What’s the matter with Australian film?

Over at the Australian, there’s a report that the new president of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, Antony Ginnane, has said Australian films are ‘in the main, dark depressing bleak pieces that are the cultural equivalent of ethnic cleansing’.

Ginnane continues: ‘Nobody goes to see them. If they premiered most of the Australian movies of the past 24 months on a plane, people would be walking out in the first 20 minutes – and that’s not good.’

Such claims are extremely common in Australian film circles, though the argument that the films are ‘ethnic cleansing’ is pretty hyperbolic. Quite clearly there is a problem with Australian films being, for the most part, unseen. What is not clear, from the article, is what Ginnane considers the source of this problem. The four exceptions he gives – Happy Feet, Moulin Rouge, The Dish and Wog Boy – are hardly a startling array of films.

Recent Australian films that might fit into Ginnane’s category of ‘likely to be walked out on’ would surely include such fine movies as Romulus, My Father, Home Song Stories, Ten Canoes, or perhaps the excellent Last Train to Freeo. In truth, it seems that the problem lies not with the quality of these films, but elsewhere, in a combination of problems with funding, distribution, advertising, and popular taste. In any of these areas, Australian films are not likely to be able to compete with Hollywood blockbusters such as, for example, The Dark Knight or the latest Will Smith film.

Ginnane’s comments that Australian films are in the main ‘dark depressing bleak pieces’ is not exactly true (where does Clubland or The Black Balloon fit in? – neither of which raked in the cash), nor very encouraging. Is he suggesting that Australian movies should become ‘uplifting’ in the Hollywood sense? What about the notion that a good film actually has something to say?

Incidentally, all this relates strongly to the problem with Australian literature. The argument might be made that the no one reads Australian novels either.

In any case, surely the obvious response is to make the best movies, and write the best books, that can be produced, and if they are not watched, it is a problem social problem rather than a problem of the filmmaker or writer. That is, the whole problem surely can’t be placed at only the artists’ feet. Rather, it is surely one of an entire culture industry, in which we all have some responsibility?

Rjurik Davidson


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