Is co-production counterproductive for Australian culture?

“…[co productions] harmonise economic and cultural relations between nations and bridge the gap between their diverging film regulations… However, both participating and potential producing parties often encounter unexpected hurdles”.

(Yecies 2009, pp. 83-84).

Co-productions in cinema have surged in Australia as globalisation has made contact and cooperation much faster and more convenient than ever before. Co-productions are essentially agreements between two or more countries when they team up to create a film together. They are put in place to facilitate cultural and creative exchanges, lessen the financial strains and increase high quality production (Screen NSW 2016). Australia currently has agreements with Canada, China, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Korea, Singapore, South Africa and the UK, is working on agreements with India, Denmark and Malaysia as well as being a signatory to MOUs with both France and New Zealand (Screen Australia 2016). Business in this area has some serious attention.

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Co-productions by country, as of 30 April 2015

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Such agreements can pose serious benefits for all involved. As O’Regan and Potter (2012, p. 10) explain, there is access to global distribution and financing networks, more engaged market intelligence and unique production knowledge. Furthermore, double the funding! A project approved as an official co-pro is eligible to apply for any benefits offered to cinema in each country; in Australia this can mean investment from either Screen Australia or Screen NSW and potentially the 40% Producer Offset (Screen NSW 2016). This clearly allows for productions that are more extravagant, expensive and higher quality; thus co-productions are generally Australia’s most successful films by far. For example The Great Gatsby and Finding Nemo were smash hits, and Max Max: Fury Road was the second highest grossing Aussie film ever – all were co-produced. This also lends itself to a higher demand for jobs in the film business – so is this the way forward for local films? It seems it may be, with blockbusters Thor and Alien both set to be filmed in Australia as co-pros in the near future (Borrello 2015) – perhaps  providing a boost the Australian film industry desperately needs.

However,  there is a risk of placing profit and jobs above the preservation of Australian culture through film. For cinema to be considered Australian by the Cannes film festival standards, it simply needs to be produced by an Australian (Rosen 2014). For example the film ‘The Piano’ which was filmed, written and directed in New Zealand but produced by an Australian is considered Aussie (Rosen 2014). In fact, Yecies (2009, p. 88) stipulates that often ICP agreements work to exploit funding opportunities, and regardless of offering exciting job opportunities, do little in the way of representing the cultures involved in the film’s making. Does Australia’s mere involvement in the making of films actually make them Australian, or support Australian culture? According to Ronsen (2014), regardless of films such as ‘Superman Returns’, ‘The Matrix’ and ‘I, Robot’ being filmed and part funded by Australia, they do not even come close to being Australian. On that note, if co-pros do not in fact support Aussie culture, are they truly the way forward?

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Co-productions seems to be undeniably one of the most successful avenues offered to Australian cinema – potentially redeeming the necessity of local film funding. However, perhaps a few tweaks to criteria stipulating Australian culture must be represented could lend towards profitable and successful films that do not favour jobs over culture, but pay them equal respect.

References

Borrello, E 2015, ‘Thor, Alien blockbusters to be made in Australia, Julie Bishop announces, ABC, 22 October, viewed 13 January, < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-22/thor-alien-blockbusters-to-be-made-in-australia/6876604>

O’Regan, T & Potter, A 2013, ‘Globalisation from within?: The de-nationalising of Australian film and television production’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 149, pp. 5-14

Rosen, B 2014, ‘Is the Great Gatsby really an Australian film?’, Daily Telegraph, 30 January, viewed 13 January, < http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/opinion/is-the-great-gatsby-really-an-australian-film/story-fni0cwl5-1226813252222>

Screen Australia, 2016, Australian Screen Stories are Important to Australians, Screen Australia, accessed 13 January 2016, < https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/coproductions/treaties_mous.aspx&gt;

Screen NSW 2016, Co-Productions Overview, Screen NSW, viewed 13 January 2016, < http://www.screen.nsw.gov.au/page/co-productions>

Yecies, BM 2009, What The Boomerang Misses: Pursuing International Film Co-Production Treaties And Strategies, n.p.: Research Online, Research Online, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 January 2016.

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