Sunday, August 12, 2012
letter to Ruth Harley 13th August
Level 4,150 William St.
Woolloomooloo 2011 13th August 2012
It comes as no surprise to me that I have received no response to my letter of 8th August. You did, after all, decree in your letter of 10th May that you would have no further correspondence with me. How wonderful it must be, in the second decade of the 21st century, to be able to act as prosecutor, judge and jury and, in the absence of any evidence, not only find a filmmaker guilty of a crime he has not committed but leave him with no avenue of appeal and top it off by saying “I am not going to respond to any letters you may write about this matter.” In this you and Fiona Cameron share much in common – Fiona also working on the presumption that she can put whatever nonsense she likes in writing and top it off with “I am not going to communicate with you any further about this matter.” It gets worse. Not only does the Screen Australia Board find this extraordinary lack of commitment to transparency and accountability acceptable but so too does Simon Crean. And herein lies the real problem for a film industry dependent on Screen Australia in so many ways. Senior management at Screen Australia simply can’t be trusted – especially since the person whose job it is to deal with complaints (Fiona Cameron) not only ignores legitimate complaints and lies to the complainant but is allowed, by yourself and the Board, to investigate complaints made about herself. ‘Kafkaesque’ is too mild a term to describe such a state of affairs.
For 18 months now you have ignored my many requests that you ask Fiona Cameron to release or identify the correspondence she refers to in her 10th Nov letter to me. But why, an independent observer might ask, is this lie of Fiona’s of any significance? The answer? Context. By attributing to myself correspondence that does not exist, Fiona was able dismiss a legitimate complaint I had made about what can best, at this far remove, be described as incompetence on the part of Screen Australia staff. As you know, the process of considering a documentary project for development funding involves, as a rule, the assessment of: (a) A written proposal and (b) a ‘promo’. In my case, my ‘promo’ represented 16 years in the life of the girl/woman who was (and is) the focus of my documentary CHANTI’S WORLD – 16 years of Chanti’s life from 8 year old beggar on the streets of Phnom Penh to 24 year old mother of five, still living, for the most part, on the streets of Phnom Penh. Whilst my written proposal for CHANTI’S WORLD was, of course, an important component in my application, far more important was the ‘promo’. The moments in Chanti’s life that I have recorded over 16 years are either evidence that I have the material to make a compelling and moving documentary or provide clear evidence that over this person of time I have recorded nothing that would be of interest to an audience. To make this judgement requires, clearly, that the ‘promo’ be viewed. This did not happen in my original application. By their own admission Claire Jager and Ross Mathews did not view my ‘promo’. How and why this happened has never been explained to me, though there is a clue to what occurred. Claire, in her assessment of CHANTI’S WORLD, made reference to a DVD of ‘stills’ whose relevance to my project she did not understand. This is not surprising since I did not submit a DVD of stills. With a desk cluttered with DVDs it seems that Claire picked up one that she believed formed part of my application and was confused by what she saw. Whilst in my written application there were several references to my ‘promo’ it did not occur to her (or to Ross Mathews) to wonder why it seemed not to be amongst my application materials or to ask me if I had submitted it. I most definitely had submitted it and it was returned to me after my application was knocked back.
Despite admitting to having not seen the ‘promo’ Claire and Ross stood by their decision to knock back CHANTI’S WORLD for development funding. It has been suggested that my original complaint emanates from my not having received funding. This is untrue. I have never, in all my career as a filmmaker, complained about not receiving funding. Being knocked back is part and parcel of being a filmmaker – as every filmmaker knows. You take it on the chin and move on. However, in making an application for funding you have every right to expect that the key document in your proposal, a ‘promo’ that compresses 16 years in the life of your central character into 7 or so minutes, will be viewed. And if it is not viewed you have every right to make a complaint about this fact. And complain I did. My complaint fell on deaf ears (both Julia Overton and Ross Mathews ignored my letters and emails) and eventually wound up on the desk to Fiona Cameron. Rather than deal with the facts of the matter (Claire and Ross did not view my ‘promo’), Fiona invented a story, which she put in writing and placed on file, that makes it seem as though I were merely a disgruntled filmmaker embittered that I did not get funding that I felt I was entitled to; that I had come away from a meeting with Ross Mathews and Julia Overton believing I had (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) been given. The implication underlying Fiona’s lie is not only that I believed I could do such a deal with Ross and Julia but that I believed Ross and Julia had gone along with it and, in our meeting ‘greenlit’ my CHANTI’S WORLD development application. For me to have acted in such a way would have been in contravention of Screen Australia guidelines and be the action of a filmmaker who was not only corrupt but stupid.
I am telling you nothing new here, Ruth. I am merely repeating what I have written to you several times this past 18 months. You have known for 18 months that what Fiona Cameron wrote regarding correspondence from me regarding CHANTI’S WORLD was a lie but you have stood by her regardless. And so too has the Screen Australia Board. Support for Fiona Cameron, regardless of the facts or of the truth, is far more important to the Screen Australia hierarchy than dealing appropriately with a legitimate complaint from a filmmaker about the process whereby his application was assessed. But, as you know, the problems do not end with Claire Jager and Ross Mathews not viewing the ‘promo’. This was just the most significant of the problems. I need not enumerate the other problems now because this one is enough to warrant my having continued, for 18 months now, to insist that Fiona Cameron produce the correspondence she referred to in her letter of 10th Nov 2010. Not only have she and you refused to identify or release the correspondence, my attempts to acquire copies of it through FOI legislation have been ignored.
I met once with Nick Coyle and he struck me as a thoroughly decent man and one whose I have no reason to doubt. However, Nick’s boss is Fiona Cameron – the very person about whom I have been making my primary complaint; the very person who claims that I have written correspondence that I have not written; the very person who, with your blessing and that of the Screen Australia Board, investigates complaints made about herself!
Could you please identify for me the correspondence that Fiona Cameron claims I write to Screen Australia prior to Nov 2010 in relation to CHANTI’S WORLD. Could you please do so today? If you do not I will make a formal complaint in relation to Screen Australia’s failure to comply with both the spirit and the law of FOI legislation. Could you also please identify the correspondence that you believe bears witness to my having harassed, intimidated and placed Screen Australia staff at risk. Getting Nick Coyle to send me copies of pretty well all of my correspondence with Screen Australia is just nonsense – yet another ham-fisted SA attempt at obfuscation.