10 Cecil St. Paddington 2021
3rd. Nov 2013
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
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.
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:
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
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?
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