Thursday, December 12, 2013

An open letter to Claudia Karvan, Rosemary Blight, Richard Keddie and Rachael Perkins

I have been asking the Screen Australia Board for 18 months to provide me with evidence that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia's staff in my correspondence - the ostensible reason for  being banned from making any form of application to Screen Australia and from even communicating with members of staff. The Board has ignored my many requests and my suggestion that an independent mediator be brought in to adjudicate the rights and wrongs of this banning based on the facts. My own problems with Screen Australia will be of minimal interest to the bulk of my fellow filmmakers. The lack of transparency and accountability in the Screen Australia Board's dealing with this dispute should, I believe, be of concern to all filmmakers reliant in one way or another on SA to pursue their craft, their art....their chosen profession.

Dear Claudia, Richard, Rosemary and Rachel

I had hoped, when I wrote the letter below to Rachel, (and copied to you all) that common sense, a respect for the concept of natural justice and for a fellow filmmaker, would have induced you to do one of two things: (1) Make public where, in my correspondence with Screen Australia, I have intimidated and/or placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff or (2) Find some face-saving way of lifting the ban and enabling me to continue with my career. You have done neither.

If you had opted for (1) this matter would come to an end immediately; an end that would render me a liar in the eyes of my fellow filmmakers (and deservedly so) for having insisted in public for 18 months that I have neither intimidated nor placed at risk anyone within Screen Australia with my correspondence.

Now that Ruth Harley is gone the ball is in your court. The decision to continue with or to lift the ban is one that you can make with the same rapidity that it was imposed in the first place and does not require a board meeting. Please do so before Christmas. If you do not (and I have been asking this for 18 months) please do not presume that I am going to give up on my quest to have my name cleared of Ruth Harley’s defamatory allegations – allegations that the Board accepted blithely at the time and which it refuses to back up with evidence.

If this were happening to any one of you, I am sure you would respond as I have and will continue to do.

Merry Christmas.

Dear Rachel

My letter to you of 9th Oct 2012, written in the Screen Australia foyer, an hour or so prior to Fiona Cameron instructed poor Graham the building manager, to call the police and having me arrested (during business hours!) remains the most popular of my blog entries –with 832 page views:

Given that your tenure as a member of the Screen Australia Board is about to end, please accept this as my own personal report card on your performance as a board member.

In the interest of transparency, lest I be accused of selective editing, I quote here, in full, the email I wrote to you a month after Ruth Harley’s ban on me was ratified by the Board of which you were at the time a member:

15th June 2012

Dear Rachel

Much as I admire you as a filmmaker (though I haven't seen MABO yet) the same cannot be said for you as a member of the Screen Australia Board. It is a mystery to me how you and Robert, fellow filmmakers, could allow (and presumably vote in support of) Ruth Harley's banning me from even speaking with staff at Screen Australia! Yes, if I had placed members of her staff at risk (as Ruth insists is the case) such a ban would be appropriate. But this allegation (along with her intimidation and harassment allegations) are arrant nonsense as anyone who bothered to look at my correspondence with Screen Australia would attest. Yes, I have written lots of letters and sent lots of emails but only because Fiona Cameron chose to place a lie on file rather than deal with a complaint of mine on the basis of the facts. This is not the first time that Fiona has lied to me. Indeed, my experience of her is that she lies often - not a good trait to be found in a person in her position within Screen Australia. This is not just an idle accusation. It is one that I could back up very easily of anyone were interested. They are not. That's the problem. And the fact that Fiona gets to investigate complaints about herself! How can the Board countenance such a thing!

Even at this late stage I do believe that it is your duty (and that of Robert also) to ask Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence she claims I have written in justification of her ban or to apologize to me and lift the ban.


You wrote back to me promptly, on 18th June 2012

Hi James,

I understand your concerns. Unfortunately I was shooting at the time that the discussion occurred, so am not as informed as I should be. I will look onto the matter personally, although, given the majority of the board has made the resolution, the decision will stand for at least the near future I would think.

For your information, Robert Connelly has resigned from the board.

I am copying in my office manager Lisa Kitching into this correspondence so she can be informed as she manages my commitments at present as  I am about to start shooting another block of television. James please give me some time to look into the situation, given my present commitments.

best wishes,


And I wrote back to you on the same day.

Dear Rachel

Many thanks for the clarification. At least I know now that my banning was ratified by the Screen Australia Board. The question now, is: Has anyone on the Board actually sighted the correspondence that I am supposed to have written that places Screen Australia staff at risk as a result of my having intimidated and harassed them?

I can tell you the answer and it is no. No such correspondence exists and the Board should now be insisting that Ruth Harley provide it with evidence of my crimes or request that she apologize for having banned me in the first place.

As you can imagine (and I'm sure appreciate) I am not going to let this drop and will, if need be, take it as far as the Supreme Court. it
should not be necessary but if it is, this in itself will bear witness to how out of touch the Screen Australia Board is with what actually takes place within the organization.

