Sunday, December 2, 2012

Limiting Nepotism, New Blood & Fresh Ideas # 1

Imagine this:

You are working as a senior film bureaucrat for a state or federal film funding body. You have been in the industry long enough to be a friend to or an acquaintance of many of the filmmakers whose applications you must assess and either recommend or decline to recommend for funding. Some you have made films with, some you have developed projects with, some are close friends, lovers or ex lovers. And there are some former friends and professional colleagues you may have fallen out with. They are part of your social network in a small cottage industry in which a lot of filmmakers compete for a slice of a pie much to small to feed them all.

One applicant you know well is in deep financial trouble, on the verge of bankruptcy. As you know s/he has been working for years with little of no income and a growing mortgage on a film project whose fate now rests, in large part, in your hands. It is your job to assess it impartially, with a view to its box office potential or capacity to make a significant contribution to Australian film culture. In all honesty you do not think that the film has the potential to fulfil either objective. If the project had been presented to you by a filmmaker you did not know, had not met, with whom you had had no association, you would not hesitate to put a tick in the 'not recommended' box. This is a respected colleague and friend, however and you know what the consequences will be for him or her if you do not recommend - both professionally and personally. What do you do? Recommend or not recommend?

For even the most ethically upright film bureaucrat dilemmas such as this are part and parcel of their everyday job. There is no getting around this in a small industry such as ours in which most filmmakers struggle to survive and many are, like the hypothetical friend of the senior bureaucrat mentioned above, are on the verge of bankruptcy. For film bureaucrats whose ethical standards may not be so high the temptation to help out a friend with development or production monies can be huge. Who amongst us would be able to resist such temptation?

How do we, as an industry, mitigate against such abuse by bureaucrats in positions of significant economic and cultural power? One way is to limit the contracts of senior film bureaucrats in significant creative decision-making positions to 3 or 4 years. This would make it more difficult for self-serving and potentially nepotistic cliques to form and, if they do form (as seems to be inevitable), to provide some guarantee that they will be short-lived. There is no shortage of talented filmmakers (producers, directors, screenwriters and others with decades of experience) with qualifications equal or superior to those in such positions today - too many of whom have been in their jobs for more than four years. Indeed some have been in their jobs longer than it is allowed any one person to be President of the United States. The founding fathers of the US understood the dangers inherent in allowing too much power to concentrate for too long in one person's hands.

In Australia too many of our senior film bureaucrats have not only been in their positions (though with some changes in job title over the years) for longer than a UN President but have acquired virtual tenure. Why is this? Is it because they have demonstrated, over the years, their superior skills when it comes to the development of high quality screenplays? Is it because they have an enviable track record of investing production monies in films that Australian and international audiences flock to see? What superior skills do these tenured film bureaucrats bring to their jobs that makes them superior to all the other experienced filmmakers who could do their jobs just as well and, in all likelihood, better?

Perhaps more important than limiting opportunities for nepotistic cliques to form is that 3 to 4 year contracts for senior bureaucrats in creative decision-making roles would result in a continuous flow of fresh blood into funding bodies that can (and do) stagnate when reliant on the same people, year in, year out, to generate new ideas, new approaches, new ways of approaching development and funding in the diverse and rapidly changing industry we find ourselves in. be continued...

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