Saturday, April 18, 2015

letter to Al Clarke, member of the Screen Australia Board

Al Clarke
Screen Australia Board
Level 7, 45 Jones St
Ultimo 2007

8th April 2015

Dear Al

Having known you for 30 or so years it is both awkward and embarrassing to be writing a letter such as this to you.

However, being a filmmaker banned by the board of which you are a member is more than a little awkward in an ‘industry’ (‘cottage’, at best) in which all filmmakers are dependent to one extent or another on Screen Australia. It is also more than a little embarrassing to find so many doors closed to me, so many calls not returned, letters not acknowledged from others in the ‘industry’ who do not, understandably, wish to be associated with a fellow filmmaker who ‘intimidates’ members of Screen Australia staff’ who places them ‘at risk’.

Not one piece of correspondence has ever been produced (despite three years of my asking) that bears witness to my having ‘intimidated’ any member of SA staff in my correspondence or placing them at risk. Nonetheless, potential collaborators could be forgiven for thinking, “Where there is smoke there must be fire.”

Alternatively, they may be thinking, “I don’t believe James is guilty as charged but I can’t afford to have my name associated with his on any project and possibly alienate Screen Australia. I don’t want to find myself on the same black list as James and others who have had the temerity to be public critics of our peak film funding body.”

On the 5th May 2014, almost a year ago, I included the following in a letter to Graeme Mason:

“I  find it hard to believe that in your heart of hearts you do not feel that the banning of any screenwriter is nonsense, especially if s/he has been provided with no evidence in support of the crimes that led to the ban.

Will you defy the board and read HONEY? I certainly hope so. I fear for the future of Australian screenwriting (and hence Australian and TV production) if the quality of the screenwriting is seen to be of less importance than whether or not the screenwriter is (or has been) ‘nice’ to members of the Screen Australia board.

The board, indeed yourself and all Screen Australia staff, should thrive on constructive criticism and be able to accept with good grace even those criticisms that seem unfair or unfounded. Just as filmmakers are, quite rightly, judged harshly in the pubic arena when they make second rate boring films, so too should film bureaucrats (a category that includes members of the Screen Australia board) be judged harshly (though preferably constructively) if they develop and finance second rate and boring films.”

Graeme Mason did not reply to this letter or acknowledge receipt of it or the enclosed screenplay.

It was, of course, Ruth Harley’s intention with her ban to cause as much damage as possible to my career as an Australian filmmaker. In this she had been very successful.  A pyrrhic victory!

Shooting the messenger (or vocal critic, take your pick!) was a preferable option for Ruth to admonishing Fiona Cameron for placing lies on file and, when I made a complaint about her doing so, assigning to Fiona the task of conducting an ‘investigation’ into my complaint about Fiona!

That Ruth Harley should respond to my criticism of her management style in such a vindictive manner did not surprise me too much. What did surprise me (and surprises me still) is why the board (especially fellow filmmakers) went along with Ruth’s plan to ban me! Did the board really believe, in May 2012, that I had placed members of Screen Australia staff at risk? In what way? Why were the police not called? Why was no AVO taken out?

Did board members simply accept Ruth’s allegations as fact? Without asking Ruth for any evidence? It appears so.

On 6th May 2012 I published the following on my blog:

Why is my complaint about Screen Australia of any relevance to anyone but myself?

I do not expect anyone to take a particular interest in the details of my battle with Screen Australia. It is of no consequence to anyone but myself. It is only relevant to my fellow filmmakers in that Screen Australia has no functioning complaints process. This means that any other filmmaker with a valid complaint to make about Screen Australia can be, at the whim of senior management, treated with the contempt that I have been treated with – lied to and threatened with legal action for having the temerity to stand up for their rights. And if any other filmmaker should feel inclined to make a complaint to Ruth Harley about his or her latest insultingly dismissive email or letter from Fiona Cameron, Ruth will pass it on to Fiona who will tell him/her that she has no intention of communicating further on the matter – whatever the matter might be. In short, zero accountability, zero transparency. And if this frustrated filmmaker should write to Glen Boreham and the Screen Australia Board, the result will be the same – silence or, if they are persistent, a spin-laded letter from Glen in which it is quite apparent that he accepts, without question, a version of events provided to him by Ruth and Fiona. And the same will apply if s/he writes to Simon Crean – a spin-laden letter being the best s/he can hope for. And so on up to the Prime Minister’s office. This is the issue that I believe should be of concern to the industry at large. Excuse me for belabouring the point but all the evidence (from my own experience and that of others I have spoken with whose experiences mirror my own) suggests that Screen Australia is an autocracy whose tactics, when dealing with critics or anyone with the temerity to ask questions, are akin to those practiced by the mafia. Why do we, as an industry, put up with this state of affairs? Screen Australia’s role is to serve the industry and culture of Australian film, not vice versa!

