When you’re battling against the minds of the studios and the money that can go into promoting larger budget films, it’s very hard for a very small-budget Australian film to get a look in. You can get critically acclaimed and go to various film festivals around the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the majority of people are going to hear about it. – Hugo Weaving, 2012 interview with Collider.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Australian’s tend to avoid watching Australian films at the cinema. It’s reflected in both the box office numbers of Australian films, which fail year after year to reach Screen Australia’s idea of success – 4.5% of box office shares each year – and fail to bring in audiences in cinemas.
Our film industry has been in dire straights for years, following a ‘boom and bust’ cycle (Burns & Eltham 2010, p. 111) of relative success followed by periods of market failure. There is constant commentary in the media about what’s wrong with the film industry, and how to fix it.
A poll of our classroom highlighted several of the issues which are also repeated in articles attempting to get to the bottom of the issue all over Australia; Australian’s are sick of seeing outdated and incorrect stereotypes, and tall poppy syndrome means there is no chance a small-budget Australian film can compete with the budgets, actors, marketing, and hype of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Burns and Eltham (2010 p.111) agree that Australian films are unpopular because of; low production and marketing budget, distribution bottleneck and poor investments.
A 2014 article in the Sydney Morning Herald continues with this list of things wrong with the industry, citing the dark and depressing subject matter, the critics being ‘too soft’ on Australian films, the lack of marketing and limited distribution, tall-poppy syndrome (again), outdates ocker stereotypes (again), and just a general lack of quality film coming out of the country.
Internationally, our films aren’t always well-received because there are a number of culturally specific elements which don’t translate well overseas because Screen Australia forces creators to include significant Australian content in their projects in order to obtain funding.
Many experts in the field claim the notion of an “Australian film” is the industries undoing, for example, producer and executive, Troy Lum (The Water Diviner) has dismissed the idea that people go and see a film because of its country of origin. ‘People just want to see good movies; no one cares if Mao’s Last Dancer is Australian,’ he says, according to Kaufman (2009).
But Australia is making good movies, they’re just overshadowed by a couple of bad ones which have turned, in particular, Australian’s off seeing them – I’m looking at you, Crocodile Dundee.
I think the major issue is that you don’t have to Dundee a movie in order to make it Australian. Some of the best films I saw in 2016 and 2017 were Australian, and they didn’t have ‘typical’ Australian things in them, just nuanced elements of real Australian culture; in Hounds of Love (2016) and Snowtown (2011), the houses, streets, clothing, and language situates you right in an Australian suburb. In The Loved Ones (2009), the main character transitions between a small town and the bush in a way which is normal and natural, not forced and ‘look how Aussie this is”.
Audiences are making massive assumptions about Australian content without actually watching the content, and these assumptions are bringing down the industry as a whole.
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, no. 136, pp. 103-118.
Kaufman, T 2009 “Finding Australian audiences for Australian films” Metro, no. 163, pp. 6-8.