Magazine article Metro Magazine

Convergent Communities: The 2016 Screen Futures Summit

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Convergent Communities: The 2016 Screen Futures Summit

Article excerpt

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The pleasure of screen culture once lay exclusively in watching stories unfold. But, now, audiences are engaging more actively with media. Gatekeepers are transforming into community builders, and emerging tools and technologies are helping more people tell their stories. Appropriately, the 2016 Screen Futures summit explored new ways in which media creators and critics can share agency with audiences. From Friday 1 July to Sunday 3 July, academics discussed their latest research, practitioners described their craft and responded to industry challenges, and teachers discovered techniques to build students' skills.

On Friday, writer Benjamin Law and producer Julie Eckersley gave a witty account of how Law transformed his childhood memories into the memoir The Family Law, then helped adapt it to a six-part SBS dramedy series. Some families might have found this project invasive or embarrassing--but not the Laws, who read Ben's manuscript, met the actors playing them, and appeared in the series in cameo. SBS content outreach manager Andrew Arbuthnot and senior film, TV and new media teacher Moneth Montemayor also described the Family Law-themed online resource they created for budding screenwriters. It included advice on concepts and characters, working with genre and navigating ethical issues, plus a scriptwriting competition for writers aged fifteen to twenty.

'We were writing a sports movie,' said showrunner Tony Ayres during a Saturday discussion of another book-to-screen adaptation: the then-forthcoming four-part ABC miniseries Barracuda. Both Ayres and author Christos Tsiolkas used Barracuda's winners-and-losers drama to explore why many Australian athletes feel pressured and worthless. Sporting success represents identity, class mobility and national pride in Barracuda, and Elias Anton--the teenage actor whose debut lead role anchors the miniseries--recounted how he'd repeatedly read Tsiolkas' novel to inform his portrayal of working-class, queer Greek-Irish swimmer Danny Kelly, who wins a scholarship to an elite private school and yearns to represent Australia at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. 'Something is shifting, and questions are being asked about representations of diversity around the world,' Ayres observed.

In one of the previous morning's keynote panels, filmmaker and human-rights lawyer David Vadiveloo had bluntly assessed Australia's lack of screen diversity as 'systemic'. Given that even progressive showrunners are overwhelmingly white men, Vadiveloo expressed exhaustion over discussing how Australian screen culture could improve--it's time to act. The panel praised the Indigenous-focused ABC programs Cleverman and Black Comedy. However, The Dressmaker (Jocelyn Moorhouse, 2015) producer Sue Maslin cautioned that a few prominent success stories don't remove the significant funding, sales and distribution barriers faced by projects that aren't about or for straight white men. Julie Kalceff, creator of the lesbian-focused multi-platform drama Starting from ... Now!, added that--despite the series' worldwide audience of twenty million--distributors still don't want to invest in such shows: 'How many times do we have to keep proving that people want to see diversity?'

Influential media and cultural studies scholar Graeme Turner ended Friday's proceedings with an enjoyably surly keynote based on his book Re-inventing the Media. Turner sketched his discipline's failure to critique the decline of mass media, the changing relationship between media and the nation-state, and the celebritisation of media. He then advocated seeing more empirical studies and everyday accounts of media use, not industry spin or naive utopianism surrounding particular platforms and technologies. He also called for greater contextualising of current developments within media history, more attention to the diversity of media uses and contexts, more analysis of social media's mechanics (such as algorithms), and--most critically--more enquiry into where real power resides. …

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