the perpetual crisis of Australian film

Dave Hoskin, from the current issue.

You might not be aware of this but there’s a crisis going on.

This particular emergency has been around so long it’s virtually a tradition − at least five years, on and off, and probably longer, if you believe the sterner commentators. We’ve now got to the point that, if you’re interested in Australian movies, life can feel like Groundhog Day. The latest Aussie film limps quietly into art house cinemas. No-one goes to see it. Film journalists scream about the ‘Crisis In Australian Cinema’. The filmmakers grumble that it’s not their fault, and everyone starts desperately hoping some messianic film will save the industry. The messiah has many names (Eucalyptus, Ned Kelly, Jindabyne, Australia) but each time it somehow fails to be the Second Coming, despondency sets in. And then the cycle starts all over again.

There’s no shortage of people asking the question, ‘What’s wrong with the Australian film industry?’ I confess I’ve asked it quite a few times myself. It’s virtually impossible to miss the sheer volume of words written on the subject, especially since the crisis never really seems to go away. The almost obsessive coverage is partly explained by the high-profile conservatives who attack the industry for the same reason they attack the ABC: put simply, they’ve never accepted the idea that their taxes are funding media content they personally dislike. Other journalists pursue the crisis angle because the media thrives on conflict and a story about an ‘industry in crisis’ sounds a lot more dramatic than ‘Micro-Budget Aussie Flick Makes No Money’.

The disturbing thing is that facts are being ignored for the sake of a good headline. Exhibit A is Leigh Whannell. With his creative partner James Wan, Whannell’s responsible for the Saw franchise and the received wisdom is that Whannell and Wan had to resort to American backers to get their film produced. Whannell, however, tells the story like this:

The film had been released in America and done quite well … We came back and we did a whole load of press … And a lot of people would start their interviews by saying, ‘This must be a good fuck-you to the Australian film industry, huh?’ And James and I were looking at each other going, ‘No, why would we do that?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, you tried to make it here and you couldn’t.’ And we realised that was the angle they were fishing for: ‘Local Boys Say Fuck You To The Industry’. But that’s not what we wanted to give them because it wasn’t true.1

I have to confess I’ve done some interviews like that. I don’t regret asking filmmakers hard questions but while interviewing Ten Empty’s director Anthony Hayes I realised that pursuing a negative angle could mean overlooking valuable context.

The piece continues here.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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