It’s no secret that Australian films and Australian audiences are not on the best of terms. It seems that as soon as films are labelled ‘Australian’, the local audience throw their hands up in a bid to avoid cultural cringe. This begs the question, however, is the issue with poorly made cinema, or are Australian audiences selling provincial works short?
To take an audience-centred approach first, what is apparent is the need for the Aussies to have overseas approval of local content. The US are a much better advocate for films from down under than Australia is; according to Roach (2014) Hollywood heavyweights avidly search for Aussie filmmakers while local audiences turn their backs. As Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia asserts, Australian audiences largely dismiss local films unless they have first been recognised offshore – as though if an American or European audience praises Aussie works, they really must be good (Dow 2014).
In fact it may actually be damaging for Australian films to be released locally first. A better option may to be to release them overseas, wait until campaigns and media profiles are exposed to younger audiences, and then bring them home for screening. This is not too far fetched as Aussie films are often a hit at highly acclaimed international festivals with regular selections at Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and Sundance (Mostyn 2014). It’s just difficult to convey this enthusiasm to the audience at home.
With such a predicament it is easy to see how the struggles of the Aussie cinema industry are considered the fault of the audience, but it is important to take a wider assessment. Sure, lack of support from the audience contributes to the state of Australian cinema, but it is not the sole player. According to Quinn (2014), there is a decried tendency of Australian press to knock Australian filmmaking, eagerly picking up negative reviews – clearly not trying to sell local films.
Furthermore, the marketing and advertising of Australian films leaves much to be desired. According to Troy Lum (as quoted in Kaufman 2009, p. 6) local film marketing is often “mis-targeted, underfunded or left too late”. For example, AUS film ‘Son of a Gun’ was awarded $330k on prints and advertising – typically, US films would receive $1.5-3 million. Often the local audience are not going to see local films because they weren’t aware they existed.
This is closely connected also to a lack of access to Aussie films. No matter the level of commitment, it’s often just impossible to be at an Australian film. Most local films are shown on less than 10% of cinema screens while Hollywood films are available on as many as one third of available screens (Kaufman 2009, p. 7). Additionally, Aussie films are drowned out by the amount of overseas releases – in 2013 the US had 183 first-release films in Australia, compared to 44 UK and a meagre 26 Australian (Kaufman 2009). Perhaps Australian audiences are not going to see Aussie films because they physically can’t.
As the Daily Review (2014 explains, “it is hard not to view the failures of the Australian film industry as partly the failure of viewers to appreciate the magnificent work it often produces”– but the key word there is partly. The local audience have certainly turned away from local content, but this is largely because there is no marketing, advertising or review enticing them to stay.
Daily Review 2014, ‘Australian Cinema is Still Big, it’s the Audience That Got Small’, Daily Review, 2 September, viewed 18 December, <http://dailyreview.com.au/australian-cinema-is-still-big-its-the-audience-that-got-small/11426>
Dow, S 2014, ‘What’s wrong with Australian cinema?’, Guardian, 26 October, viewed 18 December, < http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/26/australian-film-australian-audiences>
Quinn, K 2014, ‘Why won’t we watch Australian films?’, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 October, viewed 18 December, < http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/why-wont-we-watch-australian-films-20141024-11bhia.html>
Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro, 1 December, pp. 6-8
Mostyn, R 2014, ‘Explainer: where’s the audience for Australian films?’, Conversation, 17 January, viewed 18 December, < http://theconversation.com/explainer-wheres-the-audience-for-australian-films-20945>
Roach, V 2014, ‘Local audiences snub Australian filmmakers yet Hollywood loves them’, news.com.au, 13 September, viewed 18 December, < http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/box-office/local-audiences-snub-australian-filmmakers-yet-hollywood-loves-them/news-story/95338f7d82412c0ea02688fc8952d0d0>