Sunday, September 30, 2012

On the problems inherent in making an application to SA when banned!

Screen Australia Board
Level 4, 150 William St
NSW 2011                                                                                                     1st. Oct 2012

Dear Members of the Screen Australia Board

Mr Nowicki , Senior Investigator with the office of the Ombudsman, has decreed that he cannot further investigate my complaint vis a vis ‘intimidating correspondence’ unless I put the Screen Australia ban to the test by making an application for funding of one kind or another. Mr Nowicki does not understand (and seems to have no desire to understand!) the processes whereby a producer makes an application to Screen Australia for funding or seeks to take advantage of the ‘Producer’s Offset’ through Screen Australia. Both of these necessitate a conversation with a human being at Screen Australia – something that has been denied to me on the basis that I have intimidated and placed Screen Australia staff at risk. No evidence of this has been presented to either myself or Mr Nowicki (after five months of asking) but then facts and truth are of no consequence to Screen Australia (including the Board, it seems) when the narrative that has been decided on is one that seeks to silence a critic of Screen Australia such as myself.

Given that it is yourselves, as Board members, who have given Ruth Harley permission to make conversations between myself and members of SA staff impossible (and hence applications that require such dialogue) it is up to yourselves to provide Ruth Harley with a new directive – one based on facts and not spin. Yes, this would involve the Board acknowledging that it made a mistake in banning me in the first place and perhaps the Board is reticent to make such an admission and would prefer that I simply make an application as Mr Nowicki suggests. You could then advise Ruth to accept the application – in which case my ban is effectively brought to an end (the official ban, that is) without there being any acknowledgement of the fact by either Ruth or yourselves that there was/is no intimidating correspondence. This may make sense to you all as you sit around a table trying to figure out how to extricate yourselves from a problem of your own creating but it makes litte sense at all in the real world that I must work within.

Consider this: An international broadcaster provides me with a draft contract to acquire certain rights to my documentary ‘Chanti’s World’. I seek legal advice relating to it – a cost to myself – and negotiate with the broadcaster re terms and conditions. Ideally, at this point, I would present the draft contract to Screen Australia with a request that the relevant person let me know if the terms and conditions outlined in it are acceptable to SA. If not, what modifications would be necessary to satisfy Screen Australia’s guidelines? This option is closed off to me as a result of your ban so I must second guess what Screen Australia’s contractual requirements might be and negotiate in the best faith possible with the international broadcaster. We arrive at a contract that we believe if fair and equitable and, on 19th Oct, I make an application to Screen Australia for post-production funds. At this point one of two things can occur: (1) Screen Australia tells me that it cannot accept my application as a result of the ban that you have placed on me or (2) That the application can be accepted but the terms and conditions agreed to by myself and the international broadcaster are not acceptable to Screen Australia.

At this point I must go back to the broadcaster and alert them to the fact that Screen Australia wants to X, Y and Z changes made to the contract. The international broadcaster finds these new conditions unacceptable and the deal falls through. The international broadcaster feels more than a little put out by the fact that it has negotiated in good faith with me only to find that I have kept a significant potential contractual problem secret from it. Alternatively, I could say to the broadcaster now, “I should warn you that I have been banned by Screen Australia, I am not allowed to speak with members of Screen Australia’s staff so there is no guarantee that the effort you are putting into drawing up a contract with me will lead anywhere. It may just be a waste of your time. Sorry about that. I hope you understand.” The international broadcaster could, with more than a little justification, shake its corporate head in wonder and respond with, “Sorry, we don’t want to get involved in this. Too complicated. We’ll pass.” I wouldn’t blame it. Indeed I am surprised that it has not happened already. It is not aware of the ban you have imposed I guess.

The Board should, this week, do one of two things: (1) Signal that it intends to continue with the ban on myself based on the evidence that has been provided to it by Ruth Harley or (2) Lift the ban based on the fact that Ruth Harley has not been able to provide it with evidence that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff.

There is, of course, the third alternative (that the Board has adopted this past five months) which is to ignore this letter and hope that I give up, hope that the Supreme Court dismisses my Statement of Claim tomorrow, hope that the Ombudsman continues to ask no questions (which seems likely) and that all avenues of appeal, now closed to me, will bring the matter to a close and the status quo will remain.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Friday, September 28, 2012

A response from the Ombudsman, 28th Sept.

Below is only a part of the office of the Ombudsman's most recent response (28th Sept) to my complaint but it is relevant to my immediate circumstances:

You have asked me to clarify what I mean by stating that I have some concerns about Screen Australia's decision not to respond to any future applications from you, should you lodge a new application with it. It is my view that Screen Australia should reasonably consider any new valid application for funding it receives. This would include a new application from you...

You have stated that in light of the advice provided by Screen Australia you do not consider that there is any point lodging a new application with it. Although I have concerns about Screen Australia's advice rergarding how it will treat future applications from you (which I will be following up with Screen Australia) I am of the view that further investigation is unlikely to achieve anything meaningful for you in the absence of you lodging a new valid application. This is because the existence of a new valid application will provide an opportunity for our office to assess the reasonableness of Screen Australia's actual response. Without an application being on foot, I do not believe that there is any practical remedy further investigation will achieve for you.

One problem with Stephen Nowicki's suggested modus operandi is that even in the preparation of an application I need to talk with members of staff at Screen Australia – which I am not allowed to do because I have allegedly intimidated them and placed them at risk!

On this subject Stephen Nowicki writes:

You have asked for our office to make a determination about whether or not your correspondence has 'intimidated, harassed or placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff'. It is not the purpose of my investigation to make a determination or ruling in the manner that you appear to be seeking. Our office investigates the administrative actions of Australian government agencies, but it is not our role to make a ruling on the occupational, health and safety of the staff of an agency.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

final letter to Screen Australia Board

Screen Australia Board
Level 4, 150 William St
NSW 2011                                                                                                      28th Sept. 2012

Dear Members of the Screen Australia Board

When I wrote to you yesterday it seemed as though my pre-sale for ‘Chanti’s World’ had fallen through as a result of your ban. As it happens, the international broadcaster (a major player in the world of documentary) is still interested in providing me with a pre-sale that would make it possible for me to access Screen Australia funds. It seems the broadcaster is unaware of the Screen Australia ban that would render its pre-sale irrelevant in real terms. Just how long the broadcaster can remain in ignorance of the Screen Australia fatwa remains to be seen!

The pre-sale for ‘Chanti’s World’ is one that I started talking with the broadcaster about in Sept last year. This is a documentary that I have been self-funding for 16 or 17 years now and which Screen Australia has not invested one cent in. If the Board is really determined to kill off this pre-sale there is not much I can do about it but I do hope that you do so in the absence of any doubt at all about my guilt of the crime I have been charged and found guilty of – intimidation and placing SA staff at risk! If it were not for the ramifications for my own career, this would be laughable. How can correspondence place someone at risk – unless, of course, the correspondence contains threats, real or implied. Perhaps Elizabeth Grinston can find some implied threats in my correspondence but I challenge any normal person (without a double degree in Law and Spin) to find even one phrase that is threatening.

