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.


  1. The pen may be mightier than the sword, Ricketson but it remains to be seen. You do realize, don't you, why it is that Harley, Cameron and the Board can't let you win this battle? If you do, the lot of them would, in the process, be admitting to incompetence of the kind not permissible in the positons of power that they occupy.

  2. Ah, good old Ross Mathews! An old sparring partner of mine. Ross does not answer emails or letters as a matter of principle. Never. And there's no point complaining because no-one is listening. Ross has been at Screen Australia and before that at the Film Finance Corporation for so long that he is part of the bureaucratic furniture and can do pretty much whatever he likes. It is way past time fore Ross and other aging Baby Boomers to make way for a new generation of younger film bureaucrats who have their fingers on the pulse.

  3. James, I feel for you in having been put in the impossible situation you are in with Screen Australia - your every attempt to have your dispute resolved in terms of the facts interpreted by Elizabeth Grinston and others in there of her ilk as evidence of your intimidation.Whether truth and justice prevails here remains to be seen but what is clear to all of us who are reliant on Screen Australia is that the people who run the organization at the top are incompetent and more concerned with covering their own arses and those of their co-workers than they are with resolving disputes such as Ricketson's in accordance with the facts.

  4. Grinston obviously hasn't got a clue what a producer does - a worry given the position she is in. All of us in the industry know of cases (many cases) where producer credits are given to people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the production of the film but were, perhaps, involved in financing and (owing to vanity, usually) wished to be given a producer credit. In some instances these so-called producers have never done anyting on a film that even remotely resembles producing. At the other end of the spectrum there are films like 'Pure Shit' which have no credits at all but which everyone knows was directed by Bert Deling. According to Grinston's definitioin of what a director is it is someone whose name appears in the credits and therefore Bert Deling did not direct 'Pure Shit.' One wonders who Grinston thinks directed the film or did it, perchance, direct itself. SA has breached its guidelines so often to give a leg up to filmmakers such as Julia Leigh ('Sleeping Beauty') that it is impossible to take Grinston seriously. The reality is that if you are a member of the club the guidelines can be swept aside, ignored. If you are not a member of the club the Grinstons, Colemans, Mathews et all of SA will knock you back for any reason they can find in the guidelines - and believe me there are plenty.

  5. In 2009 I and two other young filmmakers had the pleasure of working with James Ricketson as our mentor. He was not paid for the work he did, which was a lot. We had three ideas that we wanted to develop but were not sure which one was the most likely to help us achieve our goals, either collectively or individually. James was full of idea, suggestions and encouragement and we were impressed that he was prepared to work with us for nothing. He figured he would get paid if and when we were successful getting money to develop he ne project we all decided on. We were going to put James down as ‘producer’ but he thought ‘mentor-producer’ was a better description. We were just a few weeks away from making out application when Screen Australia told James that he was not qualified to work with us. We were gobsmacked. James had been producing films for nearly 40 years! We were in a real double bind about what to do but James suggested that we better find a producer who was acceptable to Screen Australia. We felt bad about this but had to do it. We wound up with a good producer and we have no complaints but we still feel bad (we got the money) that James was cut out of our film that way when he was so well qualified to help us.