I grew up on Australian films, without even really knowing it. In fact it wasn’t until I first saw The Castle (1997) when I was about 15, that I realised where the majority of my parents’ catch phrases came from (I’m talking- “it’s the vibe”… “this is going straight to the pool room”… “how’s the serenity”…). So, when I began this subject a few weeks ago, I felt rather ignorant to recognise that the Australian film industry does in fact experience fluctuation, and most certainly does have times of despondency. In my mind, Red Dog (2011) was a highlight of my childhood and I couldn’t see why Australian film could ever be unpopular.
However, the Australian film industry is one which is constantly changing and evolving, and through the ebbs and flows of history has seen both great highs and bleak troughs. Over time, Australian governments have shaped and sustained cultural screen policy and frameworks in order to achieve goals which were and are relevant at the time. However arguably the greatest correlation between the successes and failures of the industry can be tied with the availability and distribution of funding, and the consequential implications of divisions associated with creativity and capital, ultimately resulting in market failure. Due to length constraints, this reflection will examine the impact of funding on the Australian Film industry primarily throughout the 1980’s-1990’s, followed by the subsequent illustration of protectionism that has emerged, with a brief case study of “Ozploitation” to exemplify.
Funding is conceivably the most important factor when analysing the successes and failures of the Australian film industry throughout time, as it has a direct correlation with both the quality and quantity of content being produced. The fluctuation of available funding has also been dependent upon the government body in power and their own value towards Australian cinematic production, which is something I had never previously given much thought to. The divide that has endured regarding funding has also been closely linked with arguments of profitability, and whether it will contribute to the greater image of Australia.
The history of Australian film production is not one which is new, with the Australian production The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906) credited as the world’s first feature film. By the early 1980’s, Australian cultural policy experienced an intensification in interest, with the establishment of the Australian Film Commission in 1975 (Burns & Etham, 2010). This nation-wide screen funding agency was crucial, as it “marked the beginning of a national policy of sizeable direct public subsidies for Australian production” (Burns & Etham, 2010, p105).
Following this, the introduction of the 10BA tax incentives scheme in the 1980’s was a pivotal event in Australia’s screen history, bringing with it both positive and negative consequences. During this time, the industry experienced an unparalleled boom, with 41 films being financed in its first year (Arrow 2009). I was surprised to learn that according to the Australian government’s screen agency, Screen Australia, “in the eight years from 1980/81 to 1987/88, during which the 10BA concession was at least 120 per cent with at least 20 per cent of income from the investment exempt from tax, production budgets secured through 10BA totalled $959.7 million, an average of $120 million per year” (Screen Australia, 2010).
However, what I found most interesting, and what has spurred debate over the years, was the criteria for what makes an Australian film ‘Aussie”, and hence what will provide the context for funding to be distributed. In the past, the original, very vague, stimulus for those who wished to receive funding for Aussie films was that the product would speak of a national identity and contribute to the image of society as a whole (Turner, 1993). Which to me is highly problematic. As one of the most diversified and multicultural nations in the world, how on earth could we possibly categorise or condense society to a single image? And I’m not alone in this thinking. As Turner argues, “as the 1980’s have unfolded and the level of internationalisation of culture and information has grown, the ideal of a national cinema has looked increasingly naïve and anachronistic” (1993).
Increased funding through the 10BA tax incentives scheme resulted in a spike in production of Australian film, meaning we saw some of the very best, but also some severe exploitation of cinema. As explained by Arrow, “a survey of Sydney and Melbourne cinema-goers in 1978 concluded that the average Australian filmgoer is not particularly interested in supporting the local film industry by his attendance, though patriotically he wants to see it succeed for reasons of national pride” (2009, p157). As such, genuinely popular Australian cinema was met with a “considerable nationalist fervour” (Arrow, 2009, p157).
In turn, this is when we saw the emergence of “Ozploitation”, a term which embraces a miscellaneous succession of Australian films produced between the 1970’s and 1980’s. As film maker Mark Hartley demonstrated in his 2008 documentary, Not Quite Hollywood (2008), the sheer volume of films that were produced during this time meant that the “marginalisation of these genre films was a consequence of the official preference for ‘quality’ films” (Goldsmith & Lealand, 2010, p20). This documentary was confronting, and it wasn’t until I saw it that I had a true appreciation of just how flawed the industry had become. Watching some of these films, which are supposedly considered “Australian” and hence should (according to the original criteria) make me feel proud and patriotic, I saw little to no representation of my culture. Which raises the issue of protectionism, and the idea that the uniqueness of Australian culture must be accurately depicted in what we’re seeing on our screens.
The 10BA tax incentive was closed to new applicants in 2007, and 2008 saw the amalgamation of the three bodies looking after funding until this time, Australian Film Corporation (AFC), Film Finance Corporation (FFC) and Film Australia (FA) – forming Screen Australia. Yet still today we run into issues with the means by which we qualify a film as truly ‘Australian’, and consequently, the amount of funding that is available.
Australia has never been one cohesive entity, and to try to group the national character into one stereotype on which to qualify for funding is in my opinion, ludicrous. Being simply made, with an all Aussie cast, an outback setting and a nostalgic storyline is no longer enough in an increasingly globalised, multicultural society. Looking ahead, I believe we’ll need to strongly consider how the industry will fit into an international climate. Whilst we are obliged respond to our domestic duties, we must take the opportunity to look more outward and reshape what an ‘Australian’ identity truly looks like.
Arrow, M 2009, Friday on Our Minds : Popular Culture in Australia Since 1945, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
Burns, A & Etham, B 2010, ‘Boom and bust in Australian screen policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘race to the bottom’’, Media International Australia, No. 136, pp 104-107.
Goldsmith, B & Lealand, G 2010, Directory of World Cinema : Australia & New Zealand, Intellect, Bristol, UK.
O’Donnell, V 2012, Strewth! How Aussie does Australian cinema need to be?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://theconversation.com/strewth-how-aussie-does-australian-cinema-need-to-be-5232. [Accessed 9 August 2018].
Screen Australia. 2010. The Operation of 10BA. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/fact-finders/people-and-businesses/production-businesses/in-the-archive/operation-of-10ba. [Accessed 3 August 2018].
Turner, G 1993, Nation, Culture, Text : Australian Cultural and Media Studies, Routledge, New York.