Four days before a two year ban was imposed on me by Ruth and rubber stamped by the board without even the benefit of a board meeting to discuss the wisdom of imposing such a ban. And, needless to say, without giving me any opportunity to present a defense against the charges that had been laid.

To the best of my knowledge I am the only filmmaker anywhere in the democratic world since the Mc Carthy era in the 50’s, who has been banned by a government film funding body! An extraordinary state of affairs.

I will not embarrass you, Al, by asking you if you believe that the banning of filmmakers is appropriate under the circumstances that prevail here. Even if you find such a ban nonsense you could easily be outvoted by fellow board members such as Claudia Karvan, Rosemary Blight and Richard Keddie who have been very consistent in their desire to see me banned - effectively, for life.

However, I will ask you to advocate within Screen Australia for my right to be provided with evidence that I have ever intimidated or placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff (the original reason given for the ban); for evidence that I have “humiliate(d) and damage(d) the reputation of Screen Australia staff”.  

What I have done is continue to insist that senior members of Screen Australia staff, and the Screen Australia board, be transparent and accountable and not able to place on file assertions that they know to be false. If this assertion of mine is false, this can very easily be demonstrated by Screen Australia making public just one instance in which I have, in my correspondence, (a) intimidated, (b) placed at risk and/or (c) humiliated and damaged the reputation of Screen Australia staff. Just one example.

For the record, I have, this past few years, tried on many occasions to bring this conflict to an amicable resolution. Here are just a few examples:

17th May, 2012

Regardless of who is right and who is wrong in my dispute with Screen Australia one thing is clear: it has gone on for much too long and is wasting the time and energy of too many people. There should be some mechanism whereby a quick and equitable resolution can be reached. It could have happened 15 months ago. It could happen next week. Here’s how it could work. A Conciliator is called in who has no connection with Screen Australia or myself and no vested interest in the outcome – a cross between Judge Judy and a marriage guidance counsellor. S/he would be interested in verifiable facts only.

I received no response. I tried again on 17th May:

Last week I suggested in ‘A simple solution’ an equitable way not only to resolve my own dispute with Screen Australia but a way that other filmmakers who find themselves at loggerheads with the organization could resolve their disputes.

My suggestion has been ignored by Screen Australia. The front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald carries a story entitled DOUBLE MEDIATION ORDERED FOR DIVORCE. “Divorcing couples will be asked to undergo further mediation before having their case heard in court,” the article begins. Having been recently divorced by Screen Australia on the flimsiest of pretexts, this seems like a good idea to me. Okay, so the marriage between James Ricketson and Screen Australia has not been a particularly happy one but I feel as though I have been divorced on the grounds of infidelity without my partner providing any evidence at all that I have been unfaithful!

I received no response.

On 11th Nov 2013 I wrote the following to Graeme Mason, recently appointed Chief Executive:

“Given that the ball is now in your court, I would much appreciated it if you could identify one letter, one email, one paragraph, one sentence or even one phrase in any of my correspondence in which I have intimidated or placed at risk any member of Screen Australia’s staff.

If none of the suggestions I have made to resolve this matter appeal to you (one being:, there is one more I would like to make. It is that you and I and Fiona Cameron meet to discuss whatever evidence Screen Australia believes it has in support of the ban. If Fiona can point to anywhere in my correspondence where I suggested or even implied that I believed CHANTI’S WORLD had been greenlit and if either of you can point to even one phrase in my correspondence that places the intended recipient at risk or which is intimidating, I will accept my ban and say no more.

If, on the other hand, Fiona cannot identify where in my correspondence I expressed my belief that CHANTI’S WORLD had been greenlit and if neither of you can identify anything in my correspondence that is intimidating etc. the ban should be lifted. This could be done with a minimum of fuss and could be announced by SA along the lines of: “The dispute between James Ricketson and Screen Australia has been amicably resolved and the ban on him has been lifted.” We could agree that neither I nor  Screen Australia will comment further. That will be the end of the matter and I can get back to simply making films and stop fighting for the right to be able to make them unencumbered by the Screen Australia ban.”

Graeme did not take me up on my offer.

These are but three of my attempts, Al, to see this matter resolved. Screen Australia has made not one attempt – believing as it does that banning filmmakers is the most appropriate form of conflict resolution!

The time is long overdue for Screen Australia to present me with evidence of my crimes or to lift the ban and apologize for having imposed it in the first place. Perhaps you could arrange a meeting with the relevant parties in which some way out of this mess can be found that is satisfactory to all concerned.



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