The other aspect of this dispute that should (I believe) be of concern to you all is that Screen Australia (at some considerable expense, I imagine) is going to defend the defamation suit I have brought against Ruth Harley in the Supreme Court of NSW. One does not need to be a lawyer to know that publishing a document (the draft 9th May letter to yourselves) in which the Plaintiff is accused of intimidation and placing SA staff at risk is defamatory. Unless, that is, the accusation is based on fact; is true. If it is true, if I am guilty of intimidation, I will clearly lose my case. If it is not true (which I maintain) SA stands a very good chance of losing – if, that is, Screen Australia’s counsel does not succeed, on Tuesday 2nd. Oct, in having the matter dismissed on the grounds that I have not articulated my ‘pleadings’ and ‘Particulars’ as well as I might have if I had legal representation.

As I have stated countless times now, there would be no need for this matter to be heard in the Supreme Court if Ruth Harley were to release – to yourselves, to me – the correspondence (or extracts thereof) in which it is clear that I have intimidated her staff and placed them at risk. If I have, my being banned is appropriate and having the matter heard in the Supreme Court is a waste of time, energy and money. If I am not guilty the same applies – a waste of time, energy and money. All that would be required is that the ban be lifted and that the Board apologize for its mistake in banning me in the first place.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

to Screen Australia Board....again!

Screen Australia Board
Level 4, 150 William St
NSW 2011                                                                                                                                                         27th Sept. 2012

Dear Members of the Screen Australia Board

I have received neither acknowledgement of receipt of my letter of 19th Sept nor a response of any kind to its contents. Ruth Harley’s ban on reading correspondence from me seems to have extended to the Screen Australia Board also. An extraordinary state of affairs! “But you only wrote to us 8 days ago, James,” I can hear you proclaim, “you can’t expect us to respond immediately to your plea to reconsider our banning of you!”. Yes, but it took you less than 24 hours to make the collective decision to ban me and Ruth Harley should be able, at very short notice, to provide you with at least one (preferably three) instances in which I have intimidated and placed at risk members of her staff. And, as you are all aware, this dispute did not begin last week or even last month. It reached boiling point in Nov. 2010 when Fiona played fast and loose with the truth regarding correspondence I had supposedly written to Screen Australia, just as Ruth Harley has played fast and loose with the truth in relation to correspondence from me that she claims is intimidating and which places her staff at risk. My letter to Glen Boreham of 2nd Dec. 2010 will provide some context for those members of the Board who were not sitting on it at the time:

Glen Boreham
Chair, Screen Australia Board
Level 4,150 William St.
NSW 2011 2nd Dec. 2010

Dear Glen

I thought that this dispute could not get any more farcical. I was wrong. I wrote the enclosed letter to Julia Overton on 1st Dec. Julia’s email response was as follows:

Dear James,

Thank you for your letter. I have been instructed to forward all correspondence to Fiona Cameron for follow up. Consequently this will be my only reply to your email and the letter attached below.



My response to Julia was:

Dear Julia

What an extraordinary state of affairs! Both you and Ross consistently refusing to confirm or refute my account of our conversation vis a vis CHANTI'S WORLD and TRANSPARENCY. Given that you failed to answer any of the questions I asked you over a period of months, in 10 different letters, I suppose that I should not be surprised! So much for Screen Australia's commitment to transparency and accountability.


So the ball is thrown back into Fiona’s court. Unfortunately, Fiona has no interest at all in the facts – not in this matter or in my complaint earlier this year regarding my failed attempts to obtain an interview with Ruth Harley and Martha Coleman. Fiona seems to see her job as spinning my repeated attempts to get Ross and Julia to answer questions in such a way as to absolve them of any obligation to do so and make it seem as if my complaint is about something other than it is – as any independent observer interested in facts alone would become aware very quickly. Fiona should be that independent observer but, alas, she is not.

As I have intimated before, this dispute is, in the grand scheme of things, a petty one. What should be of concern to the Board is the dynamic of what has occurred here – the total lack of transparency and accountability in dealing with my attempt to get answers to questions. The only positive thing that can be said of this dispute is that at least Ross and Julia have not come out and lied about our conversation on 25th. August. Instead they have left it to Fiona to bring her considerable powers of spin to create the illusion that my complaint has do with my not receiving funding. Given that there is no mechanism within Screen Australia to separate spin from truth I will now leave it to the Ombudsman to sort this farce out.

When there is an issue of real importance to the Board will it be able to rely on Fiona to provide the Board with the facts it needs to make a considered decision or will Fiona be spinning whatever the issue is to absolve Screen Australia staff from responsibility?

best wishes

This last sentence resonates today – the Board apparently prepared to accept Ruth Harley’s assertion relating to intimidating correspondence from me. If I have written it, get Ruth to identify it to yourselves and to me. In the interests of transparency and accountability I will publish it on my blog even if it makes a liar of me. All that is required, really, is just one example of my having intimidated (as opposed to ‘distressed’) Screen Australia staff and placed them at risk and the ban you have imposed on me will be justified. And I will accept it.

If Ruth cannot provide this evidence the Board should immediately lift its ban on me and apologize for its mistake.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

to Rachel Perkins, yet again!

Rachel Perkins
Blackfella Films
10 Cecil Street
NSW 2021                                                                                                           26th Sept. 2012

Dear Rachel

My letter of 17th Sept, as with my others to you, has resulted in neither acknowledgement of receipt nor a response of any kind. Ruth Harley’s fatwa re communicating with me clearly extends to yourself also. Can you not see how absurd this is, Rachel?

You now know that Stephen Nowicki, despite his apparent inability to read and understand the contents of Ruth’s 10th May letter, has ‘some concerns’ about my not being allowed to make applications to Screen Australia. Despite the absurdity of his implied suggestion that I make an application anyway, it is good to know that the smallest chink has opened up in the Screen Australia Board decision to ban me – even if the Ombudsman is a toothless tiger!

A brief review of some evidence is in order, though it seems I am working to a different paradigm to Screen Australia, for senior members of which evidence is of secondary (if any) importance. You now know that the ‘greenlit’ correspondence that Fiona Cameron used as her central argument to avoid dealing with my complaint does not exist. Fiona was being economical with the truth. In retrospect it must be obvious to you now that it was quite appropriate that I keep on asking, insisting, that Screen Australia release the correspondence that I knew did not support Fiona’s assertions. My doing so was not harassment, it was not intimidation and it placed no one at risk. I was merely exercising my right to have my ‘Chanti’s World’ complaint adjudicated on the basis of facts and not Fiona Cameron spin. Here, you might raise an objection: “But James, I have looked at the correspondence you wrote and it is as clear to me as it was to Fiona that you believed ‘Chanti’s World’ had been greenlit.” Fair enough. Point out to me which part of my letters reveals this, Rachel. You won’t, of course. Nor will anyone else at Screen Australia. This dispute has nothing at all to do with facts, with truth, with evidence. It began with a cockup and is now a coverup!

