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.
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
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been superseded by the catchy name, ScreenSound, and the branch of the government’s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
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
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
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 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."