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The Vital Signs of Australian Film

– by David Churack

The financial realities behind Australia’s film industry

If you are Australian, it is highly likely that the vast majority of film, television and digital media you consume is overwhelmingly foreign in origin. That fact in itself is not surprising; after all, Australia has a much smaller population compared to countries such as the United States and Britain from which we import much of our entertainment *content*.

Despite this comparative smallness, however, Australia does contain an active film production industry, and has over the years produced a number of recognisable and highly marketable film stars.

The previous year 2014 was predicted to be a ‘banner year’ for this Australian film industry, both commercially and critically, as there were many films with high profile actors and directors slated for release.

Why, then, have so many newspapers and media sources been decrying the apparent ‘failure’ or ‘death’ of the Australian film industry?

The reasons for this perception are multifold. Firstly, there were a number of Australian films produced in 2014 with the involvement of high

Predestination

profile industry figures that failed to meet commercial expectations at the box office. The Spierig-brothers directed Predestination and the Josh Lawson feature The Little Death both represent examples of such films that garnered little attention within their local markets.

As a whole, the Australian film industry only managed just over a 2% share of the overall box office in 2014, the most disappointing performance in a number of years.

Furthermore, there is a growing perception that the Australian film industry simply cannot compete with the larger and more profitable industries from overseas, in particular the American film industry. Hollywood films often have around 7 times the budget of a standard Australian film, and even independently produced films from the United States are prone to having larger budgets.

Another influential factor in the perceived failure of Australian films is the lack of advertising and marketing funds that raise public awareness of the films and their release. This lack of marketing is due to the limited funds many Australian films receive, and it explains why many members of the Australian public are completely unaware that there are any local films showing in cinemas.

These facts seem to cast the success and profitability of the Australian film industry into serious doubt. But perhaps this view is simply an effect of not looking at the bigger picture.

australian film industry poster 1

While it is true that Australian films often fail to gather much attention within their local markets, they regularly garner attention from the international market. A perfect example of this kind of film is the recent critically-lauded Australian horror film The Babadook, which has won awards and achieved a high level of critical and media attention overseas. However, when the film premiered in Australia, its box office takings were extremely low and it failed to gain any serious public or critical attention. This one film is symptomatic of a larger trend – that the international market for Australian films is often warmer than the local market.

So perhaps the Australian film industry isn’t the problem – maybe the real issue is with the local populace who seem to view the descriptor ‘Australian-made film’ as a deterrent. This echoes the ‘cultural cringe’ effect that has led many Australians to reject a national Australian culture and cultural products as ‘inferior’. The ‘cringe’ is exemplified in the noted tendency of some film critics to heavily criticise or even completely ignore Australian film productions. The vast number of articles that have come out in recent months decrying the ‘death’ or ‘failure’ of the Australian film industry can be seen as an extension of this idea, representing a media tendency to highlight the flaws or failures of Australian films while ignoring positive aspects such as their overseas appeal and critical success.

It is true that, in many ways, the Australian film industry could stand to be performing better than it has over the past year. But a local tendency to dislike and ignore Australian productions, as well as to highlight the failures of the industry, suggests that the problem may be just as much with Australian filmgoers.

 

Picture credit: Umbrella Entertainment, New York Post, ABC

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