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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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New opportunities for both established and new filmmakers as a new era is about to begin in Australian cinema, argues HUNTER CORDAIY.

The days of innocence are over. Few commentators now talk, except with a fond nostalgia, of the renaissance in Australian film industry. They are beginning to recognise that something fundamental is changing in the structure of the industry, and that this faultline, once crossed, will mean an irrevocable shift in the direction and content of Australian films.

Recently there have been three signs which suggest this crossroads has been reached, and they are the changes to the structure of Government support for the industry by which a few companies (FLICS) will be able to raise finance for a slate of film rather than one at a time; the 1997 AFI Award ceremony (a poor imitation of the Oscars), and the development of extensive, purpose built film studios in Sydney.

At first glance there is no direct link between these but a pattern can be constructed. They mean, in essence, that we are in the process of creating Oziwood.

Oziwood means an industry with a star system

Oziwood means an industry with a star system and the elitism which stems from that, with more studio based productions and more first time film-makers heading more quickly into that industrial style of movie, with the economic power of a few local moguls having disproportionate influence on production green lights; with more secure place alongside other countries in the international movie industry which in turn will create more secure career paths for an entire generation of creative Australians.

The influence of the new studios on our industry will be profound. Until now most Australian films have been made without extensive studio infrastructure and this has resulted in truly individually styled films which are recognisable by the imprint of their directors.

An Australian industry more based on studios

An Australian industry more based on studios will mean that a wider selection of film genres will be made locally - we can look forward to our own version of children's films for Christmas and the expansion of other genres such as gangster, prison, adventure and family films.

Imagine Babe's Xmas Adventures, Escape from Long Bay, or even Australian Vacation and the possibilities become clear. The range and number of actors and writers required to service these expanded genres should bring hope to those who want to see the industry as a secure career path.

Studios have, in the past, also tended to compete with directors for the recognisable look of a film. For many years RKO was synonymous with a certain style of musical, Warner Bros for gangster film and Elstree Studios in London for a particular form of English comedy. This might easily happen here, with a 'Fox' look to certain films. This may well cause a renewed debate over what is an Australian film and how do we recognise it?

The use of sets rather than real locations will change the look of Australian film and perhaps break what many people in the industry see as a stranglehold of the documentary over fiction.

I was reminded of this when screening Top Hat recently for my students - being visually conditioned by the dominance of the documentary look on Australian screens they flinched at the cardboard Venice through which Fred Astaire danced, arguing in the tutorial that the actuality of Venice was what made, say, Don't Look Now so compelling rather than the idealised Venice of the Astaire musical.

One of the fastest growth points...will be in digital special effects

We should also remember that what we call in the traditional sense, 'sets' are now more likely to be digitally created, perhaps from original photographs but substantially 'idealised' in the computer. Indeed it is likely that one of the fastest growth points in the Australian film industry in the next five years will be in digital special effects industry. (It has already begun. Ed.)

Oziwood will bring new opportunities to established directors as much as the new generation of film-makers. The questions which must be asked, however, are not to do with technologies and investment levels, but more with the subtle cultural values which will be altered in the process.

How will a relatively small audience adapt to an even broader selection of Australian film, and what will need to be changed if those films absolutely need to be pre-sold overseas before they can be given the 'green light'? What will happen to the often rough but decidedly independent low budget films on which the industry was founded, and how will the new Oziwood connect with the expanding range of television and other delivery systems?

One answer might be the rise of ultra-low budget film-makers who reject the evolution of the Australian industry towards a star and studio system. The underside of Oziwood will be helped by high quality/low cost technology which enables anyone, as predicted by Francis Coppola in the closing scene of the documentary, A Film-Makers Apocalypse, to pick up a camera and "be the new Mozart". This 'other' Oziwood also has the capacity to keep the avant-garde alive despite a history of experimental film in Australia being Government funded which, to many, is a contradiction in terms and practice.

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"…will create more secure career paths for an entire generation of creative Australians…"


Oziwood means an industry with a star system


Above: Director Scott Hicks, left, on the set of Shine

"Until now most Australian films have been made without extensive studio infrastructure and this has resulted in truly individually styled films which are recognisable by the imprint of their directors."

Below: Gillian Armstrong















Genre films, like gangster movies, compete with a recognisable ‘look’…

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