Meet The F*ckers
Pleiades convinced me to go and see what the top Film Bureaucrats had to say for themselves at a function at Trackdown, at an ad hoc event organised by Tristan Milani. Fronting up for their policies were Screen Australia boss Dr. Ruth Harley, Screen NSW boss Tania Chambers and Ausfilm boss Jackie O’Sullivan.
The gist of the presentation was that the numbers are up and so far everything is much better than 5 years ago. The bad news is that the Australian Dollar is playing havoc with the part of the industry that subsists on American productions. The banality of the presentation was breathtaking and Dr Ruth Harley closed off her segment with a couple of trailers for films to come.
Maybe the numbers that were read out by both Dr. Harley and Ms Chambers bear out a recovery in the film industry in general, but it struck me more as spin. They were all busy predicting a trough to come, as if to forewarn and foreshadow bad news ahead. An unkind mind might suggest that if they’re willing to take the credit for the peaks, perhaps they should take the rap for the troughs, but these bureaucrats were so wily, there’s a reason they’ve got their cushy fat jobs and chumps like us are looking in.
There is a lot of angst in the wider film making community at various levels and in various sectors of the business. The gathered faces were surprisingly older faces. Some of whom were my instructors at AFTRS way back when, which while it is encouraging to see, was also depressing in that it showed the industry had let them down as well.
James Ricketson got up and in their faces about the ‘anonymous assessor’ process that has been put into place. Clearly this is is an abominable procedure but the top bureaucrats expressed the strong opinion that the anonymous nature of the assessment allows the assessors to be more frank. Well, let *me* be frank – I think these film bureaucrats are full of themselves if they think this process is in any way helping the film maker. Yet, there they were, defending the process on the basis of numbers. Numbers of projects submitted, number of projects funded and number of projects that eventually went into production. And when you stop to think about it, you think, what if they just changed the rules so they *didn’t* have to be accountable to the submissions?
Inquiring minds wanted to know, but these film bureaucrats were decidedly defensive on this point, saying it was a good thing. Clearly they have no idea what it is like to submit a project to these bodies. I started to laugh – I couldn’t stifle my giggle response when Dr. Harley said with a straight face for the third time that they got better information through the frankness of anonymous assessors. Well of course you would. Much like NAZIs would from secret informants – but they just didn’t seem to care that they came across as really hostile.
Some e-mailer made the charge that Screen Australia were only interested in genre pictures, to which Dr. Harley trotted out some statistical breakdown to show it was not, but in so doing, she entirely ducked the issue of accountability raised in the question. As in, “why do film bureaucrats get to keep their cushy jobs when they pick losers to develop and lose money?” No answer was forthcoming.
At one point Tom Jeffrey got up in support of a North American dude who complained about the intractability of the process and the procedures. Both men were politely told that they should get with the times and simply navigate the website and put in some study hours dealing with forms because the bureaucracy simply didn’t have the man-hours to deal with all the inquiries.
And if you thought that was a bit rude – and let’s face it Tom Jeffrey’s an old bull of the business who deserves respect – these people were quite snide about it. The North American Dude made a metaphor that he wanted to discuss Alaska, but the process involving forms always tried to reduce the discourse to a shoe box. The snarky remark from Dr. Harley was that they couldn’t help him because nobody at Screen Australia knew how to reduce Alaska to a shoe box either – which ignores the fundamental question being asked. Why are these forms so difficult and contrary to the creative process, and why do they keep insisting on these mountain of forms?
Tom Jeffrey also got the short shrift by both Tania Chambers and Dr. Ruth Harley when they suggested it was all available online and it was his own fault or being so old so as not to be up to the times. How insulting was that? Pretty extreme in its insult, I thought. And Tom’s not somebody I would consider a friend. Tania Chambers said that they simply didn’t have enough people to talk through each project, so it had to be through forms. It seems they use forms and e-mails and bureaucratese to distance themselves from having any moral responsibilities.
Some of the ex-NSWFTO people made the point of saying that they would never try to go through these bodies for development. You could see why. The whole event was an interesting exercise in bureaucrats trying to substitute discussions of quantities in place of discussions about qualities, and thus try and avoid any moral responsibilities. All in all, it was a very poor showing.