Saturday, September 8, 2012

With apologies to Franz Kafka

“(Franz Kafka’s novel) ‘The Trial’ tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed to neither him nor the reader.”


My dispute with Screen Australia has reached comic (dare I say ‘farcical’, Kafkaesque!) proportions and, I suspect, we are still only in the early stages of Act Two of the story. Let’s call this drama ‘Intimidating Correspondence’.

The plot of ‘Intimidating Correspondence’, to date, in brief (and with apologies to Franz Kafka for any plot similarities that exist with ‘The Trial’), is this:

- Ruth Harley, with the blessing of the Screen Australia Board bans a filmmaker from having any dealings with SA on the grounds that he has written intimidating correspondence.

- The filmmaker asks for evidence of the crimes of which he has been accused. His request is ignored by Ruth Harley, who  tells the filmmaker that any correspondence from him will not be read.

- The filmmaker attempts, through FOI legislation, to acquire copies of allegedly intimidating correspondence he claims he has not written. He is sent copies of most of the correspondence he has written to Screen Australia over a period of three years but with no indication as to which letters or emails are intimidating.

- The filmmaker reads through his correspondence with Screen Australia but can find nothing intimidating or which places SA staff at risk.

- The filmmaker attempts, through FOI legislation, to obtain specific examples of his having intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff. SA’s FOI officer write back:

I would first like to address your letter of 20 August 2012, in which you request three examples from correspondence already provided to you in response to an earlier request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) with relevant sentences, phrases or words highlighted (to indicate where you have intimidated or placed Screen Australia staff at risk). It is our view that this request goes beyond the scope of the FOI Act, and is not a valid FOI request.”

- The filmmaker writes to the Information Commissioner asking if Screen Australia is legally able to avoid releasing the offending correspondence under the FOI Act of 1982. The office of the Information Commissioner writes back:

If you want to file a complaint about Screen Australia's assessment of your FOI request you will need to send us a copy of your original FOI request, a copy of Screen Australia's response, and details of any subsequent contact between Screen Australia and yourself in relation to this matter. We can then assess Screen Australia's actions.”

Questions arise for the filmmaker:

. Why is it necessary to go to so much trouble to be provided with evidence of the crime he has been found guilty of and which has led to his being banned?

. Why doesn’t Glen Boreham, Chair of the Screen Australia Board ask Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence? The banning of a filmmaker is, after all, quite a serious matter and surely he is entitled to be provided with evidence of the crime for which he has been prosecuted – by Boreham himself and other members of the Screen Australia Board.

. Given Glen Boreham’s refusal to make such a request of Ruth Harley (Boreham does not respond to letters as a matter of principle!), why doesn’t Rachel Perkins, a member of the Board get on the phone to Ruth and say:

For God’s sake, Ruth, provide James with evidence of the crimes you have accused him or and which we, the Board, have found him guilty?”

. Why doesn’t the Minister, the Hon Simon Crean, or one of the member of his staff, (Cariline Fulton, say) instruct Ruth Harley to release or identify the correspondence?

. Why doesn’t the Ombudsman or a member of her staff, instruct Ruth Harley to release or identify the correspondence?

. Is it appropriate that Screen Australia should use legalistic argument in the Supreme Court of NSW to not only thwart the filmmaker’s request for evidence of his crimes but, in the event of his acquiring copies of this allegedly intimidating correspondence, to prevent him from publishing it on his blog?

The filmmaker, realizing that he cannot match the legal resources available to Screen Australia, determined to defend Ruth Harley’s right not to reveal the evidence upon which she has banned him, must consider tactics other than those available through due legal process.

In the event that the Supreme Court does suppress the allegedly intimidating correspondence (when and if it is identified and comes into the filmmaker’s possession) will he abide by the decision handed down by he court? Will he “publish and be dammed?” Or will he, not desirous of a stretch in jail for contempt of court, decide against publication?

How Act Three of ‘Intimidating Correspondence’ will play itself out is unknown at this point but it does seem that the drama is moving towards a dramatic conclusion in which either the filmmaker’s or Ruth Harley’s career within the Australian film industry comes to an end.

Stay tuned for next episode of this Kafkaesque farce…

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