Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ruth Harley plays fast and loose with the truth and the SA Board turns a blind eye

There was a particularly telling moment in my court case last Dec, when I was cross-examining one of Screen Australia's witnesses –  working at Reception the day of my first arrest. 

“I had been instructed not to do or say anything that might  upset or antagonize you,” she said to me. 

Someone ‘upstairs’ (I don’t know who) had presented me to her as someone who could place her at risk if she did or said the wrong thing when I turned up - as I had announced I would. This, of course, fits neatly into the narrative that has me intimidating and placing at risk members of Screen Australia staff.

That Ruth Harley played fast and loose with the truth in making this assertion surprises me not at all. That Glen Boreham, in his role as Chair of the Board, was prepared to sign onto this lie does not surprise me either. (Glen seems to have zero interest in facts and is prepared to believe whatever Ruth Harley tells him!) What has surprised me in the events surrounding my arrest and jailing is that three filmmaking members of the Board have been prepared to ban a fellow filmmaker without feeling under any obligation to provide him with evidence that he has intimidated of placed anyone at Screen Australia. 

It has also surprised me that the industry as a whole has stood by and offered me no support in my battle with Screen Australia. Such support should not, of course, have been automatic. If I am guilty as charged I deserve no support. Indeed, I deserve censure; deserve to be banned. No filmmaker should ever intimidate or place at risk any member of staff. However, natural justice demands that evidence of such crimes be provided. Mere assertions are not enough. Or should not be.

It would have been very easy for SPAA of the ADG or the Writers Guild (or a combination of the three) to have asked Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board to make public the evidence upon which it had based its decision to ban a filmmaker. Not just to ban him but to change Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade in order to make such a ban (unprecedented in the history of Australian film) legal.

If Ruth had been able to produce even one phrase in my correspondence in which I had intimidated or placed at risk members of SA staff the industry should shun me and provide me with no support. If Ruth was unable to provide evidence (and she has been unable to, because it does not exist) the industry as a whole should make it quite clear to her and the Board that treating filmmakers in this way is not acceptable – not as a favour to me but in order to maintain the appropriate power balance between film bureaucrats and filmmakers. Screen Australia is there to serve the industry and culture of Australian film in all its diversity. It should be supporting quality film projects on the basis of their merits and not on the basis of whether the filmmakers involved in them are either friends or enemies of particular Screen Australia staff members.

Ruth Harley’s banning of me is an act of petty spite. It is small minded and it is this small-mindedness that renders her more  ill-equipped to be the Chief Executive of Screen Australia than her capacity to play fast and loose with the truth.

Over Christmas I wrote a new draft of a screenplay of mine entitled HONEY – the first act of an older draft of which I published on my blog last year. This is a screenplay that has never been read by anyone at Screen Australia since the first time I submitted it to SA for script development funding consideration in 2009. This is when the unofficial ban on me was first imposed - four years ago! Screen Australia will, of course, point to its guidelines to explain why it refused to read and assess the project. The same criteria used to prevent me from making an application with HONEY do not apply to other filmmakers, however. Such decisions are made at the whim of certain individuals within the organisation.

Whether my new draft of HONEY is better than the previous one remains to be seen. It might be worse. Only one thing is certain: that no one at Screen Australia will read it to assess its quality - not simply because of the ban on me (the official ban laid on top of the unofficial one!) but because if anyone at SA did read it and liked it or thought that HONEY had potential, legitimate questions would have to be be raised about the wisdom inherent in refusing to read any particular screenplay for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the screenplay. Refusing to read a screenplay for any reason is foolish. Refusing to read it because doing so would place the reader at some kind of risk is just plain stupid.

I will start publishing HONEY online in the next few days and welcome any feedback that might come my way.

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