Apollo: The Future of Australian Cinema

Apollo is Woroni’s regular column in which our reviewers offer comment and opinion on cultural questions beyond our individual reviews.

Crocodile Dundee is Australia’s all-time most successful film, grossing over $47 000 000. In it, we see the tough and outdoorsy Mick Dundee travel to New York where the supposed differences between Australian and American culture are used for comedic effect. He uses his whily Australian outback skills to save the day. This idea of Australia and the other has proved to be an easy plot point in some of Australia’s most successful films.  What was the last Australian film you saw? The Sapphires? Chris O’Dowd is Irish. Red Dog? Josh Lucas is American. Rogue? Michael Vartan is American. Moulin Rouge? Ewan McGregor is Scottish. Fern Gully? Robyn Williams is American. Sanctum?  Ioan Gruffudd is Welsh. Did you even know these films were Australian productions? It’s as if we need an international star to add some credibility or culture shock to our films.

Back in the seventies, it was popular for Australian films to feature white Australians getting lost in the bush, coming to terms with their new yet ancient home (eg, Walkabout and Picnic at Hanging Rock). In these more recent films, we’ve swapped the lost Australian with the lost international star dealing with culture shock here. I don’t know about you, but I for one am more likely to see an Australian film if a) I don’t know it’s Australian; or b) it has an international star.

We get confused when an Australian actor done good comes home to make a local film, like Cate Blanchett in Little Fish or Toni Collette in Mental. If we can’t understand why our stars would want to appear in Australian films, how can we expect the international markets to take our films seriously? The Kelly Gang is arguably the first feature film ever produced, not just in Australia, but in the world, and yet from these promising beginnings Australian cinema has fallen behind the rest of the world (though our horror films continue to be brilliant). So where do you look to now? Do we look to the seventies and eighties with its ocker films and art films? With its ozploitation films that inspired Quentin Tarantino?

Or do we look to co-productions? State governments do a huge amount of the funding – and it’s difficult to get funding from elsewhere in Australia. I know a filmmaker who has been blacklisted from filming in Victoria because despite being a Queensland resident he attempted to gain funding from the Victorian government by pretending he lived there – something he had to do in order to get his movie made. Funding in Australia is difficult, and the people doing the funding seem unwilling to take risks (hence the prevalence of low budget Australian social-realist films). Filmmakers can look towards private investors, or they can look elsewhere. Lore is a new Australian/German coproduction – filmed in Germany, starring Germans and spoken entirely in German.

The film is quiet, intense and wonderfully acted – but where has it been screened? The screening I went to was very busy, but it was free. Very few Australian films get a wide release today, even one as critically acclaimed as Lore. If wonderful films like this don’t make money at the box office then how will Australia be able to continue making them?

Whether it be more emphasis on advertising, more emphasis on distribution, or more emphasis on stories that want to be watched by an international AND local market, something has to change.