As for time, Rachel, this has been going on for 18 months now – during which time there has been an unofficial ban on me. Ruth's making it official was a very foolish move from a tactical point of view, though her aim, clearly, was to hope that by threatening to sue me at the same time as she was banning me, that she could silence me.

Good luck with your shoot and I look forward to seeing 'Mabo' – which I managed to miss at the festival and on TV


That was the last I heard from you, Rachel. You did not ‘look into the matter personally’ this past 18 months and have ignored other letters I have sent to you subsequently.

Bear with me as I quote from just one more of my letters, written on 9th Oct 2012,just prior to my arrest:

Dear Rachel

You have ignored my letter of 26th Sept, just as you have ignored all of my correspondence since 16th June when you wrote:

Hi James, I understand your concerns. Unfortunately I was shooting at the time that the discussion occurred, so am not as informed as I should be. I will look into the matter personally, although given the majority of the board has made the resolution, the decision will stand for at least the near future I would think.

That you were not as informed as you should have been when you voted is a pretty poor excuse, Rachel, even if you were shooting a film. You must have been well aware on 9th May that the board’s decision to ban a filmmaker would be tantamount to ending his career within Australia. This was not a decision to be made by you or anyone else on the board without being very well informed. It is not a decision to be made without giving the accused (myself) an opportunity to answer the charges laid against him. If I had been given this opportunity I would, of course, have insisted upon evidence being provided to me that I had intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. If this had not been provided to me (and it could not, since it does not exist) I would have said to the board:

You cannot, with a clear conscience, ban me if there is no evidence that I am guilty as charged by Ruth Harley. Your job, surely, is to vote on resolutions such as the one presented to you by Ruth on the basis of facts, of evidence, and not on the basis of Ruth Harley’s spin or whims.”

Instead, in what amounted to an ambush, not waiting for a board meeting at which there could have been discussion (and, dare I say, evidence and a defense from myself) Ruth presented the board with what amounted to a fait accompli on 9th May. By the following day, 10th May, you all (or the majority of you) decided not only to end the career of a filmmaker but, in order to make it legally possible, to change Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade! As far as I can tell from the information that I have been able to acquire through FOI, no discussion at all took place amongst board members. How many other members of the board were not as well informed as they should have been? Is it customary for either yourself or other members of the board to vote on resolutions when you are not as well informed as you should be?

It is the business of your not being as informed as you should have been that should be of major concern to all my fellow filmmakers and, of course, to the new Minister for the Arts, the Hon George Brandis. What other proposals presented to the board for consideration have you and your fellow board members greenlit without being as informed as you should have been?

As I have stated many times, if there is evidence that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence my banning is well-deserved. If there is no evidence (and there is not) it violates the basic precepts of natural justice. If you believe that there is evidence, Rachel, produce it. Now. Today. In so doing you will be revealing me to be both a fool and a liar as I have been insisting for 18 months that no such correspondence exists.

Of course, the ramifications of the ban on me do not rest on your shoulders alone. You have, this past 18 months, been aided and abetted by three other filmmakers (as well as the rest of the Board). As with you, Claudia, Richard and Rosemary have seen nothing at all odd or unfair in the proposition that a fellow filmmaker can be banned without being provided with evidence in support of the allegations made against him; without providing him, evidence in hand, with the opportunity to defend himself – the opportunity provided to all accused in a court of law regardless of how overwhelming the evidence seems to be of their guilt.

Yes, I know, I have written all this so many times. I am repeating myself. So let me, in my final letter to you, my final attempt to get you to rectify a serious error of judgment on your part (and that of your fellow board members), make an observation I have not made before.

You will remember, back in 1991 and 1992 our paths crossed a few times when I was making BLACKFELLAS – through our mutual friend Christopher Cordeaux. There was a little controversy regarding the appropriateness of a whitefella making a film about blackfellas but there was also an acknowledgement that I had spent three years developing the project through a dozen or so drafts and through the early days of money raising. Indeed a substantial proportion of the budget was in place before I handed the last part of the money raising part of producing over to Paul Barron. However, up until three weeks before the commencement of Principal Photography I was the only producer of BLACKFELLAS. Paul Barron definitely deserves the bulk of the credit for pulling together the finances to produce the film, but prior to that BLACKFELLAS had only one producer – me. I did everything that a producer does during the long developmental stage of a film. When it came time to determine the credits for BLACKFELLAS it never occurred to me to ask for a producer credit. I already had three credits and it would have seemed to me an exercise in egotism to ask for a fourth. It never occurred to me to ask for it.

