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WILLIAMS, KIM – RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

“FOXTEL, football, News and wine: The secrets of a business builder and cultural maestro” goes the slug under Kim’s name on the cover of his eagerly awaited - and eagerly published – memoir-ish book. The slug does its best, but even if it included ‘movies’ somewhere, perhaps after football, it still would not – could not – do justice to the content, says Andrew L. Urban.

First, a disclosure to put my ‘review’ in context: I met Kim in the mid-1980s when he was CEO of the Australian Film Commission and I was Australian Bureau Chief for London based screen trade weekly, Screen International. He went on in 1988 to lead the Film Finance Corporation, I went on in 1991 to Moving Pictures (a then new film trade weekly out of London). After his short stint at the ABC, I again crossed professional paths with Kim when he became head of Fox Studios in 1995.

(Louise Keller and I (as Urban Cinefile) jointly with Telstra, produced the live webcast of the expansive Fox Studios opening, including over 40 on camera interviews with guests ranging from Rupert Murdoch and Cate Blanchett to Tom Cruise and Kylie Minogue.)

But it was after Kim became CEO of FOXTEL at the end of 2001 that our 16 year professional relationship blossomed into a fusion of friendship and work, constrained only by the lack of leisure time to enjoy it, beyond a few dinners. (I have good reason to applaud the inclusion of ‘wine’ in that slug, from personal experience.)

My respect for his razor sharp mind, his extraordinary memory and leadership qualities is rounded by my enjoyment of his love of humour, music, movies and yes, wine. An entertaining, generous and diplomatic businessman to interview (we spent several hours on an oral history interview, for example, while he was at FOXTEL), Kim is also passionate, which overrides his diplomacy when appropriate. But he is also passionate about many things that need no restraint, as Rules of Engagement demonstrates.

"Cinema Cuts"

But for the purposes of this review (in this movie-drenched environment), I’ll stick mainly to the (extensive) section he calls Cinema Cuts. He displays the same passion for film and TV as he does for his late mother and education, music and sport, business and society, in a book that is at once deeply personal and profoundly public.

Cinema Cuts begins with diplomatic condemnation: “I have always been concerned that film and television makers in Australia have an uneven knowledge of the industry’s canon of work.” He regards such ignorance poorly: “The height of arrogance is reflected in the dismissive approach that all that matters is one’s own work and direction and that genius shines through.”

He goes on to write: “My fear of the shall we say ‘uneven’ Australian film community knowledge base about Australian film history was so persistent that I ensured every street, building and sound stage at Fox Studios Australia (across the 13 hectare site) was named after an important figure from our film heritage. The Australian film historian Graham Shirley was engaged to do this ….”

Kim devotes 30 pages (out of 322) to Cinema Cuts, and the great bulk of this chapter is devoted to a comprehensive and opinionated journey through his favourites, divided into Silent, English Language, non-English Language and Australian films. His notes show that he himself does indeed know his cinematic onions.

For the screen industries, this chapter alone warrants reading for the observations and insights Kim offers, on films ranging from Battleship Potemkin, Metropolis in the silent, Citizen Kane and other Orson Welles, plus Hitchcock and Eastwood in the English language, Truffaut and Renoir in non-English films, and a big chunk of early Australian cinema, with high praise for the pioneers like Raymond Longford & Lottie Lyell, Charles Chauvel, Ken G. Hall, Frank Hurley and so on.

"more recent films"

He also refers to more recent films, including Rolf de Heer’s 10 Canoes and Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah, among others. These are not lists at all, but essays woven with familiarity and authority.

“Narratives matter in the growth of nations; they provide the ideals that drive us,” he says at the start of the Australian films section.

There is also a great anecdote Kim tells (pages 285-6) about his determination to have the second and third prequels in the Star Wars franchise made at Fox Studios; it involves a wrangle over the News Ltd corporate plane and producer Rick McCallum.

It’s worth noting that it was for his services to the arts and public policy formulation in the film and television industries that he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. In 2006.

For me, the most powerful chapters are the opening, Mother, followed by his passionate appraisal of Australia’s education system, his immersion in music and why it is crucial to life in general, education in particular, and Leading & Managing, where Kim opens the cabinet to his considerable leadership skills.

As he pointed out at the launch of the book at the State Library of NSW (in the historic Friends Room), this is not the book that canvasses his tenure at News Ltd, although in The Media of News chapter, Kim does reveal how his launch of Chris Bowen’s book, Hearts and Minds, triggered his demise at News.

In that chapter he also flays all the major players including News (and some minor ones) for ‘imperious self-importance’. And he also announces that he has indeed already written the story of his 20-month tenure at News, but its publication will be held up, since it will be ‘best consumed after a decent passage of time and the cold sobriety that attaches to it then.’

"rich, thought provoking experience"

There is a rich, thought provoking experience to be had reading the book, criss crossing cultural, political, business and sporting fields with the wisdom of experience and innate common sense. Not to mention a hunger for books & reading and fine palate for wine. But above all, the book touches on issues of great relevance for Australia today. Indeed, Rules of Engagement could well have been titled Blueprint for Australia.


Kim Williams and his wife Catherine Dovey (right) and his parents David and Joan - after receiving the Order of Australia.

Published September 11, 2014

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Kim William's Rules of Engagement

The Miegunyah Press (Melbourne University Publishing), September 2014


Kim Williams with his mother Joan







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