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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 

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With big changes underway in Australia’s film culture arena Michaela Boland (pic) wonders if this year’s AFI Awards will be the last.

The Australian Film Institute is synonymous with Australian film. Just ask Academy Award winning actor Geoffrey Rush, or director Baz Luhrmann, two high profile filmmakers and AFI Award recipients who recently spoke in support of the embattled film culture body. Or ask the producers behind the record number of 25 Australian feature films vying for publicity through this year ’s AFI Awards on November 18.

They will all state publicly the Australian Film Institute is doing a grand job promoting Australian film and servicing the industry’s cultural side. But peak funding body, the Australian Film Commission, has told the AFI it will no longer fund some of its activities.

"uncertain period"

Meanwhile, during this uncertain period, a lobby group for a recently emboldened player in the screen culture arena, ScreenSound Australia, is quietly issuing a challenge to the glamorous event.

ScreenSound,the National Film and Sound Archive has undergone some changes in recent years. The Sydney office has relocated to Fox Studios, the ‘Archive’ banner has been superseded by the catchy name, ScreenSound, and the branch of the government’s arts department finds itself flush with resources following a funding increase and move by the Canberra head office into a more efficient premises.

Now the Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive, represented by respected industry figures, film producer Glenys Rowe and distributor and cinema operator Andrew Pike, is circulating an 11- point discussion paper advocating new roles which should be undertaken by the new, invigorated ScreenSound.

Among the proposals, the Friends advocate for ScreenSound to lead national debate on topical issues such as the recent censorship debate on Catherine Breillat’s film Romance. It should publish a serious film magazine, host premieres of new works, host ‘meet the filmmaker ’events, and present film retrospectives. ScreenSound should be the industry focal point for fostering new talent, exchanging ideas and, "Friends believes that the Archive is the most appropriate and most logical place to organise and host the national film awards".

"a draft discussion paper, it is not policy" Andrew Pike

Canberra-based Andrew Pike co-authored the discussion paper but when pressed, he says this blatant bid for the awards, the AFI’s strongest arm, was misjudged. He is considering requesting that point be removed from the paper and explains," it is a draft discussion paper, it is not policy. The AFI does have meagre resources but it’s doing a lot with them. ScreenSound has significant resources that it should be doing more with." The paper proposes ScreenSound pursue many identical objectives to those currently undertaken by the funding-threatened AFI but Pike is not advocating a cannibalisation of the Institute’s territory. "I want more money coming into film culture, not less," he says.

The director of ScreenSound, Ron Brent says he is, "in general very supportive of what (Friends) is proposing "but he will not publicly support the group’s bid to host the film awards. "We’re very keen to see the maintenance of those (threatened) services but the AFI has been constrained by limited resources and one of the things we’d like to do is help the AFI exploit those services better," he says.

"The AFI is under threat"

The AFI is under threat, in part, because the Australian Film Commission is reviewing funding to two of the AFI’s five core activities: a research and information service and video sales. It will continue funding the AFI Awards and the institute’s exhibition sector, which facilitates forums for the discussion and appreciation of local and international films. The executive division, which oversees these functions may exist in a reduced capacity in the future, because, quite simply, there may be less to administrate.

As part of the AFC’s funding review, a working party of representatives from associated organisations has been established. Chaired by a member from the department of the arts, key AFI representatives were joined by a representative from Victoria’s peak film body, Cinemedia, from ScreenSound, the AFC, the Australian Film Television and Radio School and Film Australia.

The AFC wants some of these organisations to assist the AFI’s transition into a leaner future. The group met for the last time on July 3. Its recommendations should assist the AFI in its funding application for 2001, which was due by the end of July. In general terms the AFC acknowledges the value of the research and information service, and video sales, it is simply refusing to fund them any longer.

"not appropriate" Kim Dalton

Chief Executive Kim Dalton says, "we didn’t say these services shouldn’t exist. We thought the client base and the eventual outcomes were not appropriate for the AFC to be funding." The AFI refutes the AFC’s claim that the services are predominantly for the education sector, saying they are widely used by the local and international industry but the AFC remains adamant.

Looking towards 2001 the AFC has asked the AFI to consider expanding its exhibition program to penetrate regional Australia. Though Melbourne-based, the current program tours capital cities. But an expensive to administrate regional program would please the AFC immensely.It should also please the new arts minister, National Party Senator from Gippsland Peter McGauran.

McGauran is a member of the government which in 1996 commissioned a review of the film industry. The Gonski Report advocated an end to film culture funding. The AFC is bound to fund both screen culture and film production, and much of the film industry will argue the two are utterly co-dependent. Persistent rumors in recent months that the AFC is cutting back its screen culture activities across the board are rejected outright by chief executive Kim Dalton."We are not implementing the Gonski Report by stealth. That needs to be rebutted in no uncertain terms", he says.

He adds that funding to screen culture organisations such as the Melbourne Film Festival, IF Magazine and various state-based resource centres has and will remain static. An AFC decision to increase film production funding, especially at script and development stages would be welcomed by an industry labouring in a climate of soft international sales and poor local box office in recent years. But according to Dalton no such decision has been made.

"industry concerned"

Andrew Pike says, "It seems Gonski pitted the production industry against film culture but the two can’t be separated if you want a healthy industry concerned with both content and technique."

To date the AFI/AFC working party has uncovered some possible ways to rescue the threatened AFI services.

Ron Brent proposes ScreenSound co-locates its Melbourne office with the AFI and assists with the administration of R&I, while also utilising its national distribution network to aid in the delivery of video sales.

"That means acting with the AFI to support their services into the future," he enthuses. Brent says the AFI has welcomed ScreenSound’s offer but he cautions the organisation cannot underwrite the gap left by the AFC withdrawal completely.

(Departing) Chief Executive of the AFI, Ruth Jones has provisionally welcomed ScreenSound’s proposal. She says it would make further sense for AFTRS in Melbourne to join the co-location scheme.

"staunchly campaigning" Ruth Jones

Jones has been staunchly campaigning the ongoing survival of all the AFI’s services. She refuses to accept the organisation is breathing its last gasp. "I don’t think we’re at that position yet. It’s been through all manner of crisis in its 42-year history and it will see out this."

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This article appears in an incomplete form in Cinema Papers, August /September 2000; we publish it here in full as a matter of public interest. The article appears immediately following the resignation of AFI Chief Executive Ruth Jones.

17/8/2000: A new naming rights sponsor - making a "substantial commitment" over three years - for the AFI Awards is to be announced tomorrow.

Geoffrey Rush

Baz Luhrmann


Also in this issue of Cinema Papers:

Cover Story: Rose Byrne


How They Shot The Perfect Storm


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