Well might you ask!
Thursday, November 5, 2015
As the Screen Australia ban on me enters its 43rd month!
I wonder if the new Minister for the Arts is interested in asking the kinds of questions for which I have been banned?
Senator Mitch Fifield
Minister for Communications and the Arts
4 National Circuit
Barton, ACT 2600
29th October 2015
Dear Senator Fifield
A letter from a filmmaker banned for life by the Screen Australia board!
I’m joking, right!?
As a filmmaker with 43 years experience I have been banned from making applications to Screen Australia for development or production funding. I have also been banned from even speaking with members of SA staff on the telephone.
Well might you ask!
I have been asking for than 40 months now to be provided with evidence that I “intimidated and placed at risk” members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence.
Yes, this is the charge.
Now you’d think that the Screen Australia board would be able to cite at least one example of a letter, an email, a FAX in which I had intimidated someone! Yes?
Screen Australia, accountable to no-one, refuses to provide me with one example. Whilst the ban on me is, needless to say, of concern to me, it is the lack of accountability on the part of the Screen Australia board that should be of concern to you as Minister.
As for placing a member of Screen Australia ‘at risk’ with an item of correspondence, I have no idea how I could do so even if this was my objective. However, I am open to learning new things and would appreciate having it explained to me just what it was I wrote that placed someone at risk.
Ask this question of the Screen Australia board, Mr Fifield, and see if you can get an answer. If you can, please pass it on to me. I have been asking for more than 40 months. The Screen Australia board will provide me with no answer.
How can this be? Well, one sleight of hand that can be performed by bureaucrats who do not want to be challenged, who do not want to answer questions, is to declare that they will correspond with you no further.
Screen Australia was so determined back in 2012 not to provide me with evidence of my heinous crimes that Chief Operating Officer Fiona Cameron twice called the police to have me arrested. My crime? Sitting in the Screen Australia foyer during business hours waiting to be provided with at least one example of intimidation or placing at risk. The charges laid? Trespassing? Yes, trespassing! At 3 pm in the afternoon. During work hours. On the second occasion I had to spend the weekend in jail.
The real reason for the ban was to punish a critic of Screen Australia by making it virtually impossible for me to make films in this country. As you will be aware, a film producer must, to take advantage of the Producer’s Offset, discuss his or her film with Screen Australia. As I am not allowed to have a telephone conversation with members of staff, I cannot make films in Australia. Simple as that.
I have making films since 1972 but my career as an Australian filmmaker has been ended by what can best be described as a vindictive act perpetrated by then Chief Executive Ruth Harley and rubber stamped by a board that did not even bother to meet to ratify Harley’s recommended ban. Harley did a ring around, the board thought that a two year ban was a good idea and implemented it.
In May 2014 the ban was extended for another two years. In 2016 it will be extended again because I will not, as the ban intends, cease to be a critic of Screen Australia or to ask questions of the board and senior bureaucrats that they do not wish to have asked.
The enclosed letters to Graeme Mason, Nicholas Moore and Nerida Moore will give you some idea of my recent attempts to bring this fatwa against me to an end.
Graeme Mason, Nicholas Moore and Nerida Moore have not had the professional courtesy to respond to these letters.
I am in the process of re-writing all of my screenplays that can be transposed to another culture so my career as a filmmaker can continue – even if it means, in my dotage, that I must give up being an Australian filmmaker.
My attempts to get previous Ministers for the Arts to intervene and insist that the Screen Australia board provide me with evidence of my crimes have fallen on deaf ears. Screen Australia is a law unto itself and its decision making cannot be challenged from filmmakers below or by politicians from above. This lack of accountability, as we all know, can lead to all kinds of abuse. Indeed, I have written about this many times and it is such musings online (on my blog) that have led to my becoming persona non grata with the powers that be at Screen Australia.
I have included below, as an Appendix, one of the pieces I have written in which I have asked questions of the kind that Screen Australia finds intimidating. Or is it that the Screen Australia board does not wish to be placed ‘at risk’ of being required to conduct its business in accordance with the precepts of transparency and accountability?
It should not be necessary for a filmmaker to risk arrest by sitting in the Screen Australia waiting to be presented with evidence of his or her crimes. If I need to do so a third time, I will.
SCREEN AUSTRALIA’S GAME OF MUSICAL CHAIRS
On 7th March an article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled:
“Screen Australia Board Meetings Must Be a Game of Musical Chairs.
Written by Michael West, this article raises questions that are worthy of debate within the community of filmmakers who are, in one way or another, reliant on Screen Australia to develop and finance their film and TV projects.
No such debate has occurred.
The article begins with the following sentence:
“Companies associated with actor and film producer Claudia Karvan were paid $10.5 million by Screen Australia last year. Karvan is on the board of Screen Australia.”
It then goes on to list the large amounts of money that members of the Screen Australia board have voted to invest in the projects of fellow board members in the form of development and production funds.
“Companies associated with fellow director Joan Peters, a media and entertainment lawyer, received just under $14.8 million in production grants, consultancy fees, travel grants and assorted transactions with Screen Australia.”
The question of whether or not it is appropriate for members of the Screen Australia Board to continually vote large sums of money to themselves and their associates needs to be debated.
Why is there no debate?
Is it because this is an elephant in the room that filmmakers dare not speak of in public for fear of retribution?
Given the obvious dangers inherent in Screen Australia board members voting to fund each others projects, what mechanisms does Screen Australia have in place to mitigate against the possibility of corruption?
Are questions such as these of concern to members of Australian Director’s Guild members? If so, has there been any discussion, debate, about them?
Are filmmakers free to be critical in pubic of Screen Australia without fear of retribution?
A few more paragraphs from Michael West’s 7th March article:
“Companies associated with director and film producer Rosemary Blight picked up $2.2 million in production grants and travel to the Toronto Film Festival.
Payments of $1.5 million were made to companies associated with filmmaker Rachel Perkins and for a project in which a "close family" member of Perkins was involved. Payments were also made to companies associated with the former chairman of Screen Australia, Glen Boreham, companies associated with deputy chair Deanne Weir and companies associated with another director, Richard Keddie.”
Is the Australian Director’s Guild free to ask, in public, the kinds of questions implicit in Michael West’s article, without fear that its funding from Screen Australia might be cut off?