Confab attendees drill down on answers

The Australian biz is still abuzz over what emerged from the annual Screen Producers Assn. of Australia conference.

In this economic climate, it’s hard to find anyone in the film world seeing silver linings in the dark clouds that dominated the confab, which ran Nov. 17-20.

The biz faces questions over the effectiveness of government coin, which will be subject to a government review next year, poor performance of local films at the B.O. and a strong Aussie dollar scaring off runaway productions.

“There will be almost no incoming productions of the runaway variety,” says Screen Australia topper Ruth Harley. “That market simply cannot happen with the dollar the way it is and the 15% location offset (not being competitive).”

But, she argued that the 40% producer offset had helped the country through a difficult period by bringing in productions such as “Happy Feet 2″ and 3D animated pic “Guardians of Ga’Hoole.”

The offset system is about to come under government scrutiny, and while no one knows what the outcome will be, Harley was concerned that the treasury ministry may be gunning to remove its “uncapped” status.

But any winding back of the subsidy comes at a time when the industry needs as much help as it can get. Local share of B.O. is still low despite 2009 grosses being the best in a decade for Aussie films.

While such Oz pics as “Mao’s Last Dancer” took in $13 million, local films are only set to take a 5% market share, a far cry from the 18% commanded a decade ago. The answer, it seems, is that the Australian films needs to look for a broader audience.

“We need to resolve once and for all the push-pull between art and commerce,” SPAA president Antony I. Ginnane told the conference. “Genre is key — and it’s bizarre to me that when literally hundreds of social realist Australian films fail, we keep making them.”

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