January 1, 2010
By Chris Pritchard
When the acclaimed Australian movie Samson & Delilah won the top honour of Best Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA), it was a signal that good things were around the corner for Australia made film. Adding to the quotient, Australia also took the honours for Best Animated Feature Film with Mary and Max, which was produced by Melanie Coombs Award-winning actor, Jack Thompson, told AAP that the establishment of a new film office and adjustment to the new film deals available to producers would result in a spurt of growth for the Australian film industry. “We now have certainty, and within that framework I think we’re going to see a lot more films being made and a lot more opportunity for Australian filmmakers,” Thompson said. He also sees huge opportunities opening up with the industry in Asia. “With the growth of this academy, APSA, and with the relationships built when filmmakers get to meet each other here, I think we’re going to see a lot more co-productions,” Thompson added. “We’re going to see Australians making films with people from the Asia Pacific region. It’ll be fantastic for diversity—and I hope I’m in one of them.” Indeed 2009 has been a strong year for the Australian screen industry, according to Ruth Harley, chief executive officer of Screen Australia “A record number of films have achieved theatrical release, the Australian share of the box office looks set to exceed the five-year average, and television drama and documentary continue to draw strong audiences,” said Dr Harley. Buoyed by this success, Screen Australia recently gave its approval to 22 projects including four feature films, four television dramas and 14 documentaries. The organisation committed more than A$13 million to these projects, triggering production valued at over A$65 million. Amongst the feature projects to be approved is Bait 3D, the first Screen Australia–funded 3D dramatic feature, and Burning Man, a new feature by critically acclaimed writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky. Bait 3D is Australia’s first high-octane 3D action film. When a freak tsunami hits a sleepy seaside town on the Gold Coast dozens of local shoppers and tourists find themselves trapped in a flooded underground supermarket and car park. Trapped, with the water rising, they find they’re not alone; the tsunami has brought some unwelcome visitors from the Deep … a pack of hungry tiger sharks. They must now band together with all of their resources before they get eaten and entombed in a watery grave. The film was written and will be directed by Russell Mulcahy (Razorback, Highlander) and produced by Gary Hamilton, Todd Fellman and Ian Maycock with Chris Brown and Mike Gabrawy serving as executive producers. Another feature is Burning Man, a reckless, romantic, irreverent and ultimately tear-jerkingly beautiful story of a father and son’s struggle to deal with the unimaginable. The film marks writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky’s (Better than Sex, Gettin’ Square) return to the big screen following a period directing television and commercials. Teplitzky will co-produce along with Andy Paterson. Television drama to be approved includes a third season of the award-winning SBS series East West 101 (Producer: Steve Knapman, Kris Wyld, Director: Peter Andrikidis) and Like a Virgin (Producer: Liz Watts, Writers: Marieke Hardy, Kirsty Fisher), a mini-series about a woman whose sexual history catches up with her in the most unusual of ways. Documentaries to receive Screen Australia support include Fromelles’ Lost Soldiers, the story of the worst 24 hours in Australian military history, to be screened on Channel 7, and Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a fast-moving odyssey into the subterranean world of the rarely explored province of Filipino genre filmmaking populated by miniature James Bonds, karate kickin’ soul sisters and anorexic Rambos. The Board also congratulated the winners of the Australian Film Institute awards, noting that Screen Australia–funded films and programmes had taken out 29 awards including Best Film, Best Television Drama Series, Best Documentary Series, Best Telefeature, Mini-series or Short-run Series, Best Childrens’ Television Drama and Best Short Fiction Film. “We are very pleased to have played a role in bringing these productions to audiences,” Dr Harley said. “The 22 projects announced reflect the diversity of Australian storytelling and build on the success enjoyed by Australia’s talented practitioners this year.” Australian actor Aden Young, who featured in Bruce Beresford’s hit movie Mao’s Last Dancer, was one of the six members of the APSA international jury. Like Thompson he’s optimistic about the future for Aussie filmmakers, but reluctant to lay down a roadmap for its development. “I’m always very cautious about any dictation of the path a particular industry should take,” Young said. “In a boutique industry, which is essentially what we are, our population base is very small and we should be concentrating on all different approaches to cinema.” He said it was not possible for Australia to directly compete against the ‘leviathan’ American film industry. “I think we should be focusing more on cinema as an expression of vision from this country’s filmmakers,” Young said. “If you only focus on the commerciality, films like Samson & Delilah will disappear and the Australian public will be absolutely mortified about what’s been done with their money.’ Young believes there should be a focus on stories like Samson & Delilah that help the nation “feel understood”. This understanding is strengthened with Screen Australia revised draft of the guidelines for its Enterprise Program. “The Enterprise program is central to our vision for a more commercially sustainable screen production industry,” said Screen Australia’s Dr Harley. “Based on industry feedback and our experience of the inaugural round in 2009, we’ve reworked the guidelines with the aim of better meeting industry needs as well as streamlining our processes.” A total of A$3 million will be available over a three-year period for the 2010 round, with a maximum of A$350,000 per year proposed for each successful applicant company. “No company was awarded more than A$350,000 per year in the 2009 round so it seemed appropriate to reduce the cap from A$500,000,” said Dr Harley. “The lower cap also allows us to spread our allocation further to support a diverse range of companies.” “Eliminating the EOI stage will reduce the cost and time burden of a two-stage process for both the applicant and Screen Australia,” Dr Harley said. “We are also proposing, under certain circumstances, to allow Enterprise recipients to apply for single-project feature development funding,” said Dr Harley. “Feature development requires a very particular skill set and we only want Enterprise funding to be used for features if the company can demonstrate strong capability in this area. “However, we don’t necessarily want to dissuade Enterprise funding recipients from pursuing feature ambitions, given that finding and developing extraordinary feature projects is a very high priority for us. “So, in situations where feature development is not part of a company’s Enterprise funding, under the proposed new guidelines the company might still be eligible to apply to our single-project feature development program. “The application would be subject to the normal assessment process for that program, of course, and there would also be limits on what the funds could be used for, to ensure there was no duplication of Enterprise funds,” said Dr Harley.