Monday, February 29, 2016

As Screen Australia's ban on me approaches its 4th anniversary

The ban placed on me by Screen Australia approaches its 4th anniversary.

My December 15 letter to the Ombudsman (to which I have received no response) speaks for itself.

Screen Australia expects (hopes) that I will give up requesting that I be provided with evidence in support of the proposition that I intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff.

Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442
ACT 2601                                                                                          

7th Dec. 2015

Dear Ombudsman

Further to my previous correspondence.

Whilst the Screen Australia computer continues to accept my applications, Chief Executive, Graeme Mason, Senior Development Executive Nerida Moore and the the SA board will not.

I will, yet again, make a formal complaint to you, though experience suggests that your office will ignore it; as has been the case this past 44 months.

You must ignore my complaint if your office is to retain credibility in this matter. To take it seriously would necessitate asking of Screen Australia the one question that has never been asked:

“Please provide evidence that Mr Ricketson intimidated or placed anyone at risk within Screen Australia with his correspondence.”

Your staff will not ask this question, as has been the case with various Minister for the Arts, because they know full well that no such evidence exists. To ask the question now, to insist on an answer, would of necessity lead to the following conclusion:

“There is no evidence that Mr Ricketson intimidated or placed anyone at risk members of Screen Australia staff with his correspondence.”

This would both raise a Pandora’s Box of questions not only about the board and senior management at Screen Screen Australia but about the competence of those within your own office who, from the outset, failed to ask this most obvious of all questions.

The ban has been enormously damaging to my career. I can no longer make films in Australia. This was Ruth Harley’s original intention, rubber stamped by the SA board. It continues to be the intention of Nerida Moore, Graeme Mason and the current Screen Australia board. Collectively they continue to refuse to provide me with any evidence in support of the ban placed on me. I now stand as an example of the fate in store for other filmmakers who are vocal critics of Screen Australia or who do not accept that senior management can play fast and loose with the truth in order to cover their own errors in judgment.

The more important issue now, in my view, has to do with the erosion of free speech. Whilst I am not in any way a whistle-blower, I have been treated as one. The message to the film and TV community is clear: If you do not wish to be a member of the Screen Australia cheer squad it would be in your best interests to keep your dissenting opinions to yourself.

This silencing of critics has ramifications that extend far beyond the film and TV industries or the fate of one particular filmmaker. Filmmakers and the organizations dependent on Screen Australia (or any other government body) become inclined, if they do not wish to suffer bureaucratic retribution, to practice self-censorship. This is not healthy. Freedom of speech must extend to critics of government policy and those whose job it is to put such polices into practice. Filmmakers can be (and often are) subjected to bad reviews of their work in a public forum. Why should it be any different for film bureaucrats?

If the office of the Ombudsman should experience a last minute Road to Damascus moment, the question could still be asked of Screen Australia:

“Please provide evidence that Mr Ricketson intimidated or placed anyone at risk within Screen Australia with his correspondence.”

If Screen Australia can produce one example of my having done as alleged I will accept the fatwa that has been placed on me with no further complaint. This has been my position since may 2012. If Screen Australia cannot, surely the lack of transparency and accountability within a funding body that expends millions of Australian tax-payer dollars each year must be of concern to your office?

best wishes

James Ricketson

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Australian actor Simone Ball blasts gender inequity at Tropfest in open letter

Australian actor Simone Ball blasts gender inequity at Tropfest in open letter

Published in IF magazine a few days ago.

The gist of Simone’s complaint is that:

“Of the sixteen finalists, only one was female.”

Is this because whoever short-listed the films was discriminating against female filmmakers or because s/he or they felt that only one film by a female filmmaker was deserving of being included in the finalist’s list?

It would be interesting to hear from Tropfest on this question.

