmmaking. It is suggested that many, many more genre films be produced in this country; more, indeed, than sensitive, politically correct ‘art-house’ fare that has been force-fed to the public since the end of the 80’s. By genre we mean horror, action, sci-fi, crime, comedy and erotica. We believe that an embrace of genre filmmaking at the higher levels of film financing and government decision-making will see those who work within the Australia film industry embrace ideas of profitability and marketability, especially beyond our shores. We want a national and international cinema of genre that embraces commercial values and has distinct markets in mind for the product.
2. Accountability. For to long in the Australian film industry the people who make the decisions for the yearly flops and failures are not in any way held accountable for their failures. There exists a professional class who somehow consider themselves beyond the failure or not of our film industry. Given that they purely exist at the behest of our national cinema, this situation should be promptly corrected. The names of board and committee members behind funding decisions should be added to the credits of government-funded films, listed there as either executive producers or, even better, precisely what they are: the persons responsible. That way, massive flops and errors can be publicly traced to their source. Similarly, ongoing reviews of the decision-making standards of the various boards and committees should be initiated. The same accountability should be applied to failed directors and producers who haven’t had a hit since the 80’s.
3. Supporting the alternative industry. The most popular and successful Australian films are very often those that no one in Australia sees. They are privately funded and tend towards either low-budget Ozploitation filmmaking or difficult experimental, avant-garde and documentary work. These films are confronting, both locally and internationally. A new fund to support such already-established and emerging independent talent is required. It is necessary to reward that which is daring, confrontational and relevant. Rethinking and rebooting Indivision with a much more daring brief, state and federal funding bodies must combine in their efforts to establish a $5 million fund. This fund should make seven to ten $500,000-$1 million features per annum, selected by a regularly rotating board of Ozploitation, industry and genre luminaries. Australia could produce eight to ten new low-budget features yearly, with that number to expand as their commercial success becomes self-evident. The aim? To get new blood into the film industry each year. While not all of these films will work, many will. Not all will have to be Ozploitation. Indeed, some should be avant-garde works and more challenging art films than are currently produced. From The Horseman to The Ister, anything is possible. We must turn work around quickly and cheaply with an ear to being inventive and innovative.
4. Reward talent and success. Any filmmaker who enjoys a commercial or critical hit should immediately receive funding for their next project, which is to be produced within twelve months. The budget for this second film must be significantly higher. The era of successful filmmakers languishing in development hell for a decade must end.
5. More money invested in the promotion of Australian films. The establishment of an office within Screen Australia that will promote Australian films both locally and internationally is required.
6. An end to political correctness and “Australian content” prerequisites and biases in both the industry and in funding bodies.
7. A celebration of the diversity of techniques available to filmmakers. From low budget guerrilla films to large budget and special effects movies, all film forms musts be celebrated.
8. A change in industry methodology. There needs to be a cultural shift within the funding bodies that sees them move away from their currently prescriptive role to one of discovery. Instead of imposing upon the industry their own prejudices and biases, both about cinema and otherwise, film finance bureaucrats must learn to search for new ideas, styles, marketing and distribution opportunities; learn to recognise innovation; learn to celebrate diversity by allowing for a slate of pictures than embrace all budgets, genres and approaches.
9. Getting distributors involved in the process of selection and approval for new productions. This is key and would be greatly assisted by provisions making in necessary to devote part of a film’s budget to be spent on helping to promote Australian cinema more broadly.
July 29, 2009
I was interviewed by Simon De Bruyn of If Magazine for their section “15 seconds” recently. Here is the uncut text of the interview, too long, or controversial, to publish. Enjoy! Thanks to Simon for being a MUFF supporting guy at IF.
1. The biggest issue facing the Australian film industry is…
Becoming relevant, becoming more financially viable in its returns, overthrowing and replacing some of the tried and worn out people currently running it, recognising new young talent, halting giving most of the funding money to failures (some from 20 years ago), enacting a new low budget fund to make 10 to 20 new half million to a million dollar Indy features each year – selected from the best talent from all fests including MUFF, SUFF and Revelation, fostering the new wave of Ozploitation by further pursuing edgy genre filmmaking, stop making so many political correct and mandated Aussie content movies (…that no one really wants to see anyway!) that are better suited as Sunday afternoon ABC TV movies (Black Balloon, Somersault, Esther Blue Burger, September, My Year Without Sex, etc.)…
2. Favourite film of all time:
Impossible, I love to many, it’s a religion with me…see MUFF, or my blog Idea Fix …recent recommended viewing of old and new Huston’s Wise Blood, Martyrs, Bret Ellis’ The Informers (directed by Gregor Jordan), Wings Hauser in Vice Squad, Ellie Parker with Naomi Watts, Atomised – Michel Houellebecq adaptation, Baader Meinhof Complex.
