The days of innocence are over. Few commentators now talk,
except with a fond nostalgia, of the renaissance in Australian
film industry. They are beginning to recognise that something
fundamental is changing in the structure of the industry, and
that this faultline, once crossed, will mean an irrevocable shift
in the direction and content of Australian films.
Recently there have been three signs which suggest this
crossroads has been reached, and they are the changes to the
structure of Government support for the industry by which a few
companies (FLICS) will be able to raise finance for a slate of
film rather than one at a time; the 1997 AFI Award ceremony (a
poor imitation of the Oscars), and the development of extensive,
purpose built film studios in Sydney.
At first glance there is no direct link between these but a
pattern can be constructed. They mean, in essence, that we are in
the process of creating Oziwood.
Oziwood means an industry
with a star system
Oziwood means an industry with a star system and the elitism
which stems from that, with more studio based productions and
more first time film-makers heading more quickly into that
industrial style of movie, with the economic power of a few local
moguls having disproportionate influence on production green
lights; with more secure place alongside other countries in the
international movie industry which in turn will create more
secure career paths for an entire generation of creative
The influence of the new studios on our industry will be
profound. Until now most Australian films have been made without
extensive studio infrastructure and this has resulted in truly
individually styled films which are recognisable by the imprint
of their directors.
An Australian industry more
based on studios
An Australian industry more based on studios will mean that a
wider selection of film genres will be made locally - we can look
forward to our own version of children's films for Christmas and
the expansion of other genres such as gangster, prison, adventure
and family films.
Imagine Babe's Xmas Adventures, Escape from Long Bay, or even
Australian Vacation and the possibilities become clear. The range
and number of actors and writers required to service these
expanded genres should bring hope to those who want to see the
industry as a secure career path.
Studios have, in the past, also tended to compete with
directors for the recognisable look of a film. For many years RKO
was synonymous with a certain style of musical, Warner Bros for
gangster film and Elstree Studios in London for a particular form
of English comedy. This might easily happen here, with a 'Fox'
look to certain films. This may well cause a renewed debate over
what is an Australian film and how do we recognise it?
The use of sets rather than real locations will change the
look of Australian film and perhaps break what many people in the
industry see as a stranglehold of the documentary over fiction.
I was reminded of this when screening Top Hat recently for my
students - being visually conditioned by the dominance of the
documentary look on Australian screens they flinched at the
cardboard Venice through which Fred Astaire danced, arguing in
the tutorial that the actuality of Venice was what made, say,
Don't Look Now so compelling rather than the idealised Venice of
the Astaire musical.
One of the fastest growth
points...will be in digital special effects
We should also remember that what we call in the traditional
sense, 'sets' are now more likely to be digitally created,
perhaps from original photographs but substantially 'idealised'
in the computer. Indeed it is likely that one of the fastest
growth points in the Australian film industry in the next five
years will be in digital special effects industry. (It has
already begun. Ed.)
Oziwood will bring new opportunities to established directors
as much as the new generation of film-makers. The questions which
must be asked, however, are not to do with technologies and
investment levels, but more with the subtle cultural values which
will be altered in the process.
How will a relatively small audience adapt to an even broader
selection of Australian film, and what will need to be changed if
those films absolutely need to be pre-sold overseas before they
can be given the 'green light'? What will happen to the often
rough but decidedly independent low budget films on which the
industry was founded, and how will the new Oziwood connect with
the expanding range of television and other delivery systems?
One answer might be the rise of ultra-low budget film-makers
who reject the evolution of the Australian industry towards a
star and studio system. The underside of Oziwood will be helped
by high quality/low cost technology which enables anyone, as
predicted by Francis Coppola in the closing scene of the
documentary, A Film-Makers Apocalypse, to pick up a camera and
"be the new Mozart". This 'other' Oziwood also has the
capacity to keep the avant-garde alive despite a history of
experimental film in Australia being Government funded which, to
many, is a contradiction in terms and practice.