Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ruth Harley's dilemma

Ruth Harley is confronted with a dilemma. If she sues me for defamation, as she has hinted Screen Australia might, she will have to identify the correspondence which, she claims, contains evidence that I have placed Screen Australia staff at risk. If the correspondence does not support Ruth’s claims it is she who will have a lot of egg on her face. The same applies to any form of conciliation or mediation that might occur and which I have suggested. This would also necessitate that an independent arbiter scrutinize the correspondence looking for evidence of harassment, intimidation and placing Screen Australia staff at risk. If no such evidence can be found, the conciliation route also has the potential to result in a lot of egg on Ruth’s face. More importantly, a lack of evidence in support of Ruth’s claims would raise the question: How is it that a filmmaker can be banned on the basis of correspondence that does not exist? Or, to put it another way: How is it that a filmmaker can be banned on the basis of correspondence that does not contain evidence of harassment, intimidation and placing Screen Australia staff at risk?

I had hoped that lodging a complaint with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal would at least force Ruth to identify the offending correspondence but to lodge a complaint would cost me in excess of $700 – money that I do not have.

Something else that would emerge from an independent enquiry would be that there is only one member of Screen Australia staff to whom I have sent emails who is not a member of senior management or Chair of the Screen Australia Board. With this one exception, all of my correspondence has been directed at Ross Mathews, Fiona Cameron, Ruth Harley and Glen Boreham. I have copied this correspondence to others in the documentary section of Screen Australia who have an interest in my dispute or who have played some small part in it. I could, if need be, publish my emails to the one staff member who is not a member of senior management but am loathe to do so – not because they contain evidence of the crimes for which I have been accused but because the publication of them would cause unnecessary hurt to someone who is actually an innocent bystander.

Excuse me for belabouring the point but in none of my letters or emails have I ever used abusive language or made threats of any kind. All that I have done is ask questions and requested that I be provided with answers based on facts and not spin. This will become apparent in the fullness of time one way or another.


  1. For reasons that mystify me, the following response to Trevor @ Encore online could not be published.

    "Yes, Trevor, lots and lots of egg if the correspondence is released and it becomes clear that I have been playing fast and loose with the truth all along!

    As for the Craig Thompson comparison, at least we know from evidence made public just what it is that he has been accused of. That I have placed Screen Australia staff at risk is a very vague charge and one that conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images. Such a serious charge requires, at the very least, some evidence in support of it. I have been asking for close to two weeks now for evidence that I have written the correspondence Harley refers to. To date my requests have fallen on deaf ears."

  2. James..my comment wasn't published either and I can honestly state I wasn't posting under different names..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. We are all in this together. My views have change somewhat over the years about funding bodies and their policies, I se that they are give an impossible task, but they don't do themselves any favours either (throwing a 50K going away party at Film Vic..I mean WTF?) by stifling public debate, they should engage and encourage public discussion, I think most filmmakers see that they are trying to do the best job they can and I think Ruth Harley has injected some radical change in the industry and opened up SA to at least experimenting with funding programs that can sow the seeds for industry that is prepared to tackle the changing face of content delivery. Still...they need to do more and they need to identify talent at the grassroots and invest in intelligent careers, not flash in the pan productions that lack substance.
    my unpublished post went like this.
    "James..I’m simply trying to see it from both sides of the fence. The industry we are all trying to play a part in is far from perfect. Decisions are made with a blunt reality, you either get funding or you don’t and very little is provided as to why you didn’t and equally very little is provided in the way of why some do receive funding who obviously shouldn’t have, its a bizarre Kafka themed amusement ride we’re all on.
    I’m aware your case involves some kind of mystery correspondence and the inability to produce it and I do see that what is going on sets a reasonably dangerous precedent for all concerned and yes you should explore every avenue to gain some closure and clarification. I don’t envy your situation..I just live in hope that the creative teams behind some total and utter flops are given the same treatment of banning and disconnect by SA. I do think it is strange that somebody wants clarification on a letter and they are banned, (I'm not privy to the level of engagement between yourself and SA, maybe they deducted your engagement to be threatening?) and others can repeatedly take millions of public funds and make dross that fails to find an audience and keep getting funding..I mean its a bit out of proportion isn’t it? I don’t know..sometimes I think we’re moving forward…sometimes I think its a mess..sometimes I wish I just studied Law..making films is just too much fun I suppose. Best of luck to all concerned…on both sides of the industry fence. Empathy is always the key to finding a resolution.
    PS: This will be my final posting attempt on Encore..all the best with everything