3. Classics I would like to remake:
I don’t like remakes. At a push Salo (- De Sade’s novel The 120 days of Sodom) or American Psycho, to do it properly…
4. Biggest break:
Starting MUFF and discovering so much talent we have in Australia. How did MUFF end up being the first fest in the world playing the films of James Wan, Greg McClean, The Speirig Brothers, Scott Ryan, Steven Kastrissios, Stuart Simpson, Kel Dolen, David Nerlish and Andrew Traucki? We did it by simply looking for talent regardless of budget and having a welcoming attitude to genre and daring filmmaker that sometimes included violence, sexuality and controversy. And there are many more where those names above came from. I think this is a real achievement that MUFF has helped foster an alternative voice and vision in the Australian Film Industry, against the odds and dull mediocrity of the mainstream local Industry…
5. Biggest mistake
Some would say the David Irving attempted screening. But I’m proud to have fought for unpopular speech… and am even more proud of MUFF’s uncompromising anti-censorship platform. Censorship is a most onerous and insulting practice to any intelligent and cultured human being.
6. Worst filmmaking experience:
Seeing our film industry controlled by a group of selfish and short sighted mandarins dolling out the majority of Film Finance funding to a bunch of sycophantic and at best untalented TV directors. Being hated sometimes for simply standing up and speaking out, from a love of our film industry, about the real lack of diversity in subject matter, innovation and film style to be seen on display in our national cinema. Being sick and tired of seeing its resources and potential abused by incompetents and dilettantes…etc., I could on, and on…
7. If a film about your life were made, who would play you?
Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Brooker or Colin Firth.
8. If money were no object, what would your next film be?
A project I have had in my head since I was a kid…a kind of post apocalyptic Mad Max type of thing…that is quite different, aggressive and original I dare say …but it seems we don’t really make those kind of films anymore in this country? And you wonder, why the fuck not?
9. Unsung Aussie film hero/heroine:
Jon Hewitt, Antony I Ginnane, Frank Howson, Jamie Leonander, Mark Savage, most of the more talented MUFF discoveries.
10. If I weren’t in the film industry, I’d be:
A Dictator on a Island in the Pacific …
11. I’d spend my last $20 on:
July 29, 2009
Pretty tasty don’t you think. Thoughts?
July 29, 2009
…and ready for action. MUFF X here we come!
July 2, 2009
…And a reviewer who gets Bloodlust and Pearls Before Swine!!!… in the same damn review. Time it appears is on my side.
Check out Digital Retribution’s erudite reviews here, of my first two features. Its nice to have someone take your work seriously in the underground critical community and for them to find some value in it. Jolly good show.
Here’s a fun picture of Boyd Rice.
July 1, 2009
Got a letter from a fan. Thought I’d repost it here. I get these every now and then. I’ll answer some of his questions in the comments column soon.
I’m emailing you completely out of the blue because I’ve just spent an afternoon away from uni reliving one of your films that I really loved as a young, snotty 90’s teenager – Bloodlust.
As I started to become more interested in film, one of the things that I began to notice as I became more seriously interested in the medium was the lack of anything familiar to me. My Australia wasn’t the one that the mainstream Australian film industry seemed particularly interested in depicting.
On the commentary track, you describe your intended audience as being ’15 year old boys eating pizza’ – that was absolutely who I was at the time, and as a young, horror-obsessed nascent pervert, Bloodlust was something I simply had to see. As I’m sure you remember, there was something intimidating about video shops at the time – they didn’t just stock whatever pablum Hollywood was shovelling at us, there were all kinds of weird little underground films that found their ways to the shelves. Out of this environment, I found David Lynch, Cronenberg, Troma, John Carpenter, Kenneth Anger, and a universe of films that defied description. Bloodlust’s cover was intimidating, and held the air of something naughty – something that I really shouldn’t be watching.
The thing that I got out of it, though, was that it was the first film I can remember watching that caused me to really identify with the surroundings. The film wasn’t simply shot in Melbourne – it WAS Melbourne, in some weird kind of way. It felt familiar, and had a truth to it regarding the environment that I grew up in. I’m 30 now, and I still can’t remember too many films that give me that feeling of regional identification.
It certainly sparked off my interest in underground cinema and deepened my obsession with horror cinema – for those reasons, you and Jon created something that was very important to me, so for that, I thank the pair of you.
Waxing nostalgia aside, I was curious to know if Bloodlust is ever going to receive a local DVD release. I’d love to get a proper, non-bootleg print of the film – are there any plans to reissue it?
Also, out of curiosity, whatever happened to Robert James O’Neill, Kelly Chapman, and Jane Stuart Wallace? I think I saw Robert O’Neill as an extra in ‘Proof’ – but I’ve never seen the other two in anything.
Anyway, this is just a gushy fan letter because I was having a bit of a moment. Best of luck with all your success with MUFF.