The Lion King (1970) had a special place in the hearts of many Australian families. The decision to put this timeless and much beloved film in Australian cinemas in 1974 was not the first decision that Disney made in Australia.
In the early 1980s, the number of Australians who wanted to watch animated films was so high that they made Disney filmback South Australian a regular feature in movie re-runs. This is exactly the kind of decision that needs to be taken by Australian films.
The success of the Lion King has made this a really big year for Australian films. Most people expect there to be a top 12 Australian film this year, but the year doesn’t end until January 2018. We need to give Australian films their time to become a part of the nation’s production culture.
A good start would be to introduce Australian film and television award programs, such as the Australian Film Institute and Screen Australia. These popular awards programs allow people from all backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives to be represented and recognised.
I have been involved in the Australia Screen Film Awards for the past 20 years and have seen the AMF act as a great catalyst for film industry development. I believe the problem with Australia’s submission deadline being half a year late was that many of the best Australian films never made it into this competition.
That left many low-budget films and documentaries that didn’t get to compete as the only ones to get recognised. In the past I have supported films and documentaries in this competition – now I am hopeful that its time to catch up with the rules and support an award program that reflects the global reach of our industry.
We need to be careful that film awards are not just about choosing the best Australian films. There are fantastic dramas about immigration and overseas countries, which don’t need to be part of the awards scheme, and big historical and musicals with strong Australian influence that deserve to be celebrated alongside the blockbuster films.
The Australian Film Institute has made a strong push to encourage the creation of an Australian film bible, but we are a long way from gaining this kind of support from government, industry, government-funded training opportunities for film professionals, and outstanding support to industry-run workshops.
The founding public arts and entertainment groups have been working with the ARIA, Independent Australia, MUP and National Film and Sound Archive to produce the Community Symposium, which will host a world-class conference and exhibition of the best Australian film and television.
As producer of the celebrated 2017 show For the Good of It!, John Fahey, co-founder of the foundation of the ARIA and national president of the Academy of Australian Cinema and Television Arts, has inspired an entire industry to support the symposium. His efforts make it a worthwhile investment for everyone in our industry.
There is a change afoot. The current scheme creates a gap in the expertise and funding available to program development and production development groups. We need to be encouraging regional producers to build their skillsets, get trained in production support and have an opportunity to put their projects into production.
The community and industry must work together in order to create a platform for the global studios to invest in our industries. We have grown from just a small island to become a global player in this sector. We are a global premiere, and we want our film and television to be as high-profile as the big international stars in Hollywood.
Aged 70, to retire from almost 60 years’ service as a member of the World Cinema Society and being the first to go to an award presentation ceremony, I would like to offer support to the film and television industry and its newly created industry body, the Australian Film Industry Awards.
With these initiatives, a commercial film grant, a film university with accreditation to great extent, a capacity to produce film course content, and access to strong training opportunities, I know our industry has the potential to become an extraordinary success story.
Thank you for your investment and your understanding.
John Fahey is the founding chairman of the World Cinema Society and member of the Australian Film Institute and its board.