Posh frocks, smoldering sexuality and a trail of plausible, but ultimately frustrating, clues made for a great mystery back in 1975, when “Picnic at Hanging Rock
” first appeared on the big screen. The tale of schoolgirl disappearances, deception, and voyeurism remains a beacon of Australian cinema and launched the directing career of Peter Weir.
But these days, with TV attracting top screenwriting and directing talent, those narrative qualities are being explored in greater depth on the small screen. And the intriguing mystery story now returns, remade as a TV mini-series piloted by FremantleMedia and picked up by Amazon for the U.S. and the BBC for the U.K. Pay-channel Foxtel regards the show as a subscriptions magnet and has it for Australia.
These days too, film festivals give increasing space on the red carpet to TV shows. And the new “Picnic” series travels as the flagship of the Australian contingent at the Berlinale.
Australian features have frequently appeared at the festival in Berlin, often in the Generations sections for children’s and youth titles. This year there is one Australian feature-length documentary, four short films, and five TV shows or web episodes, but no full-length fiction.
Whether or not that should be seen as problematic, or simply a further sign of changing times, is a matter of debate.
Australia already produces more television, both scripted and factual, than feature film, and federal funding and regulatory body Screen Australia
was one of the first government funds to back online creators. Of the organization’s 150 digital originals to date, Berlin has this year picked comedies “F***ing Adelaide” and “Other People’s Problems.”
Further, four emerging Australian directors – all women – have been selected to participate in the Berlinale Talents program. So, it is unsurprising that Screen Australia
presents its Berlin lineup as a triumph.
“Australian TV has always been popular in other territories as it depicts our unique geography and way of life, but in the past couple of years our local industry’s focus on making premium drama has been particularly successful – led by ‘Top of the Lake’ at Berlin and Cannes, followed by ‘Cleverman’ in 2016 and now ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock
,’ ‘Romper Stomper’ and ‘Safe Harbour,’ ” CEO Graeme Mason says. “Romper Stomper” is another spinoff from a feature film – one that put Russell Crowe on the map – and, tellingly is a Roadshow Productions title presented as an “original” by streaming service Stan.
“Expect to see this focus on making high-end product for a global market continue from Australian producers, particularly since incentives for both local and co-productions continue to be very generous,” says Mason.
That export and production services emphasis may be necessary if Australia is to sustain a screen entertainment industry of its current scale. Because Australian audiences are doing little to help.
In 2017, market share for Australian films in their home market last year doubled to 4.1% with more than half of that coming from “Lion.” Strip out that title and a grimmer picture emerges. Of the 55 Australian films released last year, just six grossed more than US$800,000 (A$1 million) at their home box office, and only 25 exceeded US$80,000 (A$100,000).
The causes are to be found in Australia’s English-language openness, the programming strategies of the multiplex chains and audiences that lap up Hollywood’s nosiest blockbusters. Under-funded marketing campaigns may also hamper many Australian films’ results.
Screen Australia says that the Hollywood studios have more than doubled their share of the Australian ticket sales in the past decade and can count on 50% share. Other U.S. titles can count on 35%, leaving all independents, local and foreign to fight over a 15% share.
“These are the new rules in which we must compete. We’re not only looking for exceptional Australian stories, but stories with a considered path to audience at the cinema, and then beyond the cinema,” the organization said in January, while presenting its review of last year.
Australian content selected for 2018 Berlinale
TV and Web
• FremantleMedia Australia’s drama “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” starring Natalie Dormer. (Berlinale Series)
• Roadshow Rough Diamond’s “Romper Stomper”; a Stan original series, already sold to BBC Three and Sundance TV. (EFM’s Drama Series Days)
• Closer Prods.’ comedy series “F***ing Adelaide” from director Sophie Hyde (EFM’s Drama Series Days)
• Seymour Films’ web series “Other People’s Problems” (EFM’s Drama Series Days)
• Matchbox Pictures’ SBS series “Safe Harbour” (EFM’s Drama Series Days.)
• “Tangles and Knots” starring Odessa Young, produced by Janet Brown and written and directed by Renée Marie Petropoulos, in Generation 14plus
• Closer Prods.’ “A Field Guide to Being a 12-Year-Old Girl,” written and directed by Tilda Cobham-Hervey (Generation Kplus)
• Wabi Sabi Studios’ “Lost & Found,” from producer Lucy Hayes and directors Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe (Generation Kplus)
• Australian/Korean “Paper Crane” (Generation Kplus)
• 6 Season Prods.’ feature-length “Gurrumul” (Berlinale Special, presented in co-operation with NATIVe)