Monday, May 1, 2017

As the 5th anniversary of the Screen Australian ban on me approaches, a letter to Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts

James Ricketson
316 Whale Beach Road
Palm Beach 2108

Senator Mitch Fifield
Minister for Communications and the Arts
Level 2
4 National Circuit
Barton, ACT 2600                                                                                         

1st May 2017

Dear Senator Fifield

Following on from my letters of 21st and 27th Feb. As with all my correspondence, you have failed to acknowledge receipt of these!

As you will be aware, it is virtually impossible for me to make films in Australia as a result of the ban placed on me by Screen Australia. This ban, in operation for five years years now, prevents me from making any form of development application to Screen Australia. It also prevents me from accessing the Producer Offset in the way that my fellow filmmakers are able to. It is Screen Australia’s contention that meeting with SA staff would place them at risk. SA refuses to provide any evidence in support of this proposition. My attempts to secure such evidence through FOI applications are knocked back by CEO Graeme Mason the grounds that it is not in the public interest that I be appraised of the evidence of my alleged offences.

Jane Supit, Head of Legal at Screen Australia, has suggested to me that one way to protect SA staff from whatever risk I pose (the nature of this ‘risk’ has never been explained to me!) would be for me and my creative collaborators to meet with her rather than the SA staff members other filmmakers meet with to discuss funding and the Producer Offset. For me and my team to meet with Ms Supit under these conditions would be to provide our tacit agreement to the proposition that I pose a risk to staff. This I am not prepared to do and nor should I be asked to. My creative collaborators and members of the film industry could quite justifiably conclude that Jane Supit’s offer was a generous one  - extended to a ‘dangerous’ filmmaker; that I was, by going along with such an arrangement, acknowledging my guilt.

Jane Supit has made reference in a letter to my “highly offensive conduct”; providing this as a reason for the continuance of the ban on me. This is a lie. It is defamatory. It is in line with comments made on and off the written record by various members of Screen Australia management and the Board this past five years. In order to justify its ban, in the absence of any evidence, Screen Australia must vilify me; must present me as a danger to staff; must refuse to communicate with me, to answer questions and to characterize my asking of questions, my asking for evidence in support of the allegations made against me, as “harassment.” This tactic has worked. I am now alienated from the Australian Director’s Guild, a craft body of which I was a founder. The ADG will not even mention the ban on me in its newsletter, let alone request of SA evidence in support of the ban.

If indeed my letters have ever made it to your desk you have chosen to ignore them. You have not even had the courtesy to acknowledge their receipt. I am now left with no alternative but to commence legal action to secure, from Screen Australia, evidence of the intimidation and placing at risk I am allegedly guilty of; of ‘highly offensive conduct’ that Ms Supit refers to. This will be an expensive and time-consuming process – both for myself and for Screen Australia. It need not have transpired if you, or any previous Minister for the Arts this past 5 years, had simply picked up the phone and said to Graeme Mason (and previously Ruth Harley), “Please provide Mr Ricketson with the evidence he has requested of the offenses that have led to his being banned.” As I have made clear on countless occasions, I would  accept the ban on me willingly if there were any truth to the allegations made against me.

The damage done to my career this past 5 years cannot be undone. Leaving aside the fact that I have not been able to complete “Chanti’s World” as a result and must sell my “Offending Women” footage for a pittance, I calculate that the ban has cost me at least $300,000 - $60,000 for each year that I have not been able to work as an Australian filmmaker.

The damage done to my reputation, however, can be undone when it becomes clear, through the courts,  that the reasons given for the original 2012 ban were fallacious; that the reasons given for the two subsequent bans are equally fallacious. That the acquisition of the evidence of my alleged offenses should require legal action is absurd.

Quite apart from the damage done to my career and reputation there is another factor that comes into play now as far as I am concerned –  freedom of speech. Once the facts are known (namely that I have not intimidated or placed anyone at risk) it will become clear that the original ban on me was Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron’s ham-fisted attempt to silence a critic; to punish me for exercising my right of free speech. This has nothing at all to do with my being a filmmaker but goes to the heart of a much more important problem we confront in Australia – namely that bit by bit, incrementally, ours has become a society in which severe punishments can await anyone who has the temerity to speak their mind freely; who ask questions that senior bureaucrats do not wish to answer.

best wishes

James Ricketson

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