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In her Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture, Margaret Pomeranz called on Australian Governments to fund the arts – film included – as generously as they fund sport. That call in various forms was echoed by several speakers in succession at the launch of the 25th annual conference of film and television production, held at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel (Nov 16 – 18). Andrew L. Urban reports.

The first to put the call out to Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean was NSW Arts Minister Virginia Judge, who announced as she opened the conference that immediately after her speech she was writing to The Hon Crean urging his department to co-operate with the State Government to help make it possible for bigger budget films to be made – like Tomorrow When The War Began. 

"The irony of this should be noted"

The irony of this should be noted: prior to the August 2010 national election, the Screen Producers Association of Australia presented both major parties a proposal that would enable exactly that: higher budget filmmaking with a $60 million fund spread over three years. Modelling showed that 73 per cent of the funds invested would be returned to the Commonwealth over five years. (See our report, 19/8/2010)

The Coalition adopted it as part of its election platform; Labor did not. But SPAA President Antony I. Ginnane is planning to call The Hon Crean on that, too; he told delegates: “SPAA’s job now, given the return to power of Labor, albeit in a newly constituted parliament, is to engage our new Minister, the Honorable Simon Crean, and convince him to endorse the Producer Distributor Fund as Policy; thus to ensure that the benefits of the Producer Offset continue to expand and support producer-led production business."

Minister Judge touched on several other issues that are of concern to the industry, notably lowering the minimum budget for feature films to be eligible for the producer offset and more support for documentaries – especially on television, including a quota for subscription television. She also called for national co-operation in the juicy creative area of games development.

The next speaker to call on The Hon Crean was the recipient of the Association’s Lifetime Membership honour, editor, producer and archivist Tony Buckley AM. (Tom Jeffrey was also honoured with a Life Membership.) Buckley pointedly recalled two media appearances by Arts Minister Crean in which he got to the end of the interview and each time said he had wanted to talk about the arts but had run out of time. Buckley wanted to know when the Minister would have time for the arts.

Then came Margaret Pomeranz – and the conference hadn’t even started. “Looking with awe at our 177 medal total at the recent Commonwealth Games ... we trumped England with a population in excess of 60 million. We trumped India with 1 billion population. It’s an indication of how much money this country is prepared to fork out to back winners."

"We should invest in talent just as we do for sportspeople" Margaret Pomeranz

"But how much money goes into creating that degree of success with our top artists? Our top filmmakers? Just as a current reference, the Federal Government is investing an extra $195 million in elite athletes in the run-up to the London Olympics. Gee, our top filmmakers should be so lucky. And then when the sportspeople succeed and get multi-million dollar sponsorships does a HECS scheme kick in? Like it does for our poor young arts graduates paying back their tuition on a teacher’s salary?”

Australia should be doing more to keep our top talents here. “We should invest in talent just as we do for sportspeople.”

“I have an idea,” she said. “Up to four successful filmmakers a year – and maybe there will be only one – are given $100,000 to develop their next project with a guarantee that there will be government funding of at least $2 million. You have to give them a head start, you have to give them a reason to stay here. What is David Michod going to do next? Animal Kingdom will take a large chunk out of his year as he promotes it around the world. I think we ought to encourage a talent like that to stay here, make his next film here, give him a major incentive to hone his skills in this country. We have to commit to rewarding success, investing in our talent, just like we do with sportspeople."

But Pomeranz also had a general criticism for Australian filmmakers – "How many great sex scenes can you think of in Australian movies. I can’t think of many. As a matter of fact I can’t think of any? How many great loving relationships? Not many? It’s as if we’re frightened of exposing ourselves on screen, that rawness of emotion. We’re shy about delving into true emotion, we’re shy about celebrating our heroes, we’re embarrassed about exposing anything. I blame the Brits. We got all their uptightness with very little of their daring literary culture.“

But she ended on an upbeat note: “I’m an optimist,, I believe in our talent, I believe in our ability to regenerate despite setbacks. So it’s over to you, producers!”

Published November 17, 2010

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Margaret Pomeranz

SPAA Conference No 25
Hilton Hotel, Sydney – Nov. 17 – 19, 2010
International keynote speaker: Lord Puttnam, David

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