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Film Australia back to roots with docs

Government-backed production house Film Australia is returning to its core business of documentary production after the defection of its most-experienced children’s TV producer to TV and film production/distribbery Southern Star.

From July, Ron Saunders, who created some of FA’s most internationally successful productions, including “Johnson & Friends” and “Escape From Jupiter,” will head a new children’s and family division called Southern Star Pacific.

An interim “alliance” arrangement will see Star and FA jointly develop existing FA drama projects, such as “Spellbinder” and a fourth series of “Johnson & Friends,” allowing Saunders to continue as executive producer.

Saunders mainly worked on live action co-productions with private investors rather than publicly funded documentaries. FA appears intent on getting back to this core business.

“We have been talking to other parties since before Christmas; we were under pressure because Ron was getting approaches all the time,” FA managing director Bruce Moir told Variety. “We realized that we had more than we could cope with; drama was outgrowing our potential. We have no capital reserves and, ironically, our success outgrew us.”

Moir said FA would concentrate more on its charter obligations in the areas of documentaries, multimedia and education, which he claimed had fallen somewhat as “the pendulum was swinging more to the commercial.” Moir said docudramas also were a possibility.

“I would never like to turn my back on entertainment; we don’t want to become staid and boring.”

According to Southern Star Entertainment chief exec Errol Sullivan, Star’s retaining Saunders completes the expansion of its entertainment division.

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