Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The role of the Screen Australia Board in creative decision making - letter to Hon George Brandis MP

The Hon George Brandis MP
Minister for the Arts
Commonwealth Parliament Offices
Level 361 Eagle St
Brisbane QLD 4000                                                                                       

3rd Feb 2014

Dear Minister

Following on from my letters of 6th and 27th Jan.

What is the role of the Screen Australia Board? Is it to make creative decisions about the strengths and weaknesses  - creative and box-office oriented - of projects placed before it? Or is the Board’s role to review decisions made by the relevant staff within Screen Australia, to see to it that these are made in an appropriate manner; that checks and balances are in place to make sure that certain filmmaker-applicants are not being advantaged by their friendship or prior professional relationships with senior SA decision-makers; that filmmakers are not disadvantaged because senior SA decisions-makers do not like them for one reason or another?

If the Board’s decisions (which translate into considerable power and influence) extend to making creative judgments about film and TV projects and can override decisions made within Screen Australia, how appropriate is it that Board members can vote for their own projects or for the projects of their fellow filmmaker Board members? Is it appropriate that in Dec 2013 Martha Coleman can recommend to the Board that it invest development money in Goalpost Pictures – part-owned by a member of the Board - and then, the following month, join Goalpost?

Given the very significant role that Ms Coleman played in deciding which filmmakers received development monies and which did not, is it possible to ask how much development money was provided to Goalpost in the 12 months preceding her going to work for the company?

Questions such as these swirl around the ‘industry’ all the time and there is much behind-the-scenes moaning and complaining about the naked nepotism that we have all been privy to over the years. Not a great deal is said in public, however, as this would amount to the person asking such pointed questions (which Fiona Cameron may feel intimidated by!) effectively biting one of the few hands likely to feed them – all Australian filmmakers being dependent in so many ways (too many ways!) on Screen Australia to practice their craft and to survive. 

The net result of there being so much power in the hands of so few, and those few being sensitive to criticism of any kind, is a dynamic reminiscent of the Emperor’s New Clothes story - a collective refusal to say out loud that there is, at the very least, something fishy about the Emperor’s clothes. Or, to use a different metaphor, who is going to place their career at risk by speaking out in public about the elephant in the room - Board members voting to green light the film and TV projects of fellow Board members at Board meeting.

“Why shouldn’t Board members be allowed to apply for development and production monies?” No reason at all, but I think that this is the wrong initial question to be asking: “Does the Screen Australia Board really need to have on it four filmmakers who benefit financially and in career terms from decisions they arrive at in Board meetings?”

The usual response to questions such as this is: “But wouldn’t you rather have on the Board men and women who have experience in the film industry so that they can make informed decisions?” My answer: “Isn’t that what senior management at Screen Australia has been employed to do?” Yes, maybe one practicing filmmaker but why four? And how much money, in terms of development and production, has been invested this past few years in projects that Board members benefit from financially? Is it possible to even ask this question without being accused of intimidating Board members?

I am not alone amongst filmmakers in wishing for there to be some clarity around the question of who makes decisions regarding development and productions monies? Are these are made by the relevant members of Screen Australia staff and merely reviewed, appropriately, by the Board? Or can the Board override recommendations made to it by SA staff and give preference to projects that Board members have a financial interest in? These questions have nothing to do with the current make-up of the Board or of senior management at Screen Australia. They are questions that go to the heart of how Screen Australia functions when decisions involving millions of tax-payer dollars are involved. And, at the risk of belabouring the point, they are questions that are asked behind closed doors all the time but rarely (if ever) canvassed in public fora.

As far as the ban on me is concerned, it no longer concerns me. If the official ban on me were to be lifted today, the unofficial ban that was in place prior to May 2012 would still be in place. There is a mass of evidence of this but, if one example is required, check the files and you will find that Fiona Cameron has placed in writing that I may never ever again submit a development application for CHANTI’S WORLD to Screen Australia. Never!

The fact that Fiona Cameron is a corporate bully, plays fast and loose with the truth and has no problem at all with the concept of investigating complaints made about herself should, I believe,  be of concern, Senator Brandis.

best wishes

James Ricketson

1 comment:

  1. James, if what you write about Ms Cameron is true (and I have no reason to doubt that it is) she should be sacked. So too should anyone at SA who singles out friends to support and foes to vanquish