Monday, May 2, 2016

The end of my career as an Australian filmmaker. One door closes; another door opens.

The Screen Australia Board has circled its wagons of support around Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron rather than admit that there is not, and never was, any evidence at all that I intimidated or placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff with my correspondence. I have no choice but to retire as an Australian filmmaker.

Members of the Screen Australia Board
Screen Australia
Level 7, 45 Jones St
Ultimo 2007  

1st April 2016

Dear Board Members

A filmmaker who intimidates members of Screen Australia’s staff with his or her correspondence deserves to be ‘banned’.

A filmmaker who places members of Screen Australia’s staff ‘at risk’ deserves not only to be banned but to have his or her behaviour brought to the attention of the police and for an AVO to be taken out against them.

Fiona Cameron’s calling the police in 2012  to have me arrested in the foyer of Screen Australia during business hours, twice, would have been justified if there had been any evidence at all that I had placed Screen Australia staff ‘at risk’.

However, both common sense and natural justice demand that any filmmaker so accused be provided with evidence of his or her crime – intimidation; placing at risk.

Was there anything in my correspondence with Screen Australia staff that was hurtful, defamatory or malicious? Did I threaten a member of staff? Did I use profane language? Did I insult someone? Or was I, in my correspondence, merely exercising my right to freedom of speech? My right to be a vocal critic of Screen Australia?  To insist that Fiona Cameron’s lie about me be excised from the files?

Why has the Screen Australia Board, for four years now, been unable to point to even one instance of a crime committed by me so heinous as to warrant the destruction of my film career?

You all know that there is no evidence that I intimated anyone; that I placed no-one at risk. So did previous board members. And yet month after month, year after year, you have refused to lift the ban - making it impossible for me to work in the profession I have been practicing for close to 45 years. Worse is the damage to my reputation, which has grown with each passing year.  Where there is smoke there must be fire, the reasoning goes: “Ricketson must have done something pretty bad to warrant the ban in the first place.” In the absence of evidence my fellow filmmakers can be forgiven for imagining what I must have written.

Whilst none of you were involved in the original ban, you have all been in a position, since you became board members, to either lift the ban or to insist that Fiona Cameron provide evidence that I am guilty as charged. You have done neither. My appeal to Richard Harris,  in Jan this year and last month, has been ignored by him; just as you Board members have ignored all my requests to be provided with evidence of  my crimes.

Is the reason for your collective refusal to provide evidence that an acknowledgment that there is no evidence (and there isn’t) would necessitate admitting that Ruth Harley lied? Do you refuse to ask for evidence of my crimes because Ruth Harley must be protected from being exposed as a liar? Or is it to protect Fiona Cameron – the person whose initial lie set this whole dispute in motion? This assertion, of Fiona’s having played fast and loose with the truth in a way that was (and remains) damaging to my reputation, would have been borne out back in mid 2012 if anyone (the Commonwealth Ombudsman included) had bothered to look at the facts. And these facts are on file; on record.

Fiona’s original lie could have been, and should have been, struck from the record in 2011. Ruth Harley refused to do so. Indeed, when I complained to her about Fiona’s lie and asked that it be investigated, Ruth handed the investigation into Fiona’s lying to Fiona. All this is on record but, as with the Emperor’s New Clothes, the Screen Australia board does not want to see what it is inconvenient to see. The wagons circled around Ruth to protect her from being exposed as a liar and now the wagons are circled around Fiona, to protect her from being similarly exposed.  You board members (and your predecessors) have decided that the destruction of the career of one filmmaker is preferable to holding  Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron accountable for their actions. I am expendable. So be it.

I have only just become aware that a feature film has been made based on Helen Garner’s book, “Joe Cinque’s Consolation.” Over a decade I filmed with Anu Singh, Joe Cinque’s killer, and have in excess of 40 hours of footage shot of Anu and her family. Anu’s is a very interesting and compelling story and no-one other than myself has footage of her from this past decade, as she has sought to rebuild her life and explain to herself (and the world) how and why, in the midst of her mental illness, she killed the man she loved.

The feature film will, no doubt generate a great deal of interest in Anu when it is released. I’m sure there will be many viewers interested in seeing a documentary about her. However, such a documentary cannot be made by me, a ‘banned’ filmmaker, as I am not allowed to speak with members of Screen Australia staff, as I would need to be able to do if I were to apply for a Producer Offset.

Yet again, as was the case with the pre-sale offered to me by National Geographic for my feature documentary, “Chanti’s World” a few years ago, Screen Australia’s ban prevents me from working as an Australian filmmaker.  I have four close-to-fully shot documentaries (all self-funded) that I cannot complete as a result of your ban.

I must now try to earn a living working outside Australia. Fortunately, with my series “Nest of Vipers” I am able to do so – this thriller, once with a predominantly Australian cast in the lead roles, is now being developed for a US market with no Australians involved other than myself. A pyrrhic victory for Screen Australia!

When I wrote to Richard in January I hoped that he might at least ask for evidence of my crimes and, if it was not forthcoming (and it can’t be because there is none) quietly advocate within Screen Australia for my right to be allowed to continue to make films or be presented with evidence of my crimes. Richard has chosen (or been instructed?) not to respond to my letters. I am disappointed, of course, but can also understand that Richard does not wish to upset the apple cart and jeopardize his own position within Screen Australia by challenging Fiona – the real architect of the ban on me.

As if happens (it was not my intention) Richard’s refusal to respond to my letter adds considerable weight to the defamation case that I had hoped I would never have to pursue.

I have held off for four years now, hoping for a breakthrough of common sense and decency from the SA board, but I will hold off no longer.   My original Supreme Court case, in 2012, was thrown out not because it had no merit but because I (who could afford no lawyer) had not filled out my Statement of Claim correctly. Thanks to “Nest of Vipers’ I will shortly be in a position to afford a lawyer.

Today is my 67th birthday. I promised myself that if this matter was not resolved, if the ban was not lifted by 1st April 2016, I would retire as an Australian filmmaker. I have no desire to spend the last few years of my 60s doing battle with vindictive bureaucrats and a cowardly Screen Australia board.

Consequently, I am no longer interested in an apology from Screen Australia, or in having the ban on me lifted. The damage has been done and cannot be repaired. My career as an Australian filmmaker is over. In suing Screen Australia in the Supreme Court I’m not interested in financial compensation if I should win my case. And I don’t really care if I don’t win it. I will shortly be in a position to pay whatever it takes in the Supreme Court to prove once and for all that there is not one letter, one email, one fax or any other form of communication between myself and Screen Australia in which I have intimidated or placed anyone at risk; that the architect of all this was and is Fiona Cameron. It will be worth all the money I get for “Nest of Vipers” if need be, to have my name cleared amongst my peers.

The Screen Australia board has failed, miserably, its duty to deal with all filmmakers in a fair and equitable manner. Your priority has been to protect Screen Australia staff, regardless of the facts. This mind-set, permeating all levels of Screen Australia, is detrimental to the development of exciting ground-breaking films. And it shows.

best wishes

James Ricketson

cc Senator Mitch Fifield
    Commonwealth Ombudsman

    Australian Director’s Guild

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