You also know now that Ross, Claire and Julia did not view my ‘Chanti’s World’ promo before knocking back my first application; that this application was, in fact, ‘compromised’ despite Ruth’s assertion to the contrary. Indeed, it is hard to imagine an application more ‘compromised’ than one in which the promo, 14 years of the life of the central character, goes unseen by anyone at Screen Australia! You know that Elisa Harris of the office of the Ombudsman failed to even ask Ross, Julia, Claire or Liz if they had seen the ‘Chanti’s World’ promo. You might respond with, “But James, I don’t know for sure that Ross, Julia and Claire did not see your ‘promo’, to which I would reply, “Ask them.” Have you asked them, Rachel? Along the lines of: “Did you see James’ ‘Chanti’s World’ promo? Did Elisa Harris, from the Ombudsman’s office ask you if you had seen it?” Two little sentences upon which so much hinges. For as long as these two questions remain unasked or the answers kept secret, Ruth Harley can continue to assert that my complaint was ‘investigated’ by the Ombudsman and that my applications were not ‘compromised’. These two questions must now, of course, remain unasked, because the answer to both – “No” – has been known to Ruth Harley since Nov 2010, so her observations about the results of the Ombudsman’s so-called ‘investigation’ are disingenuous to say the least.

By now, Rachel, I am sure (or at least I hope) that you have asked these questions yourself and know that my ‘Chanti’s World’ promo was not viewed and that Ruth Harley’s assertions relating to the Ombudsman’s ‘investigation’ are nonsense. And this is the important point here vis a vis the role that Screen Australia plays in our industry. It is not that I have been banned by Ruth Harley and the Board on trumped up charges, but that Ruth and Fiona can put in writing whatever nonsense they like and there is no mechanism whereby their nonsense can be revealed for what it is. Ruth can allege on 9th May, in a draft letter to the Board, that I have intimidated and placed her staff at risk and the Board, with no evidence at all in support of these allegations not only signs off on Ruth’s ban but changes Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade to make the ban legally possible.

My being banned is merely a symptom of the problem you need to address as a Board member but which you, along with your fellow Board members, seem determined to pretend, ostrich-like, is not there. I suspect that, just as Ruth cannot now admit that she has known all along that Ross, Julia and Claire did not view my promo without looking more than a little foolish, so too can the Board now not admit that it made a mistake in banning me without looking more than a little foolish. As I have written before, it may well be that Screen Australia’s counsel will be able to get my defamation suit thrown out of the Supreme Court of NSW on the basis of a technicality but if it does not…well, we’ll leave that to the Supreme Court.

How much more evidence do you need before you will, at the very least, decide that the Screen Australia Board’s conviction of me (for that is what the ban is, in effect) was ‘unsafe’ and that the evidence needs to be looked at by another judge, another jury? I have suggested an independent Conciliator many times. My suggestion has been ignored because a truly independent Conciliator would be interested only in facts and not spin and on the basis of facts Screen Australia’s allegations that I have harassed and intimidated and placed at risk members of SA staff would collapse like a house of cards. You know it. Ruth knows it. The entire Board knows it.

Rachel, you are confronted with two choices here. One is that you ignore this letter as you have my previous letters and do not ask any questions at all that might lead to the realization that you and the Board have cocked up badly in banning me. Alternatively, you could, along with the Board, do whatever it takes to get the right answers. All you need to do is pick up the phone and ask of Ross, Claire and Liz: “Was James’ promo viewed?” If the answer is ‘no’ the next call is to Ruth Harley: “How long have you known that Ross, Claire and Julia did not view James’ promo?” And, whilst you are at it, call Fiona and ask: “Which parts of James’ ‘greenlit correspondence’ reveal that he believed ‘Chanti’s World’ had been greenlit and why did it take you 20 months to send James copies of this correspondence?”

Honest answers to these questions will reveal that Ruth and Fiona, along with the entire Documentary Section of Screen Australia, have little respect for the truth, for SA guidelines, for the Public Service Code of Conduct and no commitment to the precepts of either transparency or accountability. But then the same can be said for a Board that has failed to ask for evidence in support of the ban Ruth requested of you all on 9th May and which you provided her with without debate and without giving the accused an opportunity to defend himself.

Again I ask you Rachel, if you were in my shoes, what would you do?

best wishes

James Ricketson

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Ombudsman has some 'concerns'

Stephen Nowicki
Senior Investigation Officer
Commonwealth Ombudsman
PO Box 7444, St Kilda Road
VIC 8004                                                                                  25th Sept 2012

Dear Stephen

In response to your letter of 20th Sept. You write:

I have some concerns about Screen Australia’s statement that it will not accept any future funding applications from you.

What does ‘some concerns’ mean in reality and why do you have them?

I will raise those concerns with Screen Australia.

Within what time frame will you raise them? Raising a concern in the real world is meaningless unless it leads to action to address the concern.

No information has been provided to me to indicate that you have made a new application that has not been responded to.

Why on earth would I make a ‘new application’ when Ruth Harley made it abundantly clear in her letter of 10th May (of which you have a copy) that it will not be accepted?  Ruth writes:

Screen Australia has taken the decision that it will not accept further funding applications from you, or correspond with you about funding applications.

Ruth could not be any clearer in expressing her resolve. She ends her 10th May letter with:

We do not propose to accept or respond to any applications or correspondence from you. To be clear, any correspondence which you send to us about the decisions notified in this letter will not be read.

Did you actually read Ruth Harley’s letter to me dated 10th May, Stephen?  Exhibit A of my complaint! If so, how could you possibly write, in your letter of 20th Sept:

If you make a future application and Screen Australia does not respond to it, you can then make a complaint to our office about that particular application. We can then consider the specific circumstances of that matter in more detail.

‘That particular application’! Stephen I have been banned. It is not a matter of ‘ particular applications’ or ‘specific circumstances’. It is a total ban on anything I might present to Screen Australia. As you are well aware, Ruth Harley, true to her word, has not responded to one of my letters since 10th May. The same would apply to any application I made. How is it, after more than four months, that you have not been able to read and comprehend a letter, a little over a page long, in which Ruth Harley leaves no doubt that her ban on me is total!?

Are you suggesting, despite the total ban placed on me by the Screen Australia Board, a ban that can only be lifted by the Board, that I make an application anyway? Just to test the waters, perhaps? And then, when my application is knocked back, which it would have to be if the Board’s decision were to be respected, come back to you with a new complaint? So that I can spend another four months waiting as you ‘consider the specific circumstances of that matter in more detail’?  This is akin to making a complaint to the Ombudsman about having one’s driving license cancelled and you suggesting that the complainant drive anyway and deal with the ramifications when they arise! This is absurd. A ban is a ban!