    1. I agree with you, Doug, about the stifling of debate. We should, as an industry, be engaged in a continuous debate about why we make films, who we make films for, how we make them, how filmmakers and film bureaucrats interact with each other. It is a great pity, I think, that the Australian Directors Guild, the Australian Writers Guild and SPAA don’t collectively (or separately) organize regular forums at which issues of importance are discussed in a convivial and collegiate way. The ABC’s Q & A is an example of how it could be done – a panel of six or so people with varying views answering questions from the audience, engaging in dialogue and debate. And afterwards everyone gets to have drinks together and chat informally. This would provide not only a great venue for ideas to be tossed around but a great opportunity for filmmakers and bureaucrats to get to know each other as people and to appreciate the difficult circumstances that each are operating under. More importantly such forum get-togethers would make it possible for filmmakers to find like-minded colleagues with whom they would like to collaborate on this or that. I tried to get a forum such as this off the ground last year but with little success. Screen Australia had no interest at all in being involved – which made it difficult to get anyone else interested. However, I think that the answer is for someone to simply nominate a date (next spring, say), a venue and a format and see who turns up. Ideally such an event would be organized by a body (GGA, SPAA, Writer’s Guild) that has the infrastructure to do so with relative ease. If Screen Australia chooses not to be involved, so be it.

      I agree with you also about the digital platform. In the Encore of old there was at least a partial opportunity to toss ideas around but the magazine has become so cautious now and does not seem to encourage serious debate. Tim Burrows insists that he has not stopped the dialogue/debate thread regarding my banning because he has been placed under pressure from Screen Australia. I have no reason to disbelieve him. I do think, however, that an atmosphere of fear has settled over the entire film community (including Encore) such that a lot of filmmakers are afraid to speak their mind for fear of the consequences of biting one of the few hands that may feed them – Screen Australia. The banning of one filmmaker (myself) stands as an example of what can happen to anyone who rubs Screen Australia up the wrong way. As I’ve said before, if I am guilty of harassment, intimidation and placing Screen Australia staff at risk Ruth Harley has done the right thing in banning me. However, if Screen Australia has any commitment at all to the precepts of transparency and accountability it needs to provide evidence of my crimes. If indeed Screen Australia is ever held accountable, the definition of ‘harassment’ will be one applied to my refusal to accept that my legitimate questions remain unanswered and my keeping on asking them time and time again. Ross Mathews, for instance, rarely ever responds to emails or letters and, I guess, my continuing to write to him asking for answers could be construed as a form of harassment. As for my placing Screen Australia staff at risk I think that Ruth is drawing a very long bow here and I imagine she is probably regretting her choice of words. If so, there is one very easy solution – apologize. Her apology, along with Fiona’s, will not be accepted as graciously as it would have been some months ago but it will be accepted. We filmmakers sometimes make bad films, brush ourselves off and get on with our jobs. Bureaucrats can make bad decisions (as I think Ruth and Fiona have in my case), apologize, brush themselves off and get on with their jobs. I look forward, one day, to having a chat and a glass of wine with Fiona after one of the exciting forums that will grace our industry in the not too distant future.

  3. excuse typo's..was in a hurry

    1. Doug

      This little drama in which I am embroiled will end soon I hope and it will be possible for me to return to using my blog just as a platform to throw out ideas of the kind that Encore is no longer interested in. I must say that I agree with Wade about one thing - the old Encore did have more than its fair share of whingeing. I am much more interested in solutions than I am in moaning about problems. I think you are too,so, given that Encore is now closed to us for any really lively debate, please feel free (and this goes for any readers) to throw up some ideas for solutions to the problems that beset both the industry and culture of Australian film.

  4. I am one of those who if scared shitless of biting anyone's hand at Screen Australia. I'm not happy with myself about this but I am a realist and I have a mortgage and its hard enough in this f***ing industry without making enemies at Screen Australia - as James obviously has. If any kind of forum is organized I'll be there with bells on. Safety in numbers. Looking forward to the drinks afterwards :-)