Magazine article Metro Magazine

Screen Business Policy Caught in the Culture Wars

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Screen Business Policy Caught in the Culture Wars

Article excerpt

It's not often that film policy makes headlines in mainstream media outlets. But the recent announcement that the Australian government is allocating A$47.3 million to forthcoming films Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott) and Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi), both by Hollywood companies (Fox and Disney, respectively), provoked the following questions, as posed by Greens senator Scott Ludlam in the Australian upper house in February: 'Do these gargantuan American corporations actually need to be subsidised by Screen Australia? What is the purpose of that money?' Minister for the arts and Liberal senator Mitch Fifield responded:

It has been the practice of successive governments to provide grants on occasion to secure particular film projects [...] There were a range of savings across the communications and arts portfolios, and some of those savings went towards those two particular projects.

The 'savings' that Fifield speaks of comprise cuts totalling A$51.5 million to Screen Australia's budget--the third such reduction in eighteen months--which has been condemned widely by industry analysts and groups such as Screen Producers Australia. In that time period, Disney had lobbied for the New South Wales government to heighten the location offset from 16.5 to 30 per cent, while another blockbuster title, Gods of Egypt (2016) by genre filmmaker Alex Proyas, benefited from the usual tax offset designed to incentivise international film shoots in Australia. Given its lack of identifiably Australian thematic content, we might more frankly categorise Proyas' film as a Hollywood title by a local director, cast and crew.

The emphasis on Australian content, and the question of what constitutes an Australian film, is shifting and has been for some decades, in tune with an internationalised industry in which films are made everywhere--not just in California--and funded by various global investors. There is a particular type of Australian film that is made by teams of Australians, rather than necessarily reflecting uniquely Australian concerns. And, although the figures are opaque, the returns from these films can--theoretically --be used to support the local industry in other ways, and provide employment for our screen professionals. This lack of financial transparency and the resulting confusion about how, exactly, Hollywood films assist (or detract from) the local industry lie at the heart of the current film-policy crisis. There is no publicly available evidence of a cost-benefit analysis by the present government that shows the flows and advantages of supporting Fox and Disney productions to the tune of A$47.3 million. Although Nerida O'Loughlin, a senior staffer in the communications department, claims the two productions will bring A$300 million in investment to Australia, no evidence of the workings or methodology that produced these figures has been made available. Neither has a comparison been carried out to ascertain the economic benefits that could be derived from directly investing over A$40 million into local screen culture.

There is space in every national cinema, including Australia's, for different films of different budgets: small films for niche audiences, blockbuster films for the multiplex crowd. But Fifield's comment--that the diversion of funds away from Australian films and towards Hollywood productions has a precedent in former government policy --is disingenuous at best. …

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