Australia suffers from an identity crisis within the film industry.
There are two identities of Australia:
- Beachy locals who just surf all day, drive Sandmans, and are casual dressers constantly in thongs and singlets, with long, wavy hair- Think ‘Puberty Blues’ (1982)
- Outback, red dust, 40-degree heat, wrestling crocodiles and punching kangaroos- Think ‘Crocodile Dundee’ (1986), ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ (1994), ‘Wolf Creek’ (2005) (See how they are more listed here?)
For those from Australia, most would consider Option ‘1’ the more accurate and appropriate depiction of our culture. However, international audiences will always consider ‘2’ to be the more ‘real’ representation of Australia, and why is this?
Our film industry!
Our representations are always the cliche depicting outback outlaws!
(Admittedly, it does not help our first ever feature-length film was ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’ (1906))
This identity crisis has created some conflicts within the industry, as international audiences expect to see more films depicting identity ‘2’, whereas locals do not want to see this stereotype continuously replayed and wish for more relatable films. Problem being, identity ‘1’ does not sell well within the industry.
There are many various factors that have influenced the development of the Australia film industry and culture, over the course of the last 60 years. The industry has been described as being in either periods of ‘boom or bust’ (Burns & Eltham 2010).
In recent years, a consistent media narrative has emerged, particularly in newspapers, about the box office ―“unpopularity” of Australian feature films and the “failure” of the domestic screen industry. 2018 sees a year in a ‘bust’ period, unfortunately.
Some elements that contribute to ‘boom or bust’ include:
Funding and Policies
‘Market failure’ is almost synonymous with Australian film industry. Although some great Australia films have made it as a ‘blockbuster’ film, such as ‘Man From Snowy River’ (1982) and ‘Crocodile Dundee’ (1986), it is a fairly weak market. This has always been attached to the notion of lack of funding provided before the 1970’s, where there Australian films were few and fair between. Hence, why the government felt as if it needed to intervene and create some policy to assist.
The next step came from the Fraser Government in 1978 (and then again 1981), where a massive influx or ‘boom’ phase of films being produced were thanks to the ‘10BA Tax Laws’ (which came from the amendment of the Income
Tax Assessment Act 1936). This was a policy that saw screen producers allowed to claim a production subsidy. In June 1981 the deduction rate was 150%, which then was lowered to 133% in 1983 and ultimately dropped again to 100% between 1987 and 2007, when it was replaced by (Screen Australia) Producer Offset.
It allowed a lot of private investment money to be used through a government initiative. This was in hopes to build a strong industry, that Australia so desperately needed to ward off American and British films, that dominated the box office continuously.
One aspect that highlights the issue is the concept of ‘Ozploitation’. This refers to the Australian exploitation films that were produced during a period in the 1970s and 1980s. Such as ‘Alvin Purple’ (1972), ‘The Adventure of Barry MacKenzie’ (1972) and ‘Turkey Shoot’ (1982). These genre films were being made in large quantities, rather than quality. It created many different ideas about what an Australia film looks like. The term was coined by Mark Hartley for the documentary ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ (2008), these term refers to the ‘genre’ films that were made during the ‘boom’ period of Australian film.
Before this 1970’s period, Australia’s movies were lacking both quality and quantity, so the government thought this would be an appropriate approach to encourage and support the film industry. Although, it did prove problematic as many were just using the system for the tax benefits. However, from the 227 feature films that were made durinh this time period, it did have a few successes with ‘The Man From Snowy River’ (1982) and ‘Mad Max’ (1979) been made within this time frame.
Although this policy was generally considered to just have been exploited, it did offer one major advantage for Australia: with the mass amounts of movies being made, although the story lines did not offer much, the experience and skills the crew gained were invaluable for Australia. These skills were utilised and showcased in the few films that made it in the international markets.
The government attempt to showcase these policies and films as ‘public goods’ which can be defined as ‘something desirable or universally beneficial that can be collectively consumed by a community’ (Morris 2016, p.35). They attempt to prove to the Australian public that these films are incredibly beneficial and that it is an advantage for them to see their lives on screen and has a greater good for all. The issue arises that the population feel that seeing local landscapes are not enough to deem a public good, not when the stories lines are not relatable for Australians. ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (1975) is an example, although yes filmed within Australian landscape, the story line is strongly British. Australian audiences wish for the identity to break off and represent their own, beyond just landscapes.
One massive aspect is the displeasure of Australian locals on how there is a constant stereotype being portrayed within films. Although, locals recognise that we have built a unique identity that helps draw tourists in and this being a positive in many ways, it still makes local audiences reluctant to watch films as they feel uncomfortable and bored with the representation on screen.
Dow (2014) explains there are several reasons that can lead local audiences away from the Australian film market:
- There is a lack of marketing in relation to Australian films, creating unawareness
- They are shown in limited theatres, which makes audiences reluctant to travel to watch the films
- Tickets price are unrealistic, some ranging up to $20
Bowles et al (2007) furthers this notion of “historical insufficiency of supply” which causes issues and notes how “if the local demand for Australian product is weak, there seems little evidence that Australia cinema meets cultural need”.
Another aspect that needs to be handled with care is just how ‘Australian’ a film is. There is also a fine line with how ‘Aussie’ a movie can be, if the film places too heavy a reliance on Australian humour, ‘language’ and culture to a point where international markets cannot understand the context and references, therefore losing interest. This needs to be recognised and controlled to help maintain the international audience attention and understanding.
Bowles, K., Maltby, R., Verhoeven, D. & Walsh, M. 2007, ‘More than ballyhoo?: The importance of understanding film consumption in Australia’, Metro : media & education magazine, no. 152, pp. 96-101
Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, ‘Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘Race to the Bottom’, Media International Australia, vol. 136, no.1, pp 106-118.
Morris, R 2016, Economics Down Under 2, 9th edn, Wiley, Richmond.