But lets just say I go through with this charade? My application is knocked back. With my new complaint will you actually acquaint yourself with the correspondence relevant to the application? Will you ask questions; acquaint yourself with the facts? I have yet to see evidence that the facts are of any more interest to the office of the Ombudsman, in the course of investigating a complaint,  than they are to Screen Australia!

You seem not to have even a basic understanding of the ramifications of the Screen Australia ban. It is close to impossible to make a film in this country without communicating with Screen Australia in regard to the ‘Producers Offset’. Are you aware of the ‘Producer’s Offset’, its significance, its importance, the indispensible nature of it to filmmakers? Are you aware that Screen Australia’s ban effectively makes it impossible for me to make films in this country? You write:

If you think I have overlooked something or there is any further information I should consider before finalizing my investigation, please contact me on1300 362 072 or by email. If I do not hear from you by 10 October I will finalize your complaint and close your record.

Stephen, like Elisa Harris before you in Dec 2010, you have not conducted an investigation thorough enough to even acquaint yourself with the contents of Ruth Harley’s one and a bit page letter to me of 10th May. There has been no investigation worthy of the name. There are myriad questions I have asked and which, in your ‘investigation’ you have completely ignored but an answer to one question would be great:

Do you believe, on the basis of the correspondence of mine that you have read, that I have intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff?

It is on the basis of these alleged crimes that I have been banned and my career as a filmmaker effectively brought to an end. Could you please identify one paragraph, one sentence, one phrase in any of my correspondence this past three years in which I am guilty of the intimidation of which I have been accused and found guilty by a Board that was presented with no evidence but was happy to take Ruth Harley’s word that such evidence existed! What point is there in making a complaint to the Ombudsman if you, as Senior Investigator, are not going to ask the key questions necessary to acquire evidence of the crime I have been found guilty of. 

On 10th May Ruth Harley wrote:

We do not consider that our previous assessments of this project (‘Chanti’s World’) were compromised as alleged. I note in this regard that you took your concerns over those assessments to the Commonwealth Ombudsman. An investigation was conducted and a decision made that there was no criticism made that there was no criticism of Screen Australia’s approach with respect to the matters investigated…”

As you know, Stephen, Elisa Harris conducted no investigation at all. She spoke with Fiona Cameron once on the phone but did not ask any questions at all of the four people who were in a position to agree or disagree with me that the first and second assessments had been, to use Ruth Harley’s expression,  ‘compromised’. To this day Claire, Jager, Liz Crosby and Ross Mathews still refuse to provide a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to questions relating to ‘compromised’ assessments. Did you, in your ‘investigation’ ask Claire, Jager, Liz Crosby and Ross Mathews for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to the question of whether or not my ‘Chanti’s World’ promo was viewed? No.

Then there is the correspondence that Fiona Cameron claimed I had written in which I expressed my belief that my ‘Chanti’s World’ application had been greenlit. Did Elisa Harris ask to see this correspondence? No. How could she claim to have completed an ‘investigation’ without even requesting to view correspondence that lay at the heart of the dispute? Undeterred by Elisa’s botched ‘investigation’ I continued to request copies of the correspondence. It took me 20 months, two FOI applications and a complaint to the Information Commissioner before the ‘greenlit’ correspondence was released to me. And does it contain any evidence at all that I had believed ‘Chanti’s World’ had been greenlit? No. Clearly, the reason why Screen Australia did not want to release the correspondence was because it did not contain evidence of this particular crime I had allegedly committed. What do you make of this fact? What do you make of the fact that Elisa conducted no investigation at all (check the files, Stephen, for evidence of this) and that I effectively achieved, in 20 months, what the office of the Ombudsman could have done in a five minute phone call.

Please, Stephen, get on the phone today and ask Ruth Harley to produce at the very least one instance in which I have intimidated and placed at risk members of her staff. Just one. If she can’t, my being banned is an inappropriate abuse of power on her part and this should not only be blindingly obvious but also something that you can, in whatever the appropriate bureaucratic language is, express forcefully in writing. This can and should be done today.

Whilst it is clearly a matter of great concern to me that I have been banned on trumped up charges, the bigger issue is this: By not conducting an investigation but creating the illusion of having done so, Elisa Harris effectively gave senior personnel at Screen Australia a green light to behave in whatever way they choose, without regard to the organizations own guidelines, with a total lack of transparency and accountability in the full knowledge that in the case of any future complaint to the Ombudsman by a filmmaker, the verifiable facts would be ignored and no pertinent questions asked. That you have not, after four months, been able to read a letter that is little over a page long and understand its contents is yet further evidence of the ineffectiveness of the office of the Ombudsman.

If I have intimidated or placed Screen Australia staff at risk my being banned is appropriate. If I have not done so, Ruth Harley has lied and, on the basis of her lies, convinced the Screen Australia Board to ban me. Given that the Screen Australia Board seems to have no interest in whether their ban of me is based on facts or lies you can, as the Ombudsman’s office representative, make this call. You have read the correspondence, Stephen. Am I guilty of intimidation or not in your view? Please express your answer in clear language that any lay person can understand and not in equivocating bureaucratese that is open to multiple interpretations. If you cannot do this, please step aside as investigator and hand my complaint on to someone within your office who will deal with it appropriately.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Sunday, September 23, 2012

letter for Julia Gillard

The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra, ACT 2600                                                                           24th Sept. 2012

Dear Prime Minister

Further to my letter of 17th July, for which I received neither acknowledgement or a response.

I do understand that a trivial matter such as this would not (should not) be brought to your attention. I would have thought, however, in amongst your numerous staff, that there would be someone who would deal with it. I suspect that there is and that he or she, when my letters have landed on their desk, has made a decision: “Ignore. This belong in the trash.” An alternative would be for this person to send a quick note to Simon Crean, Minister for the Arts along the lines of, “Simon, can you please deal with this one way or another ASAP.” And of course Simon could have sent a brief note to Ruth Harley along the lines of, “Ruth, can you please deal with this. Refusing to communicate with Mr Ricketson, refusing to answer his questions is not an option. At risk of what? Some evidence of intimidation please.” And so on down the line so that answers would flow back up the bureaucratic ladder such that Mr Crean could let you (your office) know, in whatever way these things happen, “having looked at the facts it is clear to me that XXX has occurred and I have recommended YYY as a means whereby this dispute can be resolved expeditiously.”

In order for Mr Crean to be clear about anything or to make any recommendation he or his representative would have to bypass the spin meisters within Screen Australia and deal with those facts that are irrefutable, of which there are plenty. This representative, Carolyn Fulton perhaps, makes a judgement call about whether or not I have intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff based on facts and not the subjective (distressed) responses of members of the staff. In short, evidence of the crime that has allegedly been committed. This, as you would know as a lawyer, is a basic principal of natural justice. Have my emails to Liz Crosby, for instance, been intimidating, placed her ‘at risk’ or were they merely distressing because I kept writing and refusing to take her silence as an appropriate response to my questions? If ‘distressing’ a public servant is the same as ‘intimidating’ a public servant and this intimidation can lead to their being denied access to government departments, to being banned, is this not just a crude way of silencing critics and whistle-blowers?

