Sunday, May 27, 2012

Forums, debate and dialogue

“Work on a screenplay often operates in a series of waves. The first waves are exploratory. We open all the doors and we begin to seek, neglecting no path, no blind alley. The imagination launches unbridled into a hunt which can lead it into the vulgar, the absurd, the grotesque, which can even make the imagination forget the theme that is the object of the hunt. Whereupon another wave rears, surging in the opposite direction. This is the backwash, the withdrawal to what is reasonable, essential, to the old question: exactly why are we making this and not some other film?

Jean Claude Carriere

“Why are we making this and not some other film?” A simple question that has a multitude of equally valid answers; a question that lies at the heart of the much bigger question:

“Why should the Australian tax-payer support Australian film (culture and industry) at all?”

Again, a question with multiple valid answers but is it a question that we filmmakers discuss as often and as effectively as we could? Or as we should?

In his response to my blog entry of a couple of days ago ‘Doug’ lamented the lack of opportunities for filmmakers to meet, discuss, argue, debate, swap ideas and so on:

“I think one of the worst things about our cottage industry is the stifling of debate. Creative industries thrive on discussion, the brick wall we are given by most funding agencies with regard to the scrutinising of investment decisions and funding policy just fans the flames of mistrust. I do on the other hand think the funding bodies are listening to the industry, but they could bypass so much misunderstanding and conspiracy by simply holding more forums for discussion and debate or setting up a digital platform whereby debate can flourish.”

I agree with ‘Doug’ wholeheartedly and wish that some body (the ADG or the Writer’s Guild, for instance) would organize such forums on a regular basis – allowing filmmakers to mix as professional colleagues and as friends (or potential friends) all engaged in similar pursuits. My own attempt to organize such a forum last year foundered when Screen Australia refused to be involved. I feel now that such forums would be of value even if Screen Australia refuses to take part in them.

Given the amount of attention paid to the craft of screenwriting by funding bodies and the lack, still, of very many high quality Australian screenplays, the art and craft of screenwriting would seem to me to be a good place to start. A debate with two teams – three on each team, along with a good strong moderator:

“The importation from overseas of script ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’ to conduct workshops has improved the quality of Australian screenplays.”

One team speaks in defence of and the other against the proposition. Each team member gets 6 or 7 minutes to speak then the debate is open to the floor – questions and observations kept brief by a moderator not prepared to put up with off-topic and rambling diatribes from frustrated filmmakers taking the debate as an opportunity to whinge. The popularity of the ABC’s Q&A and the Sydney Morning Herald IQ debates reveal a desire on the part of a sizeable section of the Australian public for civilized dialogue about contentious issues of concern to all involved. It is wonderful to see those in these debates, though they be on different sides of the political or ideological divide, treating each other with both respect and, often, with humour and affection. It would be great to see this occur within the film community.

After ninety minutes or so of formal debate and discussion, all present mingle and, beers or glasses of wine in hand, continue to debate, discuss and meet fellow film practitioners whose names might be familiar but when they have never met. If the funding bodies get involved (as I suspect they would if they felt they were not going to be under attack) this would also provide an opportunity for film bureaucrats and filmmakers to meet each other in a social context that could help break down the barriers that Doug refers to.

1 comment:

  1. loving Aussies filmsMay 28, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    The plural of forum is fora, James! Good idea even if your grammar sucks! It wont work though. Screen Aust does not feel the need for discussions such as the ones you are suggesting as its talented staff already know all the answers to all the questions and have solutions to all of the problems confronting the film industry and have no need for new ideas. The wisdom of SA's approach is borne out by the long queues forming outside cinemas whenever Aust films are released