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By Andrew L. Urban

Should Baz Luhrmann’s remake of The Great Gatsby qualify for millions of Australian taxpayer-funded support, since it is based on American literature and is an American story? The screen industry has been asking this question ever since the project was proudly claimed as a coup by NSW Premier Kristina Keneally a few weeks ago. It will be shot in Sydney.

"subject matter"

Then just a couple of weeks ago we ran a story about the court battle over the doco series, Taboo, produced for the Nat Geo Channel by Australia’s Beyond Productions. Beyond had been refused access to the 20% Producer Offset rebate (20% of the budget back to the production company via the Tax office) on the grounds that the subject matter of the series was not Australian. It qualifies on every other point: the show is produced by Australians and 87% of the budget is spent on Australian elements (the rest is spent internationally on offshore expenses for the shoot etc).

The two primary issues of contention for Beyond are whether a) Australianness of content overrides the other four considerations which make a project eligible for funds and b) whether this represents inconsistency in policy application. The industry seems to think so, and the Screen Producers Association of Australia is backing Beyond’s appeal according to its statement two weeks ago: “Beyond Productions will be appealing the AAT decision to the Federal Court. Beyond takes the view that the decisions of Screen Australia and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal raise issues for the Australian screen production industry, of which Beyond is a significant long-standing member, that more than justify an appeal to the Federal Court.”

"in terms of Australianness"

The contrast between Taboo and The Great Gatsby couldn’t be greater in terms of Australianness; the absence of Australianness (and even of Australian leads in the cast) in The Great Gatsby is OVERRIDDEN BY other considerations, including the project’s development for the screen by an Australian production company (Bazmark Films) and its adherence to the other guidelines for eligibility.

Yet in the case of Taboo, the absence of Australianness OVERRIDES the other considerations: a total reverse of policy application.

And here’s the thing: should subject matter in fact determine eligibility for Government funding? Such a policy is unnecessarily restrictive, small minded and counter productive. Would you regard the story of Cambodia’s tragic history as told in The Killing Fields as an ineligible film for the purposes of financial support, or was it right that it qualify for British Government support because it was produced by British filmmaker David Puttnam? 

"no discernibly Australian content"

Jane Campion’s The Piano was financed by a French construction company, the story was set in New Zealand (Campion’s birthplace) and had no discernibly Australian content, but it was produced by Australia’s Jan Chapman, and hence officially an Australian film for funding purposes. 

It’s relevant to note that the Producer Offset is uncapped; this means that any money rebated even to such big budget productions as The Great Gatsby does not reduce the amount of money available to other projects. The Bazmark production will feed millions of dollars into the work-starved filmmaking infrastructure (crews and production support businesses) without reducing the support coffers. 

"Large scale Australian productions should be welcome"

Large scale Australian productions should be welcome – indeed, there should be more of them generated by Australian production companies. They do not vaporise funds for smaller films. It’s a big world and there are lots of big stories: the requirement (for funding purposes) should be that it is Australians producing and directing these for the screen, not that we see kangaroos in the film.

Published March 13, 2011

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Andrew L. Urban

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Baz Luhrmann

National Geographic - Taboo

The Piano

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