It is the lack of natural justice and the lack of accountability and transparency within Screen Australia that should be of concern to you. Perhaps Screen Australia is not an exception to the rule when it comes to government instrumentalities but typical of how government departments are run under your Prime Ministership. If so, you have a real problem and it is not one to be fixed by the employment of more spin doctors. It is one to be fixed by placing someone in a position of power in the bureaucratic hierarchy at whose desk the buck stops. There is no such person within the Ministry for the Arts. The buck just keeps being passed back and forth. No one is responsible for my being banned. The Board can claim, “We were acting on Dr Harley’s advice. We had no reason to doubt the veracity of her claims.” And Ruth Harley can say, “This was a decision made by the Board, not by myself.”

Not only does this result in the problem not being addressed (let alone resolved) but it is also a dreadful waste of energy. Think of the energy saved and the credibility gained if you replaced 4 spin doctors with one person who actually makes decisions that resolve problems as opposed to trying, in Emperor’s New Clothes fashion, to pretend that they don’t exist and that those who see them have faulty vision.

After close to two years of trying to get someone within Screen Australia, the Screen Australia Board or within the Arts Ministry to deal appropriately with my complaint on the basis of facts I am now left with two different options vis a vis having my name cleared of the charges laid against me by Ruth Harley – charges that have led to my being banned as a filmmaker from having any dealings with Screen Australia:

(1) Sue Ruth Harley for defaming me – which she has. This is a lengthy process (already commenced) and, life being short, a path I would prefer not to go down unless it is absolutely necessary to restore my reputation and to have the ban on me lifted.

(2) An option I am really too old for but one which is much more likely to yield a result:

- I arrive at Screen Australia’s Sydney  office with a request to see Ruth Harley.
- My request is refused. Ruth has made it clear, in writing, that she will not communicate with me; will not provide either justification for or evidence in support of her ban.
- I declare that I will not be leaving the building until I have spoken with Ruth and she has provided me with evidence of my having intimidated, harassed and placed her staff at risk.
- Ruth insists, through an intermediary, that she will neither speak with me nor provide me with the correspondence I am requesting. She may add that my presence in the building, making demands such as this, is evidence of my inclination to harass and intimidate. She will not be able to add that I am placing either herself or any other member of her staff at risk, however, as I will be sitting calmly in the foyer reading a book.  
- This standoff continues for the rest of the day.
- The end of the working day arrives. Screen Australia staff begin to leave. It is now 6pm. And then 7pm. The cleaners arrive and I am still sitting there reading my book.
- Ruth has to make a decision: “What to do? It looks as though Ricketson actually means it when he says he is not leaving until he is provided with evidence of his having intimidated and placed my staff at risk. What do I do? I can’t let him stay here all night and he simply refuses to leave. OMG, the only option is for me to call the police and have them come and remove him. He is, after all, trespassing.”
- Ruth is well aware of the possible ramifications of having me arrested and so calls Glen Boreham and perhaps Carolyn Fulton to get some advice.

What advice Boreham and Fulton might give I will not hazard to guess and nor will I conjecture as to what happens next in this little drama – one that I am much too old for. However, I also feel much too young to be forced into retirement by Ruth Harley on trumped up charges so one does what one must to survive – as I am sure you are well aware. Whilst it is always preferable to play by the bureaucratic equivalent of Queensbury Rules, this is not always possible if the ‘other side’ (Screen Australia in this case) plays by a set of rules it makes up as it goes with little or no regard for facts.

As I have declared on many occasions now, present me with evidence of my having intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff and I will take my punishment without further complaint.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Thursday, September 20, 2012

No accountability or transparency at Screen Australia

My most recent email to Liz Crosby, sent to her three days ago (18th Sept), speaks for itself of my latest (and last) attempt to resolve this matter in such a way as to avoid causing her any more distress. Liz did not respond to my email, as has been the case for the past 21 months with every piece of correspondence sent to her.

Dear Liz

I have gone beyond being distressed to being angry that, as a result of my being banned by Screen Australia on Ruth Harley’s trumped up charges, I have almost certainly lost the ‘Chanti’s World’ pre-sale I had with a major international broadcaster. It can hardly be blamed for not wanting to be involved in a dispute such as this – especially since it probably realizes by now that its pre-sale will be useless to me because Screen Australia will not invest in ‘Chanti’s World’ because I have written emails to you, Liz, that have distressed you. All you had to do 20 months ago was either verify my version of events (in which case this dispute would never have happened) or dispute it and go on record as saying that you never overheard the conversations I claim you overheard – in which case the dispute would never have got off the ground because it would have been my word against the world of four Screen Australia employees. Here is your opportunity to avoid further distress by simply placing on record that you never heard Ross, Julia or Claire admit to not seeing my promo. That’s all. I will retire from the battlefield and admit defeat. If you do not, if you continue to maintain your silence (along with Ross and Claire) I am afraid that my career as a filmmaker takes precedence over whatever distress might be caused to you by my requesting that you provide a simple yes or no answer to my question vis a vis Ross, Julia and Claire admitting that they did not see my promo.

I think it not unreasonable, under the circumstances, to work on the presumption that Screen Australia does not contest my version of events – in which case my complaint was legitimate and Fiona Cameron’s refusal to deal with it inappropriate. It was likewise inappropriate that the office of the Ombudsman chose, in Dec 2010, not to ask any questions at all of Liz Crosby, Julia Overton, Ross Mathews or Claire Jager in the process of ‘investigating’ my complaint. And the only reason why I complained to the Ombudsman at all was because Glen Boreham and the Screen Australia Board supported the right of Screen Australia staff to answer no questions at all and of Fiona Cameron to place on file whatever nonsense she liked – placing the blame for a Screen Australia cockup fairly and squarely on my shoulders.

As I have stated many times, none of this is of any real interest to anyone other than myself. What is of interest (or should be, I think) is what my dispute reveals about the way in which decisions are made within Screen Australia; the way in which a combination of spin and silence is used to avoid SA being subjected to scrutiny of any kind. On the various occasions that Encore has asked questions of Screen Australia the response has invariably been along the lines of ‘No comment.’ This is an organization that pays lip service only to the precepts of transparency and accountability. It goes out of its way to keep its machinations as secret as possible and to discourage scrutiny. My dispute with Screen Australia is merely, in microcosm, symptomatic of the macrocosmic problems inherent in the way our peak film funding body is administered – as many other film producers and other filmmakers will attest in private.

Two days ago I wrote to the Screen Australia Board again (19th Sept), fully cognizant of the fact that it is in a tricky position now. To reverse its decision to ban me would raise questions regarding the validity of the ban in the first place.

