Saturday, May 19, 2012

Response to Doug @ Encore

The following is a response to a longish comment by 'Doug' late last week  that was submitted to Encore but not published.


I had a conversation not too long ago with a fellow filmmaker who paid his dues, many years ago, as a film bureaucrat. He told me that twice, in his role as bureaucrat, he realized that he had made a wrong judgement. In both cases he called the applicant and invited them to come to the AFC and have a talk. In both cases the matters were resolved quickly and amicably. I had similar experiences with two Chief Executives a couple of decades ago – Kim Williams and Joe Skrznsky (forgive me Joe if I’ve spelt your name wrong!). Over a cup of coffee we chatted about whatever the issue was and either agreed or agreed to disagree and parted friends. Yes, times have changed and perhaps such face to face meetings are no longer feasible but in disputes such as my own (especially when the stakes are as high as they are) it should be possible for a resolution to be arrived at quickly and with both sides agreeing to abide by the decision made by the Conciliator. There is no-one within the Ministry for the Arts who can pay this role or who is prepared to play this role. And it is not the way the office of the Ombudsman works. I suggested to the Ombudsman right at the outset what I have suggested today on my blog – a disinterested third party who is concerned only with verifiable facts. It could not be done. The argument might be presented that it would waste too much of Screen Australia’s precious time if it were to engage in the kind of dispute resolution I am suggesting. I would argue that it would waste much less (considerably less) time for such conciliation processes to be embarked upon. But even more important that the time wasted on exercises such as the one I am engaged with SA is the erosion of good will that occurs in the process – filmmakers resentful at being ignored, not having their letters responded to and so on; bureaucrats resentful at being continually criticized for this and that. I tried, last year, to organize a film forum at which filmmakers, bureaucrats, all involved in the industry, could debate the multifarious issues that confront us all – no matter which side of the table we sit on. The format could have been somewhat like Q & A – program which, for the most part, manages to present opposing views of contentious subjects without the panellists going for each other’s throats. In short, civilized dialogue/debate between people with opposing views. Screen Australia declined to take part. A pity, because I think that such dialogue/debate would make everyone (filmmakers and film bureaucrats alike) realize that we are all in the same boat and for the some reasons – to make the best possible films we can. Sometimes we’ll succeed and sometimes we won’t. And when we don’t, lets talk about (if need be argue about) why.
I happened to be present for what I think was the very first meeting of the new SBS after Bruce Gyngell took the helm. There were a dozen or so of us in the room. Bruce said, (and these are pretty close to his exact words) “Seven out of ten of the decisions I make will be good ones and three will not. This is the reality of the business we are in.” The problem as I see if with Screen Australia (and my own experience is just one example of it) is that there is no willingness on the part of the organization to accept that it ever makes mistakes. It’s not just Screen Australia, of course. We see it in the area of federal politics – the use of ‘spin’ to paper over mistakes rather than the simple admission, “Hey, we got that wrong. Well try hard not to make the same mistake again.”

1 comment:

  1. James, since Screen Australia wont reveal which correspondence from you it believes places Screen Australia staff at risk, make an application to get it through FOI legislation. I'm dying to know what they are at risk of!