Fast forward to the establishment of Screen Australia – at which time I was not only developing numerous projects of my own but am acting as a mentor producer to some young filmmakers. With my experience in documentary and drama I was well equipped to do so. Indeed, during the Australian Film Commission years I was called on a few times to act as a mentor to young filmmakers. The rules of the game had changed, however, and first Martha Coleman, then Fiona Cameron and finally Elizabeth Grinston decided that I was not a ‘proven producer’ and so could (a) not mentor young filmmakers and (b) could not apply for script development funding beyond first draft without a ‘proven producer’ to hold my hand. This was a profoundly stupid policy (and applied only to certain filmmakers!) but my point here is that you knew all too well, regardless of what the credits may infer, that I was the only producer of BLACKFELLAS for three years. Did you stand up for me when my conflict with Screen Australia over this question arose? No. Did you stand up for me when I asked for evidence of the crimes for which I had been tried and convicted without even the benefit of a board meeting? No. Will you stand up for me now?

The ramifications of my being banned have been profound. I could not utilize the international pre-sale I had for CHANTI’S WORLD without Screen Australia participation – which cost me, in effect, $110,000 in lost revenue. I have very recently been unable to take advantage of an expression of interest in one of my feature film projects by an internationally renowned ‘star’ because I cannot even talk with Screen Australia staff, let alone apply for the funds necessary to take advantage of this ‘star’s’ interest.

By not looking into my banning as you said you would you, along with your Screen Australia Board colleagues, have caused enormous damage to my career. This, of course, was Ruth Harley’s intention (aided and abetted by Fiona Cameron) but why on earth did the Screen Australia board buy into and ratify such a petty, vengeful act of retribution on a filmmaker whose only crime was to ask questions and refuse to accept spin answers? This is a question that should, I believe, also be of major concern to all engaged in the development and product of Australian film and TV who are reliant in so many ways on Screen Australia – especially when substantial sums of money are approved by the Screen Australia Board for film and TV projects being produced by members of the Screen Australia Board. Is it possible to ask, without being accused of intimidation or placing SA staff at risk, how much development money has been approved by the Board this past year for Rosemary Blight’s Goalpost pictures – the very same company that Martha Coleman will join next month?

Of course, such questions are asked all the time by we toilers in Australian film and TV. They tend to be asked in private because, as my being banned bears witness, critics of Screen Australia and those who ask the wrong kinds of questions pay a high price indeed. Or did, during Ruth Harley’s tenure as Chief Executive. With a bit of luck things will change under Graeme Mason.

Please, Rachel, as your final decisive act as a board member, either have the decency to present me with the evidence that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence or insist to your fellow board members that the ban on me be lifted immediately.

Finally, I have, this past couple of months, been working on one of my seven feature film screenplays in development - HONOUR:

You may recall that I wrote to you about HONOUR (and SHIPS IN THE NIGHT) in Oct 2012 when it was in its germinal stage. You did not, of course, respond in any way to my letter:

HONOUR is now more fully developed but I cannot apply to Screen Australia for  script development funding because reading my application, assessing it, would place the reader at risk! Really, Rachel, how can you, as a filmmaker and as someone who very publicly presents herself to the world as concerned with the issues surrounding ‘natural justice’ associate yourself with nonsense such as this?

best wishes

James Ricketson

1 comment:

  1. I thought that being a govt dept that is run by tax payers, it wouldn't be legally possible to ban any Australian Citizen from anything or any part of its operation? Access isn't something that is subjective? Its given to those it was created to benefit? Surely? I can see how they could operate under different logic though. The money going through there isn't anything near what would be needed to get the attention of an MP, since they don't give a shit, a dept with a team of yes people could probably do what ever it wanted and have a great time with more than enough to play with in the little world of Film making in Australia. Seriously would the tax office ban someone from contacting them if there wasn't legitimate criminal charges laid? Obserd. If you have done what they claim, then police would have been involved as legally req. If they weren't then what does it say , firstly the level of concern for staff, and what does it also say about the basis for legitimacy of the allegations? Fuck how dare someone in public office pull shit like this. The nerve. If I were you James, I would begin a defame suit against them. You are now on public record as being potentially dangerous and undesirable. If the rhetoric can't be backed with evidence then you are due a full apology and everything claimed by them entirely retracted. Always tough to win with defame but a text book case of it all the same. They aren't a news outlet and the films aren't seen by anyone if they gross about 85 bucks like they usually do. Publishing more claims about you isn't an option for deterence as would be the case if it were fairfax or the like. I say consult lawyers asap and force them to show their case if they have one. Its pretty simple as I understand it from what information I have available to me. They show the emails that contain the evidence of where you have made threats and or given any reasonable person something that would have them come to believe that there were possibly people at risk of harm. That is what I take their claims as being. That you pose a real and imminent danger to others. An email from someone on a rant isn't a criminal offence. Least of all to a govt dept. But making baseless allegations about someone that aren't accurate or supported is wrong and the implications are serious for the person being slandered. Your film interests and career , along with theirs isn't even really a factor but for the reason for submitting an application, a right to which you are entitled as is any citizen here. Beyond the point where they make the claims is really all that is relevant. 45000 emails before then complaining about funding denials doesn't change a thing. If there aren't emails that show evidence of you being a threat to others, then the outcome should be no different. To have such an avenue is a big privilege in the first instance, to have it scandalised is to every single persons detriment. Screen Australia, for shame.