Oz producers’ SOS

Film org calls for urgent government investment

SYDNEY — Already reeling from poor local box office, soft foreign sales and falling government subsidy, Australia’s film and TV industry is well and truly spooked by the American government last week agreeing to provide production loan guarantees to independent filmmakers.

Noting federal support for the film and TV sector has fallen from a high of A$105 million ($65 million) to A$78 million ($48 million) since the 1996 election of the conservative federal government, peak industry body the Screen Producers Assn. of Australia is calling for support “to return to more realistic investment levels” in May’s budget.

Painful comparison

“Other governments are backing their industries with serious investment,” SPAA executive director Nick Herd said. “The European Union has committed $372 million over five years to boost European films. Even America, which has traditionally not involved itself in funding independent film, announced a $100 million fund underwritten by the U.S. government to invest in independent films. This is an early warning that Australia is falling behind world best practice.”

One of the most serious problems confronting Oz films is a lack of development coin and hurried filming so producers can collect their fees, prompting SPAA to ask the government to up funding for development agency the Australian Film Commission by $2.8 million per annum.

SPAA also wants the government to restore the $4.2 million per annum it took from premier film production investor the Film Finance Corp., whose four-year funding pact is up for renewal.

Plea for pubcaster

SPAA also called for increased support for pubcaster ABC-TV, whose triennial funding is up for renewal. ABC-TV weathered a $41 million budget cut under the conservatives that caused its local drama hours to fall from 84 hours in 1996 to just 59 hours in 1999.

“The government needs to think past the glory of this Olympic year to the cultural year, to the cultural, celluloid image Australia presents in the 21st century,” Herd said. “Given the entrance of the American government this year to aid its independent film industry, the need for Australia to maintain and improve its filmmakers support would seem obvious.”

Budget deliberations remain confidential until May.

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