Dear Members of the Screen Australia Board

On 9th May, Ruth Harley circulated to you all a draft letter in which she alleged that I had harassed, intimidated and placed members of Screen Australia staff at risk. She was not only suggesting that I be effectively banned as a filmmaker but wanted to change Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade in order to make the ban legally possible. To the best of my knowledge Ruth did not present the Board with any evidence of the offenses she accused me of.

You will be aware that I have lodged a Statement of Claim in the Supreme Court of NSW, asserting that Ruth Harley defamed me when she published this draft letter - the contents of which the Board appears to have accepted at face value.

Will the Board have the humility to admit that it has made a mistake based on false information provided to it by Ruth Harley? We shall see!

That Ruth’s draft letter to you is dated 9th May and her letter to me dated 10th May suggests that there was no discussion between Board members before the momentous and unprecedented decision was made to effectively terminate my career as an Australian filmmaker.

I need not provide here a blow by blow description of how we got to this point. It is all there on my blog. However, given that Elizabeth Grintston has cited my email to Liz Crosby last week as evidence of the offenses for which I have been banned, questions arise:

- Does the Board believe that the verbs ‘to intimidate’ and ‘to distress’ can be conflated such that their meanings are more or less interchangeable?

- Is my email to Liz Crosby one that any reasonable person would construe (given the context of this ongoing dispute) to be intimidating or one that places her at any kind of risk?

I am leaving ‘harassing’ out of this equation since the word is so vague in meaning in the context of my dispute with Screen Australia. Any correspondence that challenges the status quo within Screen Australia could be considered ‘harassment’ – just as any questions put to any pubic servants or senior bureaucrat that they refuse to answer can be considered a form of harassment. A dangerous precedent!

As for the notion that I have placed members of Screen Australia staff at risk, did it occur to any of you, when you read Ruth’s 9th May draft letter, to ask, “At risk of what?” No, you gave Ruth the rubber stamp she was looking for in less than 24 hours. Is this the way the Board makes decisions as important as effectively terminating a filmmaker’s career? Did it occur to any of you to ask why the decision to ban me needed to be made in such haste?

If, on reflection, you accept the proposition that distressing a member of Screen Australia staff is quite different from intimidating them, the question arises:

Would the Board have banned me if Ruth’s allegation had been that I had merely distressed members of her staff with my correspondence?”

I do not wish and have certainly not set out to cause distress to anyone. What I have done is to continue to fight for my right to have a legitimate complaint dealt with on the basis of facts and not spin. It took me 20 months of asking, two FOI requests and one complaint to the Information Commissioner, for instance, before Screen Australia finally released to me the correspondence in which, Fiona Cameron asserted back in Nov 2010, I made it clear that I felt ‘Chanti’s World’ had been greenlit. Have any of you looked at these recently released letters? Did you find in them any evidence that I believed ‘Chanti’s World’ had been greenlit? If not, then what do you make of Fiona’s assertions to that effect of Nov 2010? I have been insisting for more than 20 months that the ‘greenlit correspondence’ did not exist and now that it is clear that it didn’t, what are the consequences? Is Fiona Cameron hauled across the coals for having played fast and loose with the truth? No, it is I who have been banned for having vigorously advocated on my own behalf for 20 months – my advocacy involving, amongst other things, writing my email of last week to Liz Crosby.

Before the Board accepts Elizabeth Grinston’s assertion that my email is aggressive and intimidating, why not ask Liz Crosby the questions I have been asking for 20 months; questions that neither Liz nor anyone else at Screen Australia has been prepared to answer. The reason is that honest answers from Liz would reveal that it is me who is the victim of Screen Australia’s incompetence in not dealing with my 2010 complaint appropriately, not members of Screen Australia’s staff who are victims of my intimidation.

best wishes

If past experience is anything to go by, the Board will neither acknowledge receipt of my 19th Sept letter nor respond to it in any way. However, being an optimist at heart, I would be delighted to be surprised – even if the Board comes out with a statement to the effect that, “Yes, James, we agree with Dr Harley that you have intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff and stand by our 9th May decision.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

letter of 14th Sept. to Elizabeth Grinston...continued

I would not recommend reading this fairly detailed rebuttal of Elizabeth Grinston’s email to me – the first part of which I published earlier. I do hope, however, that when the Screen Australia Board next votes on whether or not to maintain its ban on me, that its members read this the second half of my letter of 14th Sept to Ms Grinston:

…You will have to bear with me (Elizabeth) if this is a long letter but some clarity on what has occurred this past three years is required – especially since it was you who effectively banned me as a ‘proven producer’ back in June 2009 and have so played a significant role as a catalyst in the initiation of the dispute between myself and Screen Australia – a subject to which I will return below. In the meantime, however, let’s be clear where we stand with Liz being ‘distressed’ by my email yesterday. Is ‘being distressed’ the same as ‘feeling intimidated’? If so, am I also able to claim, having been enormously distressed by the way that Screen Australia has dealt with ‘Chanti’s World’, that I have been intimidated by yourself, by Ross, by Claire, by Fiona, by Ruth Harley? Of course not.

Unless you are using a dictionary whose definition of ‘intimidate’ is radically different from the two I consulted (Oxford and Funk and Wagnalls), lets work with these two:

“To make timid, scare. To discourage from acting by threats of violence.”

            “Overawe with fear, especially in order to influence conduct.”

Have I sought to scare Liz or to discourage her from acting in any way with a threat of violence? Have I sought to overawe her with fear in order to influence her conduct?

Your use of the word ‘aggressive’ is also worthy of comment. My aggression has manifested itself in asking questions that Liz , Ross, Julia, Claire, Fiona, Ruth and yourself simply refuse to answer – transparency and accountability not being priorities in SA as it is currently being administered. That you should define the asking of questions, the repeated asking of questions that I have a right to ask, as ‘aggressive’ explains why and how it is that you can send me pretty well every letter and email I have written to Screen Australia and refer to it as ‘intimidating’. I am still somewhat at a loss, however, to understand how my correspondence has placed Liz or anyone else at Screen Australia ‘at risk’ – unless, that is, it is at risk of being distressed by being asked questions. Can you please explain to me what, in Screen Australia-speak, ‘at risk’ means? This is not a rhetorical question but I feel sure that it falls into the category of questions that no-one at Screen Australia is prepared to answer - standard SA operating procedure.

What I have done, many times between Oct 2010 and yesterday, is to request of Liz that she speak up, go on record, with her recollections of what transpired in the meeting she sat in on with Ross Mathews, Claire Jager and myself in mid 2009 and what her recollections are of what was said by whom. The key questions are:

“Did you hear Ross and Claire admit that they had no recollection of viewing the ‘promo’ that was the centrepiece of my 1st ‘Chanti’s World’ application?”


“Did you hear Ross and Julia Overton, in August 2010, admit that they had not seen the ‘promo’ during the first application process and Ross say that my 2nd ‘Chanti’s World’ application was ‘appropriate’?”

