When Australian film is embraced internationally, it’s usually via genre fare like The Babadook or Animal Kingdom or even 2018’s Upgrade. These are great films, but wouldn’t it be great if people used those films as launching pads to explore Australian cinema as a whole? As problematic as Australia Day is, it’s disturbing to see the absence of international celebration for Australia in the way of ‘Top 10 Australian films’ lists and the like.
Wouldn’t it be great if cineastes around the world took a look down under and saw the wealth of content that Australian cinema offers? It’s disappointing to see that Australia’s first colour film, Jedda, is under represented in discussions about 1950’s cinema. On top of this, prolific director Charles Chauvel is absent from most discussions about the formation of cinema around the world. The lack of attention given to the 100th anniversary of one of Australia’s finest films, The Sentimental Bloke, is devastating.
When I did a recent Twitter poll, I asked people if they had heard of Sweet Country – out of 78 votes, 60% said they had heard of it. The next question was whether people had seen Sweet Country. The votes were lower, with 46 in total, and 59% saying ‘no, they hadn’t seen it’. Over on Facebook, the poll fared worse, with almost 100 votes returning a result of 37% people having viewed Sweet Country. Isn’t it a crying shame that the film that took out the Best Picture at Australia’s Academy Awards is underseen, and in turn, fairly unknown? Where are all the people out on the street talking about it? Or for that matter, any Australian film?
I also asked my followers on Twitter if they could name five Australian directors. The same few names popped up – George Miller, Peter Weir, um, that guy, and the other one too. It’s not that the work of Fred Schepisi isn’t worth discussing, it’s just that in the realm of film discussion, Australian directors rarely get a mention. Where is the international recognition for Australia’s finest director, Rolf de Heer? Where are the de Heer retrospectives? Or the books on Australian directors and films?
(Before you jump up and say, well, if you want a book on Australian directors, write one – thanks, I’m well aware that I have the ability to do it myself, but one person alone does not make a discussion, it is merely a lonely voice in an empty hall. Plus, I’m working on it.)
It broke my heart recently that an Aussie director was excited by the fact that their really great film was going to be playing on domestic flights in Australia. This is one of those films that the anti-Aussie film chest beaters say we don’t make any more – you know, the folks who say we should make more films like The Castle or Crocodile Dundee, and then in the same breath say that they haven’t been to the cinema since 1987. It broke my heart that they were excited mostly because it’s an extremely desperate situation when filmmakers know that they’re likely to get a larger audience from passengers in a plane than anywhere else. We have to rely on strapping audiences down into seats they can’t move from to watch Australian cinema. How disappointing is that?
(I need to clarify – it’s great that they were excited, and it’s great their film will be seen by more people, but it’s disappointing that it has to be this way for that kind of audience reach to occur.)
What happened to the Aussie spirit of backing other Aussies? We do it for sportspeople, we do it for ‘the farmers’, we do it for the battlers. So why not for Australian cinema?
Instead, Australian cinema gets a huge middle finger and a massive ‘get fucked’. Whether it’s piracy or the misguided mentality that filmmakers are rolling in cash (spoiler alert: they’re not), Australian cinema is treated like trash from Australia as a whole.
Here’s where I admit I’m being decidedly selective with my facts. Films like The Dressmaker have made it big both domestically and internationally. It’s a huge success on Amazon Prime in America, and regularly gets brought up in online discussions. But, for a film that’s set in 1950’s country Australia, it’s – how do I put this politely? – white as fuck. So, while Australia is happy to embrace films like The Dressmaker and Ladies in Black, they’re less keen on embracing stories that showcase indigenous stories.
(And yes, I’m selectively omitting Mad Max: Fury Road and The Babadook and Lion – these films are exceptions, not the rules.)
This is not to say that there isn’t an audience for indigenous entertainment, it’s just that the distribution system needs to accommodate the smaller audience system that Australia’s cinema fosters. The yard stick for a films success will always be a financial one, and that alone helps push films into wider discussions. Heck, one of the very few reasons we’re still talking about Venom is due to how bonkers its success has been.