Tuesday, May 15, 2012

letter to Ross Mathews 15th Oct 2010

 This posting is a response to a comment made at Encore by BP who wrote:

If a big, public organisation such as Screen Australia (who has apparently never taken this kind of action against anyone before) decides to ban Ricketson, you’ve got to imagine that he has been more than just a nuisance to its staff. They must have a swathe of angry filmmakers in communication with them all the time  and yet this guy is the only one they ban…


BP, if I am more than merely a nuisance, Screen Australia should specify in what way to justify the draconian action it has taken. As for the accusations that have been levelled at me, I have decided to publish the first of my letters of complaint to Screen Australia regarding my CHANTI’S WORLD application – written at a time when it seemed to me that my dispute could and should be resolved quickly and amicably. I do not expect anyone to take any particular interest in the content of the letter – unless, that is, they are looking for evidence that I have in my correspondence with Screen Australia, (of which this is a representative sample) harassed and intimidated staff in such a way as to place them at risk in communicating with me.

Ross Mathews did not respond to this or any other letter from me, all written as this one was – devoid of threats, intimidation or anything that could be construed to place members of Screen Australia staff at risk.

It is absurd that I should even have to think about publishing this online but, given that Screen Australia refuses to identify the correspondence in which I have supposedly placed staff at risk, such guerrilla tactics are necessary for a filmmaker of humble means who cannot compete with Screen Australia’s legal department in the event that it should decide to swing into action.

Ross Mathews
Screen Australia
Level 4,150 Wiliam St.
NSW 2011                                                                                                15th. Oct.2010

Dear Ross


As you will recall, it was agreed at the end of our meeting on 25th. August (yourself, Julia Overton and myself) that the best way forward with my two Cambodian documentaries was for me to apply to Screen Australia for development money for CHANTI’S WORLD and to the Special Documentary Program with TRANSPARENCY.  There was no suggestion at all in this meeting that my having been filming CHANTI’S WORLD for 15 years rendered my request for development funds inappropriate. Nor was it ever put to me by anyone from Screen Australia over the following  7 weeks that 15 years of self-funding rendered my development request inappropriate.  Only two days ago, close to two months after our meeting, did Julia see fit to let me know that my request was inappropriate. I have asked Julia in what way my request for development funds was inappropriate but have, this past 48 hours, received no response.  I would have thought that my commitment to this project (in terms of both time and money) would be applauded and not render my application invalid! Could you please explain to me what Screen Australia’s logic is here?

The reason why you and Julia and I met in the first place was that I had complained to you about Julia’s refusal to respond in any way to 10 letters I had sent to her between May and August this year. Amongst other things these letters touched on reasons why Screen Australia might see fit not to invest in either CHANTI’S WORLD or TRANSPARENCY. I need not reiterate here the content of these 10 letters.

Preferring to move forward rather than to be mired in a pointless conflict with Julia about her refusal to respond to my letters I accepted in good faith the suggestion you made vis a vis applying to Screen Australia with a request for funds to further develop CHANTI’S WORLD. I would much prefer not to have but financial circumstances made it necessary – 15 years of self-funding having taken a disastrous toll on my bank account.

I need not add much to what I wrote yesterday (the contents of my email to Julia appended to this letter) but there are a few points I would like to draw your attention to:

Despite the high ratings achieved by SLEEPING WITH CAMBODIA the ABC has declared (many times now) that CHANTI’S WORLD would not be of interest to an ABC audience. I believe that Stuart Menzies is mistaken in this. Stuart also sees the non-involvement of Citipointe church as an impediment to my being able to tell a balanced story. Having spent two years trying in every way imaginable to involve Citipointe, Stuart’s assertion here has disastrous implications for the art and craft of documentary filmmaking. If, however, Screen Australia has formed the view, with my development application, that it agrees with Stuart, I would (with great reluctance) accept this as a reason not to provide me with development funds. However, this has not been presented to me as a reason.  If Screen Australia is in agreement with Stuart, now is the time to declare it.

Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that Stuart (who has not even seen any footage shot this past few years) is right - that an ABC audience would not be interested in CHANTI’S WORLD. Yes, in accordance with Screen Australia guidelines, this is a good reason to knock CHANTI’S WORLD back – though to do so would make it seem that Screen Australia’s sole function (with the exception of the Special Documentary Program) is to act as a funding arm for the ABC (and SBS). If the lack of a pre-sale for CHANTI’S WORLD is the reason why Screen Australia has knocked back my development request, please say so and not hide behind the vague concept of ‘appropriateness’. It is the meaning of this word, in the context of CHANTI’S WORLD,  that I am having huge difficulty with. It can mean anything or nothing!

Thinking of CHANTI’S WORLD purely and simply from an investment point of view, what are the chances that the documentary could fail and that Screen Australia would lose any money it invested in its development? To date 100% of the financial risk  producing CHANTI’S WORLD has been borne by myself. Screen Australia has not risked one cent. SLEEPING WITH CAMBODIA sold all around the world and recouped it’s modest budget. I have no doubt that all the territories that bought SLEEPING will buy CHANTI’S WORLD – and others that didn’t. I believe there to be absolutely no doubt but that Screen Australia would get 100% of its development investment in CHANTI’S WORLD back; that there is no financial risk involved for Screen Australia in investing in the film.  

There is one last point that I wish to make. In mid-2009 you, Claire Jaeger and I discussed my earlier application for development funds with CHANTI’S WORLD. Liz Crosby sat in on the meeting. Claire was not sure if she had seen my ‘promo’ for CHANTI’S WORLD. It became abundantly clear from comments that she made that she had not. Claire had, however, seen a DVD of stills from someone other applicant’s project that confused her – with good reason, since I had submitted no DVD with stills on it. On 25th. August, Ross, you admitted that you too had not seen my original 7 minute ‘promo’ for CHANTI’S WORLD.

You can have no idea how distressing it is to have a project assessed by Screen Australia personnel who don’t even look at a promo covering 15 years in the life of the documentary’s central character. It should not be allowed to happen. It should not have happened but given that it did I believe it would have been appropriate for Screen Australia to apologize for such a mistake.

In my email  to Julia yesterday (copied to you) I sought answers to some questions –most particularly in relation to the word ‘appropriate’. I have received no response at all. Julia has now had ample opportunity this past two days to, at the very least, get on the phone and explain to me that there has been a misunderstanding, that she chose her words badly, that the decision regarding my ineligibility had not been made by her etc. She has not availed herself of this opportunity.

Julia’s silence and her refusal to respond to my 10 letters leaves me with no choice but to make a formal complaint to you about the way in which my development funding application for CHANTI’S WORLD has been dealt with by Julia.  Please accept this letter as my formal complaint.


James Ricketson


  1. Despite Ricketson’s protestations of innocence it is hard to believe that Screen Australia would make allegations relating to correspondence that are untrue. By the same token Screen Australia has an obligation to provide evidence for these allegations, of which I can find none in the letters that appear on Ricketson’s blog. Has he been selective in which letters he has chosen to publish and which he has not?

    1. Man of Gold, no I have not been selective. I have subsequently (in 'An Intimidating Email') published the harshest of my correspondence - on in which I questioned the integrity of the person I sent it to. This was 8 months after my previous email to her which she had ignored. The content of all of my correspondence to the Documentary Section of Screen Australia has been ignored. Not one of my questions has been answered. Instead, I have been told to communicate only with Fiona Cameron about my concerns. To be fair to Fiona she did, once, answer some of my concerns but then added the paragraph in which she claimed that the fault was really all mine since I had placed certain correspondence on file...etc. When I pointed out to Fiona that she was demonstrably factually incorrect she told me, in writing, that she would not communicate with me any longer.This is Fiona's approach to transparency and accountability. It is an approach countenanced by Ruth Harley and by the Screen Australia Board. Fiona is an autocrat who not only plays fast and loose with the truth but one who (again with the blessing of Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board) investigates complaints made about herself.