The latest PwC
Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook report paints a dire image for
the next five years of cinematic entertainment in Australia. In the report,
President and CEO of the HOYTS Group, Damian Keogh, calls cinemas “the
cockroach of the entertainment industry – nothing can kill it off”, which paints
a beautiful image of a place that many filmgoers consider to be a church (of
sorts). But, unlike a cockroach, it’s questionable whether cinema will be able
to survive an impending apocalypse. Sure, the humble dark room with pretty
pictures has had more than a few bells and whistles attached to it, with everything
from newfangled 4K screens and pumped up Dolby Atmos speakers, to, um, beds and increased
instagrammability, all applied in the hope that people will move away from
their small screens to look at a bigger screen for a few hours.
But, what concerns me the most is the fact that the cinema
has become a venue where only the biggest of the big films are cause for
attendance, with the occasional ‘special event’ screening getting the nostalgia
addicts out and about. Sure, Avengers:
Endgameis better on the big
screen, and sure, it’s great to see Alien
on the big screen with full surround sound, but is this all that cinema is
going to be from now on? A venue for the biggest of the big, and for a select
few socially deemed ‘Hollywood classics’ that get run out every so often?
Apparently live sports streaming is another thing which has given cinema a
boost, and sure, that’s something, but it’s not a film as such.
In turn, this isn’t an article about what defines what a
‘cinema’ is – traditionalists would say that it is a sacred house where the art
form of film lives, but with the arrival special screenings of television
episodes, and the aforementioned sports screenings, one has to submit to the
notion that the cinema is now just a really big, fancy television. Given the
concept of ‘movies’ and ‘television’ is blending into one – if Nicolas Winding
Refn is to be wilfully
misinterpreted, there is no film, there is no show, there is only streaming
now -, it’s very likely that the sanctity of cinema is now less about what is being shown, and more about how it is being shown. A better
comparison is to hold the cinematic experience up against the live music
experience – nowadays, gigs have swaths of people holding discussions amongst
themselves, taking selfies, instagramming the music live to their followers,
with complete disregard to the actual human beings on stage banging out tunes
for the audiences ‘entertainment’, and it appears that cinemas are no
Sidetrack aside, this evolution of cinema is hurting the
Australian film industry the most. Yes, smaller, sub-$20 million films from all
around the world struggle to get a footing in cinemas, with the first week that
films are in cinemas being the most important time for traction and word of
mouth. In a world where people flock to see the biggest films on the opening
day for fear of spoilers, the same amount of people seemingly avoid going to
see smaller films because of a wealth of reasons. Whether it’s because they’ll
await the home release, or for the film to hit streaming, or simple lack of
interest, these smaller budget films that have minimal advertising dollars to
splash around go by relatively unnoticed. Yes, the world of streaming is changing
things dramatically, and there has been more content than ever, but again –
Australian film is being left in the wake of everything else out there.
The growing availability of foreign content being introduced by video-on-demand platforms is placing the Australian content under pressure. The Make it Australian campaign was launched in September 2017 by a number of industry leaders, including high profile Australian actors. The campaign aims to promote and protect local Australian filmed content by lobbying to extend local filmed content requirements to include streaming services and other new forms of delivering media and to boost government funding. Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia says, ‘we get more applications now per round than our legacy agencies used to get in a year’. The ability to grow Australian storytelling and compete on the international stage would be enhanced with Government investment in production and distribution.
The Make it Australian campaign is an
interesting one, designed to encourage the screen industry and the government
to embrace Australian content and support the screen industry as a whole.
Launched in 2017, it’s mildly concerning to see that in that period of time (as
per the website) there have only been 1,206 emails sent to local
representatives to campaign for Australian film and to encourage the
implementation of ‘Netflix’ quotas so more Australian stories are seen on
Australian screens. With that said, if Australian content is on Netflix, then
there will be an international audience for Australian content. One only needs
to look at the
massive success of Wentworth both
domestically and internationally as one singular reason to support Australian
If we take a look at some of the films that have recently been produced in Western Australia – Breath, Jasper Jones, Dirt Music – one can’t help but scratch their head over whether these are actually the results of the WA tourism board and not Screenwest. Now, Breath and Jasper Jones are two of the better Australian films in recent years, but the cynicism side of me can’t shake the feeling that these films are being created to sell Australia, rather than to sell the Australian film industry as a whole. The same can be said of Top End Wedding – as great as that film is, it’s easy to imagine a cut of the film including Daryl Somers shouting at audiences ‘you’ll never never know if you never never go’, so strong is the ‘tourism’ angle of the film. To be clear, these two things can work in unison. There is no reason that a high quality film can’t also promote the region that it’s being filmed in. It’s just can’t feel like an advertisement.
From my perspective, I’ve long wondered what the future of
Australian cinema is. With a singular government body doling out dollars to
ensure Australian films are made, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow at some
of the decisions made by the board. Given the uncertainty of how films are
produced in Australia, it is refreshing to see that there is a huge wealth of independent
films being produced despite the lack of government support. It’s concerning
that there is little support for these independent filmmakers, even if the fact
that they still make films on fumes alone is inspiring. But, what’s even more
concerning is that even though these films are being produced, there’s a huge
lack of optics for audiences to be aware that they exist. People are genuinely
surprised that we have more than ten films released in a year, let alone over
fifty films. They are there – but you have to work hard to find them.
While these genuine Australian stories are being told, there
are also the Australian films by stealth – the Peter Rabbit’s, the Winchester’s,
the Hacksaw Ridge’s of the world that
are not Australian stories as such, but because they were made in Australia
they are considered Australian. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, by
that measure, then Aquaman and Thor: Ragnarok and Alien Covenant should all technically be Australian films. But,
that’s not what this article is about.
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