A film relies on its country of origin for overall success. Australians have an essential role in the continuance of their film industry. Funding is provided by the government as it is a cultural and economic investment. However, if there is no interest in Australian film, the investment is questioned.
In order for Australian films to maintain their relevance and presence within society, Australians themselves must support the content. Increasingly, Australians are disinterested or unaware of home productions. American films act as a distraction due to Hollywood being the leader of the international film market. According to Screen Australia, in 2017 there were a total of 36 Australian films released alongside 170 American films. This confirms the need for domestic interest in Australian content. Hollywood productions dominate on an international level. For example, Disney’s release of Avengers: Infinity War is the top grossing film of 2018 thus far. Australian films can’t compete with such a large budget and already established fan base. Breath starring Simon Baker was released during the same time. This Australian production was based on a national bestselling novel with the same title. Breath made a little over $3.2 million in the Australian box office with the competing film, Avengers: Infinity War making $21.2 million. Although the films are very different both in genre and subject matter, local films can’t keep up with action-packed blockbusters coming out of America.
The industry itself is attempting to spread the importance of investing in one’s own film industry. Through campaigns like ‘Make It Australian’, industry professionals are communicating the economic and cultural value of the industry to the Australian government (Broinowski 2018). As Broinowski reveals, leading actors like Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, and Chris Hemsworth are amongst the forerunners of the campaign. Funding for the arts is determined by the government. Following the heavy federal budget cuts, creatives wrote an open letter outlining the need for change. It stated, “our ability to keep telling Australian stories on screen is at risk, our voices in danger of being drowned out by a deluge of overseas content.” Australian feature films are typically labelled as ‘low-budget’. in the late nineties, an average film could be made for just under six million (Maher 2004). During this time, films weren’t limited to Australian soil and receiving foreign investment was accepted. The industry underwent such ‘structural’ changes still seen today (O’Regan 2015). However, the investment ratio between domestic and foreign still struggles to find a happy medium. Australian content is based on its production and must meet the SAC test to be considered. Screen Australia enforced the SAC test as a way of regulating what is seen to be Australian. It questions the subject matte of the film, where it is being filmed and the nationalities of its production team.
As mentioned above, Breath is a recent Australian film. It is a coming-of-age story set in the 1970s. However, Film critic Glenn Dunks describes it as “a movie made for middle-aged white guys and literally no one else”. The lack of diversity on screen is the main reason why audiences show limited interest in the content. Representation is key to achieving success for a film or television series. Chris Peacock poses the question – “Are Australian audiences lulled by reassurance into enjoying ignorance of themselves”. Peacock suggests that perhaps ignorance comes too easily for Australian audiences. Film and television educate its audiences on their own society. Prior to the release of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert in 1994, drag culture wasn’t yet seen on screen. Writer and director, Stephan Elliot found a perspective missing from the industry. Also, notably, the film, Samson and Delilah directed by Warwick Thornton. The film broke barriers as Thornton’s first feature started a national conversation about poverty and what an Australian love story is. As Thornton states, “It’s just as much a white story as it is a black one”. Peacock (1996) pairs the importance of Indigenous film with Indigenous art as it reinforces a national identity as well as give recognition to Indigenous culture; Australian culture. Australia’s national identity is typically seen to be male. Women are missing from the screen with only a small percentage (15 per cent) of leading roles available and 30 per cent offered as speaking roles (Siemienowicz 2015). Screen Australia’s ‘Gender Matters’ report of this year reveals that from the 37 Australian feature films last year, only 16 per cent were directed by women. The entire industry lacks representation from gender to religion to race to sexual orientation. A viewer engages with content based on whether they’ve been represented or not. Without representation, viewership diminishes thus, funding or the potential for investment into the industry does too.
Another contributing factor to the issue of funding is based on access to the content. Films are mainly distributed via cinemas. Mark Peranson identifies film festivals
“as an alternative distribution network” where films whether marketable or not are shown in a public space (Carroll Harris 2017). Film distribution is vital in getting viewership. The process begins with film festivals, where the films are tested to an audience who are industry educated. Typically, independent films are showcased as it is more “affordable” than other forms of distribution (Carroll Harris 2017). According to Lauren Carroll Harris, the test is whether screenings sell out. This gives the audience influence over what they want to see in cinemas. If there is a great desire to see a film based on ticket sales, the film will be distributed further. Film festivals allow for a targeted audience to be revealed. This will increase the film’s revenue if they know who to sell it to. Ultimately, films are an investment both culturally and economically. Funding is required for films to be made but also during the process of distribution as the Australian public must be aware of the releases.
Australians must support their own industry by increasing the demand for the local like in the 1970s with Ozploitation films. The Australian government might determine how much funding is appropriate for the film industry but Australians also play a vital role in making that calculation.