Tuesday, June 4, 2013

letter to Claudia Karvan re my 22nd May SHIPS IN THE NIGHT script development application

Claudia Karvan
Screen Australia Board Member
Level 4
150 William St

22nd May 2013

Dear Claudia

My letter to the Script Development section of Screen Australia speaks for itself.

I have had no trouble at all finding actors prepared to work for nothing on SHIPS IN THE NIGHT and intend to make the film for virtually no budget at all if need be.

I have not included any money for myself in my $5,400 development budget so I will not suffer at all financially if Screen Australia decides to refuse to consider my application on the grounds that I remain a banned filmmaker! It will be the actors who do not get paid for the readings who will suffer financially. The casting consultant and actors – all of whom are keen (if they get the roles) to work for nothing on SHIPS – are mystified as to why I have been banned! This is, of course, the case for the bulk of my fellow filmmakers – with the exception of those who steadfastly believe that Ruth Harley, yourself and the other Board members would not impose a ban on me for no reason.

It is far too late now for you or Rachel or Richard (or any member of the Board) to apologize for imposing and maintaining a ban on me based on no evidence at all. However, you might at least, individually and/or collectively, have the decency to acknowledge that Ruth Harley and the Board were wrong to impose the ban in the first place.

Or, if such public acknowledgement would involve too much egg on all of your faces, why not just quietly lift the ban with no comment?

Alternatively,  if you have evidence that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff, please do make this evidence public so that I can, deservedly, be  pilloried by my fellow filmmakers.

best wises

James Ricketson

Two weeks later

It comes as no surprise that Claudia, Rachel Perkins and Richard Keddie (to whom I also sent the same letter) have refused to even acknowledge receipt of it. It comes as no surprise that Screen Australia has not acknowledged receipt of my application or responded in any way to it. Not only am I a banned filmmaker, persona non grata, I have now virtually ceased to exist as far as Screen Australia is concerned. And why? The stated reason is that reason is that I have, in my correspondence, intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. No evidence has ever been provided in support of this proposition because there is no evidence. I am not guilty. But being ‘not guilty’ is irrelevant in the eyes of Screen Australia’s senior management, the Screen Australia Board and Minister for the Arts Simon Crean.

What has actually happened here is that (a) I have been a vocal and public critic of Screen Australia and (b) I have accused both Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron of lying in a pubic forum.

Apropos (a) the purpose of the ban on me was not just to silence me but to send a clear message to anyone else in the film community who might wish to follow suit:

“Don’t criticize us in public or you will regret it.”

As for (b), if I am lying about Ruth and Fiona playing fast and loose with the truth this would be so easy to demonstrate by their simply backing up their assertions about what I have written in my correspondence with actual evidence. Given that all of my communication with Screen Australia has been via letters and emails this would be incredibly easy.

“On such and such a date Mr Ricketson wrote XXX and on such and such a date Mr Ricketson wrote Y and on such and such a date Mr Ricketson wrote ZZZ.”

Three examples would be sufficient to prove fairly conclusively that I was guilty as charged. And I would not be able to deny that I had written such words as they would be on file. The public release of this one paragraph would demolish me; destroy my credibility entirely. (b) will never happen because Fiona Cameron and Ruth Harley will never find on file anything in my correspondence that bears witness to my having intimidated or placed At risk anyone within Screen Australia.

One would like to think that when there is cogent evidence that the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive have lied, that the Board of the publicly funded entity such as SA would insist that both either provide evidence of the existence of intimidating correspondence or apologize for having placed false statements on record! But no, the Screen Australia Board likewise has no interest in evidence, in providing the filmmaker charged with serious offenses an opportunity to be appraised of the evidence in support of the charges or an opportunity to defend himself against them.

Why is this? This question has puzzled me a good deal this past year and the only explanation I have been able to come up with that makes any sense is that on 10th May last year the Board simply ratified Ruth Harley’s ban without asking for evidence in support of it. This would not have been an unreasonable position to take. After all, the Screen Australia Board should be able to believe that its Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive provide it with accurate information upon which Board Members can make informed decisions.

At some point shortly after 10th May it must have become apparent to the Board that there was no evidence of my having intimidated or placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff so why didn’t the Board lift the ban and apologize?

I can only presume (because no other explanation occurs to me) that the Board felt it could not reverse the decision it had made without considerable egg on the faces of the members for having made an ill judged decision in the first place. And so it has been, if my theory is correct, for the past year. Now, of course, any reversal of the Board’s decision would highlight the fact that it has known all this time that I was banned on the basis of false charges – not a good look for a Board that has to make decisions involving millions of dollars of Australian tax-payers money. The question could (and of course should) be raised:

“If this is an example of the due diligence the Screen Australia Board shows in banning a filmmaker, what due diligence is applied to decisions relating to the allocation of large sums of money to select members of the film industry.”

I write ‘select’ because, clearly, only a relatively small number of film and television projects can be blessed with Screen Australia funding – either in the development or production phases. If a filmmaker can be banned by the Chief Executive on a whim, no questions asked, what is to prevent this same Chief Executive applying her whimsical nature to blessing a project with Screen Australia funding? If the Screen Australia Board asks no questions but simply believes what the Chief Executive tells them, (not an unreasonable position to take) how can we in the industry ever be sure that projects have been funded on their merits and not on the basis of the Chief Executive’s whims?

Whilst my being banned is a nuisance for me it is not the end of the world. Script writing is not a capital intensive occupation (though documentary filmmaking is, alas) and I continue to write my screenplays. What is important here is not the fate of one individual filmmaker but that, in the absence of a functioning complaints system, with a Chief Executive and Chief Operating officer who play fast and loose with the truth and with a Board that is not interested in facts, in evidence, the stage is set for all sorts of corruption to occur within Screen Australia.

To be clear here. I am not suggesting that there is corruption within Screen Australia. What I am saying, however, is that there are no mechanisms in place to prevent such corruption.

If, instead of being a filmmaker merely fighting for my right to be provided with evidence of my crimes, I were a whistle-blower with evidence of corruption within Screen Australia, what do you think would happen to me if I wrote to the Screen Australia Board? To the Minister for the Arts?

Any fellow filmmaker with cogent evidence of corruption (just as I have cogent evidence of lying) who wished to do battle with Screen Australia’s senior management would only have to look at what has happened to me to get some sense of what he or she had in store for them. So, would they speak out or remain silent? If they wished to keep working within the film industry they would be well advised to keep their evidence to themselves. Is this what is happening? Or, to phrase the question in a different way:

“Why is it that the film industry as a whole has taken no interest at all in my having been banned? Can the industry not see, if I am not guilty as charged, what a dangerous precedent has been set here?”

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