Sunday, June 24, 2012

4000 Page Hits

At some time this week a follower of my blog will be the 4000th reader of a page of my blog since 10th May  - the day that Ruth Harley announced her ban. That’s around 570 page hits a week or an average of 80 page hits a day. Given that the pattern of hits shows up on a graph on my computer my guess is that each visitor reads up to 10 blog entries. Whilst I can only speculate on how many individuals have actually visited by blog my guess (and I could be way off-beam) is between 200 and 300. And some of these visitors may have nothing at all to do with the Australian film industry. The map that lights up those countries from which I receive blog visits includes Russia, Brazil and China! Maybe my estimate of between 200 and 300 is too high. Perhaps there are hordes of Russians, Brazilians and Chinese with nothing better to do with their time than visit the blogs of strangers on the other side of the world! Perhaps they are looking for opportunities link with blogs that might be beneficial to them for commercial reasons. I have received one such offer, so who knows!

The majority of hits come from Australia however so, working on the presumption that two thirds of my estimated 200 – 300 blog readers are Australian, between 140 and 200 Australians (presumably mostly people involved in the film industry) are now aware of my ongoing dispute with Screen Australia. Some no doubt will have arrived at the conclusion that I am a nutter who has lost the plot and who is fighting a losing battle in which victory, even if I were to eventually achieved it, would be phyrric at best. After all, even a lifting of the official Screen Australia Board-endorsed ban (yes, the Board voted on it) would still leave open the very real possibility of an unofficial ban being kept in place – against which there can be no defence. Such unofficial bans (filmmakers marginalized) are in place already but we do not, as an industry, say anything about them. Not in public, anyway. If the ban applies to another producer, director, screenwriter, who amongst us wants to speak out in their fellow-filmmaker’s defence and be likewise marginalized? And if the filmmaker who feels very strongly that s/he is a victim of an unofficial ban, has been unfairly marginalized, any complaint to that effect will not only fall on deaf ears (Fiona Cameron’s) but can be characterized as embitterment at not having received funding. This is the brute reality that all filmmakers confront. If you already belong to the club of favoured filmmakers (producers, directors, screenwriters) speaking out, rocking the boat, questioning the status quo, is not a good career move. 

And if at present you are either young and inexperienced or for some other reason are not a member of the club but wish to be, it is best to do or say nothing that might prevent you from becoming a member. And so it is that the status quo is maintained by those within the club and by those who head it up and control the purse strings. 

Writ small, in microcosm if you like, this is how dictatorships posing as democracies (Egypt, for instance) remain in power for as long as they do – maintaining control of the only mechanisms (the courts) whereby the populace might be able to seek redress. And then one day, as we have seen in the ‘Arab spring’ this past 18 months, the general populace says ‘No more’ and they take to the streets and demand change. The problem with this dynamic, as is being made manifest in Egypt right now, is the very real possibility that one set of tyrants is replaced by another.

If nothing else, my experience with Screen Australia should at least raise the question in the minds of fellow filmmakers: “Is there any way in which those of us who are not members of the club can seek justice if we feel that we have been ill-treated by Screen Australia?” Or, to put it another way, “Have the mechanisms whereby justice might prevail been co-opted by the clique that runs the industry?” Even for those who may think I am a nutter, this strikes me as being a question well worth asking. But who is going to ask it? More importantly, who is going to answer it? The answer, based on my experience at least: No-one.

One solution to the problem of giving a small group of people too much power for too long is to limit the time that people in positions of considerable power are able to exercise their power – like limiting the number of terms a US President can serve to two. In the context of our industry this means limiting the periods of time that senior executives involved in making creative decisions can hold their positions to 3 – 4 years. Yes, during those 3 – 4 years they may be able to help out their mates and marginalize those they do not like, but with a constant turnover of creative decision-making personnel neither the mates being helped nor the marginalized being hindered would have to wait too long before their fortunes changed – for better or for worse.  But even in an ideal world in which cliques did not form and those in power did not help their mates, in an industry such as ours it is essential that there be a diversity of views informing Screen Australia policy and not the same people year after year.

A 3 or 4 year time limit for all creative management positions within Screen Australia is just one of the structural changes that would, I believe, make it much harder for self-serving cliques to establish a power base and maintain it over a period of years – as has happened within our own industry. There are other structural changes that I believe should be made but I will not go into them here. Whatever changes take place  under a new Chief Executive they need to be administered by one who is honest, who is honourable, who believes passionately in dialogue with filmmakers, who is committed to the precepts of transparency and accountability and who expects his or her staff to behave at all times in accordance with these values – with close-to-zero tolerance for those who do not. I say ‘close-to-zero’ because we are all capable of making honest mistakes. However, when an honest mistake is made there needs to be, within Screen Australia, a complaints mechanism whereby disputes arising from mistakes can be resolved quickly on the basis of facts; a complaints process run by someone who does not see his or her job as supporting Screen Australia staff regardless of the facts. No such process exists right now within Screen Australia up to and including the Screen Australia Board.

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