The Australian movie industry is fast becoming a combination of ‘ours’ and
Hollywood .... Oziwood. The resonances of this concept are beginning to be considered in
public, and I suspect in private some are already benefiting whilst others are wondering
how they can find their place and earn a living in the new conglomerate. A year ago this
magazine published Welcome To Oziwood, an article which may have been seen as a warning -
or a far-sighted piece on the future directionof the local industry.
Is it good to be prophetic? Whilst it might be momentarily flattering to have predicted
what comes true, there is a mixed blessing in being able to see over the horizon. Who, for
instance, wants to be the bringer of bad news a year in advance?
No matter which way you look at it (and there is no consensus here about what is
happening to our film industry, especially concerning the cultural implications of our
progress), the article needs to be re-assessed in the light of recent developments. The
article pointed to three facets of the industry which suggested a future direction - the
star system, awards, and the influence of special effects and studios on local production
and film styles.
A few weeks ago (in early November 1998) in the week of the AFI Awards, George Lucas
announces the next two Star Wars will be made at Fox studios, Sydney, making theOziwood
prophecy come true. I never imagined when writing the article that a series as prestigious
and profitable as Star Wars would be made here so early in our merger with Hollywood - my
caution took me to imagine some sort of Battleship Galactica versus Superman TV spinoff
rather than the commercial power of an Industrial Light & Magic production. Now, in
order to move the Oziwood debate forwards I would like to suggest that the range of
opinions be gathered into two basic 'corners' - those who support the latest direction as
a form of prosperous yellow brick road, and those who see it as a doomsday scenario,
bereft of any cultural value except profit.
The Third Way, a popular phrase in current Australian political circles, would say that
accommodations can be reached between these two positions and a sense of inevitability
will be offset by safeguards in cultural policy.
But the Third Way will quickly become irrelevant as commercial realities fuel the
roller-coaster of production. The days of innocence are over and what we have instead is a
clearer division between industry and culture than ever before - the dollars are ringing
loud and clear and whoever doesnot dance to their tune will be marginalised. That applies
to critics as much as industry professionals actually making 'product'.
The Alamo of cultural principle is fast approaching. What will we do? How will we
handle the inevitable clash between national cultural needs and a profitable industry?
The yellow brick road position says that whatever happens is good as long as it makes
us all money - the overt commercialisation and Americanisation of our film industry is
natural, inevitable, and profitable for us. It will bring training, work, prestige, and a
The associated developments will be also beneficial - an Awards ceremony that looks and
sounds like a 30 fps version of the Oscars (no need to extend the audience’s
expectations of a prize by showing clip of the contenders) and the emphasis on films which
'travel' in the American market.The doomsday scenarists would say that whilst all the
above is true the problem is that the wages stay in Sydney but the profits go to Los
What we get out of two Star Wars features is a trained workforce of Star Wars film
technicians who do not own or profit from the production. No royalties flow into our local
banks from Star Wars. Australia, in cultural terms, becomes a colony once more.
The other problem is that with studio and technical assets being so booked, local
productions might be locked out and forced towards more primitive and essentially
non-commercial (in box office terms) techniques in order to get anything made and on the
screen. The present situation has brought the industry to an obvious crossroads where the
natural maturation of an industry, on the one side, inadvertently or deliberately creates
the colonisation of the industry at the same time. The tension is explosive. If films like
Dark City and the Star Wars sequels become the dominant style of Australian film
production, what room will there be for the smaller quirky films which have established
our reputation so effectively over the last 20 years?
The once important notions of a cultural integrity, and a national voice are in danger
of being subsumed by the overwhelming attraction of the Hollywood version of success and
profitability.Is there no other way? Is there no other model for a film industry worth
considering even on a minor scale - is there no previous experience from other industries
which we could consider as we develop our own film industry in this new direction? What,
for instance, can we learn from Japan,Canada, France, Italy, or India? How do these
countries structure the balance between national cultural interest and profit, between
indigenous production and servicing other cultures?
The cultural debate between the continuing search for national identity and the effects
of globalisation on our culture will be stormy, especially when the signs of our merger
with Hollywood become obvious. In the present climate commercial values are overtaking
cultural value at an alarming rate, and the film industry is the litmus test for the
resulting change. Oziwood might become a comfortable illusion which replaces real meaning
and genuine ideas if we surrender idealism solely to profit.