If you check the actual correspondence, Elizabeth, dealing with facts and not spin, you will find that I framed my correspondence to Liz Crosby, at the outset, in a manner that was professionally respectful, courteous, non-threatening and not designed to induce her to respond in any particular way. Take my letter of 10th Jan 2011, for instance. I will quote it in full so that there can be no doubt for other readers as to the tenor of what I wrote:

Dear Liz
The new year has begun and, after four months of asking, I can still not get an answer from Ross or Julia to a simple (but critical) question relating to the appropriateness or otherwise of my CHANTI’S WORLD development application. Given that I have no intention of dropping this, despite Ross and Julia’s stonewalling and Fiona’s Cameron’s determination not to lets the facts influence her in any way, I am hoping that you may be able to help resolve this matter.
You cannot know precisely, of course, what was said by whom at the 25th. August meeting but you were present for the last five or so minutes of it and are well aware that it ended amicably - with the problems relating to Julia’s refusal to acknowledge receipt of letters or answer questions, over a period of three months, resolved. (Or so it seemed!)  What is your understanding of what had been resolved? It is my contention that, in relation to CHANTI’S WORLD, it was agreed that I would make a development application, the clear implication being that such an application would be ‘appropriate’ – several of my questions of Julia over a period of a few months having had to do with ‘appropriateness’. Some weeks later Julia declared that my application had been ‘inappropriate’. Both propositions cannot be correct!
If I was not pleased with the outcome of the meeting with Ross and Julia as a result of the resolution I have described many times, what was it that I was pleased with? I would certainly not have been pleased if the outcome had been that a CHANTI’S WORLD application from me was ‘inappropriate’. Nor would I have made an application if this is what I had been told.
Given what seems to be Elisa Harris’ refusal to even ask Ross and Julia if my account of what was said in the meeting is accurate or not (and, needless to say, Fiona’s similar lack of interest in this vital question) could you please let both me and the Ombudsman’s office know what your recollection is of the resolution of the 25th. August meeting? Why was I pleased? If not with the fact that I would be able to apply with CHANTI’S WORLD, with what?
Yes, I know that Fiona has said that all future communication on this matter must be with her but Fiona has also made it quite clear, in writing, that she has no intention of communicating any further on this matter – a bureaucratic sleight of hand worthy of ‘Yes Prime Minister’, ‘Monty Python’ and, of course, the novels of Franz Kafka.
I have attached a copy of my 5th. Jan letter to Elisa Harris in the Ombudsman’s office. It speaks for itself. I am copying this to Elisa in hopes you and she might, at least, speak on the telephone and move this matter closer to a resolution based on facts and not on suppositions made by Elisa about Fiona’s thought processes.

This letter was in no way inappropriate for me to write under the circumstances as I sought clarification of the kind that the office of the Ombudsman had failed to seek. I was seeking Liz’s recollections and hoping that she and Elisa Harris might speak with each other in order to resolve my dispute quickly on the basis of facts, not spin. Liz did not respond to this or any of my subsequent letters or emails written along similar lines. Perhaps this was because Fiona had instructed Liz not to do so? However, since Fiona would not communicate with me either and had written nonsense about my supposed ‘greenlit’ correspondence, what was I to do? What would you have done in my situation, Elizabeth? More pertinently, can you please point out to me at what point in the correspondence from me that Fiona made reference to I made it clear that I believed my ‘Chanti’s World’ application had been greenlit? You will not, of course, answer this question. When such questions are asked of senior members of Screen Australia’s staff the stock response if to ignore the questioner or to declare that you will no longer correspond with the person asking the question.

Along with everyone else at Screen Australia involved in this dispute you have known for 20 or so months that the ‘greenlit’ correspondence referred to by Fiona did not exist. Did you or Liz Crosby or anyone else at SA say, “Hey, James’ correspondence says nothing to indicate that he believed ‘Chanti’s World’ had been ‘greenlit’, we should be careful here.” No, a conspiracy of silence descended on Screen Australia and it took me 20 months to get hold of the correspondence. And now that it is clear that Fiona was playing fast and loose with the truth, will there be any consequences for her? No. And if I were again to complain to Ruth Harley about Fiona’s propensity not to let the facts stand in the way of a well spun narrative, (I could provide half a dozen examples if need be!) who would get to adjudicate the complaint? Fiona Cameron!

On 18th Feb 2011 I sent an email to Liz that began:

“It was never my intention to involve you in my dispute with Ross, Julia and Claire. I did so only when it became abundantly apparent that Ross and Julia had no intention of answering any questions and that Fiona Cameron saw her job as supporting Ross and Julia regardless of the facts; indeed in distorting the facts to present the dispute in a totally false light.”

I will not quote the email in full but you can go through it with a fine tooth comb, Elizabeth, and you will find nothing that is intimidating or which placed Liz at risk.

And on 4th Oct 2011 I sent an email to Liz that no doubt distressed her but which did not intimidate her – a distinction that I think is important to make:

My latest letter to Ruth Harley (copied to you whilst you were away) speaks for itself. That a version of the truth has gone on record that you know to be untrue and that you know to be damaging to my reputation within Screen Australia does not reflect well on your character, your integrity, your honesty. How could you behave in this manner, Liz? If you have such total disregard for my reputation why not go the final step and put in writing that you did not hear Ross and Claire admit to not viewing my promo.  As you know, this is where this dispute begins. Your silence on this has resulted in me being presented as a liar anyway as far as the Screen Australia records go. Why not end your silence and place it on record? Perhaps because this would be a lie and you do not want to lie? If so, your silence on this is just as bad as a lie – sins of omission being, in this instance, the same as sins of commission. It has made it possible for Fiona to lie with impunity – her assertion that there is correspondence from me on file suggesting a quite different (and corrupt) reason for my complaints that is only credible if the fact that Ross and Claire did not view my promo is conveniently forgotten.”

Is this intimidating and aggressive or was it an email sent in utter frustration (accompanied by a good deal of distress) by a filmmaker who had tried, without success, to obtain copies of  correspondence that Fiona Cameron claimed to exist and which we all know now did not exist? For 21 months now Liz has neither confirmed nor denied my version of events vis a vis my first two ‘Chanti’s World’ applications. To the best of my knowledge to this day no-one has asked Liz if my version is correct or incorrect. Or, if the question has been asked of Liz, I have certainly not been appraised of the answer – despite my many requests in many letters and emails.

Now that Stephen Nowicki is involved in determining whether or not I have written intimidating correspondence (I wonder which dictionary definition Stephen is working to!) perhaps he could ask Liz, even at this late date, what her recollection is of the conversations had with Claire, Ross and Julia about ‘Chanti’s World’ referred to above. I have no reason to doubt Liz’s honesty if the appropriate questions were asked of her. My suspicion is that Liz would confirm that nothing I have written vis a vis Ross and Julia not viewing the ‘promo’ is incorrect; that Ross and Julia did both admit to having not viewed my ‘promo’ and that Claire had no recollection of doing so.

