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RUSH, GEOFFREY – AUSTRALIA'S SCREEN IDENTITY

At a media conference today (21/11/2003) in Melbourne, Geoffrey Rush articulated the importance of screen culture in Australia and its dependence on Government nurturing, in the context of the industry’s clamour for the Government to take all aspects of culture off the negotiating agenda in the talks on a Free Trade Agreement with America.

I am here today to give you all an insight into my career – an insight into the overnight success I experienced in 1996 with the film Shine.

My professional career started in 1971 because an act of Parliament founded the Queensland Theatre Company. Whatever success I’m perceived to have in Hollywood springs from that reality. I have always been the fortuitous product of Government subsidy. Completely. It trained me for twenty five years for my overnight success in 1996.

NIDA was founded in 1959, the VCA in the mid-seventies. Active legislation from the Gorton government ensured the backbone of our industry in the creation of the first Film and Television school which flourished through the cultural upheaval of the Whitlam years. A whole generation has experienced an unquestioned presence of Australian life expressed in film. I witnessed a hardwon, magnificent re-birth.

Thirty years after my debut I was back in Brisbane shooting Swimming Upstream and I was overwhelmed by the confident unquestioning attitude of people in their early twenties working with highly sophisticated skills and experience around the camera, in design, art department, props. Unheard of, unthinkable when I was their age.

Younger actors now maybe don’t get to spend three years in a theatre company, but a young thesp might spend a season or two with a role in The Secret Life Of Us or Stingers seeking self-definition as an actor, testing their waters. This only happens because a government controlled quota system creates that opportunity.

If we lose any of that legislative framework and control, we leach the soil that nourishes and eventually produces this celebrated flowering.

Last week it was my great privilege to open an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, an exhibition celebrating Australia’s film and television talent and their impact on the world’s cinema and television screens. The exhibition features portraits of a whole string of Australian film talent that we have all come to know on a first name basis – Nicole, Russell, Toni, Cate, Baz, Heath … the list goes on.

Every single actor, director and cinematographer represented in that exhibition got to where they are today via a similar route to that I have just described to you –with hard work, Aussie tenacity, a bit of talent of course but most importantly a whole bunch of government support.

The next generation of Nicoles Russells, Baz’s Cate and I dare say Geoffrey’s – may not make it as far as Warriewood let alone Hollywood, if our government decides to forgo its legacy and give up on them.

These new Nicoles, Russells and Geoffreys will emerge from a film and television industry thoroughly ensconced in the digital future. Young actors seeking work on Australian programs and movies yet to be dreamt up, delivered to audiences in yet to be conceived of ways will find that those opportunities just won’t be there.

Opportunities for the overnight success like mine will in the future disappear … not over twenty five years, but this time truly overnight.

Published 21/11/2003

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Geoffrey Rush






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