Simone’s complaint continues:

“In fact, since 2010, there have only been 18 female finalists out of a total of 96 shortlisted films.”  Out of context

This statistic, taken out of context, could be read as clear evidence of discrimination. However…

Quoting Simone again:

“John Polson told Inside Film last year that the number of female entrants and female finalists traditionally hovered around twenty percent, “marginally better than the industry standard…”

Some very elementary maths makes clear that Simone’s argument here lacks logic:

18 out of 96 of female finalists is roughly 20%. And the number of female Tropfest entrants is roughly 20%.

So, in the last six years the percentage of female finalists is identical to the percentage of female applicants?

So, precisely what is the problem, Simone?

And whose fault is it that only 20% of Tropfest entrants are women? Who can we blame?

In this day and age any young woman armed with a mobile phone and with access to a home computer editing system can make a film. Tropfest is a celebration of innovation and imagination; not a competition to see who can access the biggest budgets and make the flashiest films. A Tropfest film made for $100 can be demonstrably better than one made for $100,000 and win first prize, as history has shown. What is it that is preventing young (and perhaps not so young) women from making and entering films in Tropfest?
As for Simone’s observation that only 14% of “best performing Australian films” were directed by women, whose fault is this?

Is this because audiences discriminate against films directed by women? Or could it be because audiences (male and female) did not find these films, directed by women, entertaining? The success of Jocelyn Morehouse’s “The Dressmaker” suggests  that very few members of domestic or international audiences care one way or another what the gender of a filmmaker is – director of screenwriter. They want to be entertained, pure and simple, and both male and female directors are equally capable of creating such entertainment.

Do distributors, sales agents, and other investors in films, factor in the gender of the filmmaker when deciding whether or not to invest in a film? Or do they look at the quality of the screenplay, the experience of the director (male or female) and whether of not they believe there is an audience for the film in question?   

A month before IF magazine published Simone’s ‘blast’ at Tropfest, I submitted an opinion piece of my own about the question of gender inequity and quotas to The Australian Director’s Guild’s online newspaper ‘Screen Director’. It was intended to be a contribution to a debate that I felt was an important one to be conducted in public; with a diverse range of opinions presented for consideration about what is clearly a contentious issue.

The ADG declined to publish my ‘opinion piece’ believing, it seems, that the argument in favour of quotas is so strong, so irrefutable, that no dialogue, no debate, is necessary.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Will Screen Australia initiate, encourage, a public debate about gender based quotas?

Nicholas Moore
Screen Australia Board                                                                                  19th Feb 2016

Dear Nicholas

re: Gender based quotas

The argument that 50% of feature films should be directed by women is being pushed very hard by the Australian Director’s Guild. I have  written about this at some length:

If Screen Australia is seriously considering making such a quota official policy, I believe that it should be discussed, debated, by all filmmakers and film bureaucrats whose lives will be affected by such a policy. I would like to suggest that there be an open debate about the advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, resulting from the imposition of quotas.

Would it be in the best interests of Australian feature film production to set such a quota in stone? Might a 50/50 quota create a series of ongoing nightmares for Screen Australia as the board is faced with little choice but to back second rate feature films (with either male or female directors) in order to fulfil its quota obligations?

And what happens if some other group that feels it it under-represented in the field of feature film direction starts clamouring for a quota? Gay directors? Directors within the dozens of ethnic and religious groups that make up Australian society?

What does Screen Australia do if the 50% of films it wishes to support in any round, in any year, have failed to secure sales agents, distribution deals, because they are not considered to have domestic or internation box office potential? Will Screen Australia gear them into production simply to meet the quota?

If sales agents, distributors etc are very keen to invest in a film to be directed by a woman, say, but Screen Australia investment in the project would breach its quota obligations, what does your board do? Support a male director even if the project he is attached to is considered to be inferior to the one to be directed by a woman?

And how will Screen Australia respond if the Australian Writer’s Guild likewise pushes for 50% of feature films to be be produced from screenplays written by women? What argument will Screen Australia present to justify quotas for directors but not for writers?

And how will Screen Australia respond if male directors of documentaries (at present under-represented vis a vis Screen Australia funding) start clamouring for a 50/50 quota?

A public debate is, I believe,  in order.


James Ricketson