The very idea that distressing a public servant by asking questions, demanding transparency and accountability, is the same as intimidating them is a worrisome – to say the least. Does this mean that anyone at Screen Australia who feels distressed at being asked questions or held accountable (including yourself, on reading this email) is entitled to claim that they are a victim of intimidation? (It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court of NSW will interpret ‘to be intimidated’ as more or less synonymous with “to feel distressed”?)

So let’s dig just a bit deeper in the sub strata out of which my dispute with Screen Australia grew. It is a fact, Elizabeth, that the first stage of Screen Australia’s ban on me began in 2009 when you decided that the organization would not accept any applications from me as  ‘proven producer’. No doubt it is distressing for you to read this but before you press the ‘intimidation’ button, consider the facts; check your letter of 2nd. June 2009, in which you write: 

           Day of the Dog/Blackfellas

This film has been raised by you as evidence that you re in fact an experienced producer based on your substantive involvement in this project up to a point shortly before commencement of principal photography. Thank you for the material you have directed to me in this regard and for the efforts you have made to locate them. I reiterate my comments above and in previous correspondence concerning the ‘experienced producer’ criterion in the Guidelines. As you were not credited as Producer your undoubted lengthy involvement in this project nevertheless does not satisfy the experienced producer criterion in the Guidelines

Despite having concrete evidence of the fact that I was the producer of Blackfellas right up until a few weeks before the commencement of principal photography, despite my providing you with a copy of a legal contract in support of this fact, you decided, in June 2009, to effectively ban me as a producer mentor.

On 24th June 2009 I wrote the following to Ruth Harley:

After more than a month of asking I am still unable to learn, from Screen Australia, what my status is vis a vis producing low budget drama.  The enclosed printed copy of emails to Ross Mathews and Elizabeth Grinston speak for themselves of my recent attempts to obtain an answer to what seems to me to be a very simple question. I was hoping that I might be able to speak with Elizabeth about this today but she has ignored my request for a meeting.
I had a deadline, today, to provide Ross Mathews with information he needed in order to accept my application for funds to make a low budget feature – HONEY. I cannot provide Ross with confirmation that I am, in Screen Australia’s eyes, a ‘proven’ producer and so I imagine that he will have to decline my application- unless he is able to defer the deadline until Elizabeth provides me with an answer.
I would like to make a formal complaint about Elizabeth Grinston’s persistent failure to provide me with an answer. This uncertainty is having a disastrous effect on my ability to function as a film producer and forced me to abandon projects on which I was working as a mentor/producer, at some considerable financial cost to myself.
If, as I suspect is the case, Elizabeth has decided that I am not a ‘proven’ producer, could Screen Australia please provide me with the name of the person who was the producer of DAY OF THE DOG/BLACKFELLAS up until 3 weeks before we started shooting the film?
best wishes

Needless to say, my complaint to Ruth about your refusal to answer questions was ignored!

The pertinent point here, however, is that you decided, Elizabeth, on the basis of a narrow legal definition of what a ‘proven producer’ was, that I was not eligible (amongst other things) to act as a mentor to young filmmakers – as I had been for a few decades until you effectively banned me from this role. That I had spent 5 years studying drama at university (abandoning my Master degree in Drama to go the AFTRS), that I was a graduate of the Film School, that I had done post graduate work at New York University, that I had made three feature films and produced (as well as directed) dozens of hours of documentaries, that I had worked for 10 years as an assessor for the AFC and mentored young filmmakers before (at the AFC’s request)  meant nothing to you. The fact that my name did not appear in the credits as a producer for Blackfellas was all that mattered to you. Not even the legal documents that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was the producer until close to the end of pre-production, meant anything to you. And so, as a producer with 40 years experience, I have been working with one hand behind my back this past three years – unable to work on a variety of projects I had been a producer on because you decided that I am not qualified to do so. Mind you, if I had been a facilities provider who  had accepted a Producer’s credit in lieu of payment, or a wealthy philanthropist with a desire to acquire a producer’s credit, I would have been qualified, in your eyes, to act as a mentor producer – regardless of the fact that I may never have written, produced or directed a film of any kind.

I hope that Rachel Perkins, who knew me back when BLACKFELLAS was being made and knows that there would be no film if I had not fought tooth and nail for three years (and gone into considerable debt) to get it made, will appreciate how distressing it was to be told 17 or so years later by a Screen Australia lawyer that I was not a ‘proven producer’ – hence rendering me ineligible to make a whole range of applications to Screen Australia.

If I were to place a monetary value on the projects I had to abandon as mentor/producer back in 2009 on the basis of your decision to effectively ban me as a producer, it would be in the vicinity of $20,000. As a filmmaker whose income from making films this past three years averages out at $80 a week, this additional $20,000 of debt was quite distressing to me.  Working as I was as a taxi driver at the time it took me more than two years to pay it off. Actually, in truth, I am still not totally free of the debt.

I have no doubt, Elizabeth, that reading this email has been distressing for you. However, if my words (and the questions implicit in them) distress you it does not follow logically that I am intimidating you. To conflate ‘distress’ and ‘intimidate’ is a crude sleight of hand and a sleight of hand that has led to the Screen Australia Board banning me. Would it have banned me if Ruth had referred in her draft letter of 9th May to ‘distressing correspondence’ instead of ‘intimidating correspondence’? Or might members of the Board (this is a question for you, Rachel) have said: “Hang on, you don’t ban a filmmaker and essentially destroy his career because he distresses staff with his questions! What are you thinking, Ruth?”

I suspect that the real reason for Liz’s distress lies in the knowledge that all I have written to her vis a vis what she knows, what she overheard, is true; that at many times this past 21 months, Liz could have said, “Yes, what James says is true,” at which point the true cause of this dispute would have been seen in the light of the facts and not in terms of Fiona Cameron spin. If Liz had spoken up about what she knew, what she had heard, this dispute would never have escalated to the point it has but could have been resolved in Nov 2010.

So where to from here? Do we go through a Supreme Court process in which Screen Australia’s counsel argues that the verbs ‘to distress’ and ‘to intimidate’ are synonymous whilst I argue that they are not? If Screen Australia wants to go down this path, fine. My suggestion is as follows:

Ruth Harley had no problem getting me banned within 24 hours of suggesting the proposition to the Board. It could likewise take her 24 hours to get the ban lifted. Or, at the very least, to explain to the Board, one member of which is copied on this email, that what she really meant was not that James had been intimidating Liz or anyone else but that he had distressed members of staff with his persistent questioning; that there has been ‘mis-communication’.  There is no reason why the process of having the ban lifted cannot begin today. If not, I will continue to advocate on my own behalf to clear my name of the charge that I am the mind of person who intimidates Screen Australia staff – using the only tool that I really have at my disposal: words.

best wishes

James Ricketson

NOTE: In the interests of clarity and truth. Whilst I was technically and legally the ‘producer’ of BLACKFELLAS up until a few weeks before commencement of Principal Photography the credit for the final bringing together of all the players to finance the film in the preceding three months goes to Paul Barron, Executive Producer.