ARTS POLICY / FILM - OZ FILM
opening night audience at the Sydney Film Festival enthused over Black and White, a doco-drama about the trial of an Aborigine for
rape and murder in the late 1950s. With films such as that, as well as
the latest Ned Kelly film, the disdain for the history film has
dissipated. Filmmakers not exhausted the ways in which presenting our
history can help us to understand contemporary issues. How we represent
ourselves on screen, the choice is not between the present and the past.
Irrespective of the period, our filmmakers need to be more daring with
both subjects and structures.
all local screen production is one fact. The funds available from the
Film Finance Corporation in any year are less than the marketing budgets
for a single Hollywood blockbuster.
the latest Ned Kelly providing
work, the disdain for the history film has dissipated. The high moral
tone about putting nostalgia behind us is deflated by the candidness of
the producers who admit that they cannot afford replicas of precincts. Rabbit Proof Fence got by because its outback setting required few
absence of big bucks leads our writers and directors to multiple
reactions: despair, the arms of Rupert Murdoch, or the quirky. A few
confirm the maxim that when you have no money you need to use your
films on race relations that Peter Sellars commissioned for this
year’s Adelaide Festival were low budget. They proved that there is no
one way of being relevant. Tracker
is set a century ago; Beneath
Clouds is contemporary and Australian
Rules shifted an incident from thirty years ago up to the present.
Yet, all three speak to current issues.
film from the Adelaide Festival, Walking
on Water, is Lantana for
grown-ups, opening with euthanasia before exploring how those surviving
at the far edge of urban speed create rituals for grief in a secular
money no object in the making of films to feed Australian daydreams, who
would refuse to work on screen versions of our nineteenth-century
Handel Richardson’s The Getting
of Wisdom was one of the 1970s period pieces, a genre which now
embarrasses our cultured critics. Richardson’s The
Fortunes of Richard Mahony has never been filmed although it offers
a tangle of social and psychological forces to leave most contemporary
settings look shallow and thin.
intricacies inform Christina Stead’s Seven
Poor Men of Sydney, a superior predecessor to her For Love Alone, screened in 1986. And if you thought The
Bank did a job on global financiers, you ain’t seen nothing until
someone brings Stead’s House of All Nations to a multiplex near you.
set a film in the past need never turn into formulaic writing or a
costume parade. Rodney Hall’s 1990s trilogy, The
Island in the Mind, explores the European discovery of this
continent as a work of the imagination long before the navigators
sighted our coastlines. Bringing so much inventiveness to our screens
would challenge every convention of our film-making.
greater demands in realisation would be to make features set in
Aboriginal Australia before any whites appeared. Few projects would
engage more with contemporary concerns by puncturing New Age fantasies
about their immanent spirituality and One Nation slurs about their
centenary of Federation did not bequeath us even one hour of screen
drama. Because novelists have never fictionalised the Founding Fathers,
script writers had nothing to lean on. At the level of high politics, a
dramatised version of how British investors got our draft Constitution
altered remains an opportunity to revel in intrigue.
Here, the directors would do well to plagarise the venom and wit of
Alfred Deakin’s insider memoir, The
our past is now more a mine-field than a picnic-spot, requiring
foolhardiness as much as cash. Imagine the cross-fire for anyone making The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith in 2002. Tom Keneally says he would
not now write that novel. Those troubles beset Australian Rules, which is really a story about a white boy and his
father. Rabbit Proof Fence was
trailed by a hunt for an Aborigine to play the part of victim of the
slinging match between “the black-armband” brigade and the
“three-cheers” squad warns film-makers away from re-imagining our
past. Deniers of every crime pick on the minutest slip to damn any
mention of class, race or gender as having been concocted by the
settings on screen are not a substitute for scholarly examinations of
our past, or for schoolroom lessons. The pedagogue’s job is to make us
say: “I’d never heard of that”. The work of the feature film is to
catalyse debate through the community. Its achievement is to hear us
say: “I’d never looked at it like that”.