There’s Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood and ….. Aussiewood! No, haven’t heard of it? Perhaps this is because when ‘Australian cinema’ springs to mind, the Oscar worthy glitz and glamour of The Great Gatsby does not immediately follow. Rather, assumptions arise plagued by tributes to true blue Aussies so often represented in film. In fact, SNL did a skit on precisely this:
Australian media has been awful, and sometimes still is. Yet there is still some good stuff out there, we just don’t like to admit it. Perhaps this stems from confusion about what Australian content actually is, paired with deeply ingrained assumptions about local content. Some films are evidently Australian, take Muriel’s Wedding for example; however other films which seemingly lack any hint of ‘Australian-ness’ are nevertheless classified as such.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of how Australian content is classified. Screen Australia (2015) explains that projects are considered Australian if they come under Australian Creative control – essentially if the elements are predominantly Australian and originated and developed by Australians. This also includes projects which are completely foreign financed and co-productions between Australia and foreign partners, in which there is a mix of Australian and overseas elements. However under such circumstances it is not always obvious that a given film is Australian. Juxtapose ‘Gatsby‘ to the likes of ‘Crocodile Dundee‘ and ‘Red Dog‘, and you can understand the confusion.
Following on from this confusion is the impression that the only Australia showcased in films is that of the middle aged bogan who shoves Oz down your throat. The assumption is that Aussie films are an embarrassing attempt to form a united national identity, when perhaps there is not one. As O’Donnell (2012) asserts, “Australians are good at obsessing about what makes them different and unique, particularly so in their local films. But this obsession with “Australian-ness” could be holding back our own film industry, critically and commercially”. As such, cultural cringe ensues every time the phrase ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ is muttered.
Furthermore, the assumption that Australia cinema is inherently dreary and depressing only further exacerbates negative connotations with local film. The major film funding organisations have been criticised for relentlessly promoting low budget films that are downmarket and generally depressing, without a creative edge (Groves 2012). Comedian Tim Ferguson touched on this when joking about Red Dog dying of course being iconic Australian cinema, and Jane Waterhouse (Studio 10, 2014) spoke of Louis Nowra’s comments that Australian movies make Leonard Cohen seem positive.
So the key assumptions about Australian media production aren’t fabulous, and are actually damaging commercially for Aussie films. This is a hurdle that should be tackled as the film industry influences greatly the way Australians see themselves and are seen at an international level, and is responsible for portraying Australian culture and humour on screen. To do this, as explained by Chris Berg (Purple Independent Pics (2014) we need to stop trying to speak the ‘Australian story’ and instead focus on great fictional tales that we can tell successfully – simply produce a great horror story or a great drama story successfully, and Australian content production will greatly improve.
Daily Review 2014, ‘Australian Cinema is Still Big, it’s the Audience That Got Small’, Daily Review, 2 September, viewed 2 December, <http://dailyreview.com.au/australian-cinema-is-still-big-its-the-audience-that-got-small/11426>
Groves, D 2012, ‘Why are many Australian films a turn-off?’, SBS, 21 May, viewed 2 December, <http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/blog/2012/05/21/why-are-many-australian-films-turn>
O’Donnell, V 2012, ‘Strewth! How Aussie does Australian cinema need to be?’, The Conversation, 30 March, viewed 2 December, <http://theconversation.com/strewth-how-aussie-does-australian-cinema-need-to-be-5232>
Purple Independent Pics 2014, ‘What’s wrong with Australina films? (Full documentary), online video, 15 September, Purple Independent Pics, viewed 2 December 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hysgIuIBdZA>
Screen Australia, 2015, Definitions and Specifications, accessed 2 December 2015, <https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/productions/Find_a_film/definitions.aspx>
Studio 10, 2014, ‘What makes a film Australian?’, online video, 30 January, Studio 10, viewed 2 December 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-qySE1ZVgs>