The Story of the Kelly Gang was the world’s first feature-length film. Made in 1906 and directed by Charles Tait, this ground-breaking film lasted just over an hour and had 1,200 metres of film reel. The bushranger genre proved to be a rich source of inspiration for the Australian movie industry for a few years, but audiences soon tired of the cliched plots and less than respectful treatment of police officers in the storylines. The decline of the bushranger film genre marked a general decline in the Australian film industry and it wasn’t until the 1970s that the industry enjoyed a significant renaissance.
It wasn’t all a cultural wasteland, however. Many stars had their first break in the Australian film industry. Errol Flynn was cast in the 1933 film, In the Wake of the Bounty; he went on to enjoy a successful career in Hollywood. Peter Finch was another celebrated actor who enjoyed a diverse career in Australia, Great Britain, and the United States, culminating in a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor in 1976.
By the end of the 1960s, the Australian film industry was at a low ebb. In 1968, the government instigated some financial assistance programs and the industry enjoyed a resurgence. Seminal movies from the 70s include Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Mad Max (1979).
In the 80s, stars such as Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson, and Paul Hogan emerged. When the 1990s came around, the Australian film industry was in full swing with successes such as Muriel’s Wedding, Strictly Ballroom, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert achieving international acclaim. In the 2000s, the world enjoyed Rabbit Proof Fence, Moulin Rouge! and Little Fish.
Today, the industry is in flux. There have been savage cuts to funding, which is making it increasingly difficult for film producers to make homegrown movies. Often, the only way to attract funding is to have an A-lister in the cast or persuade a well-known director to come on board.
Matthew Deaner, chief executive of Screen Producers Australia, has been highly critical of the government’s lack of support to a struggling industry. He says the independent sector needs greater support if it wants to compete internationally. New Zealand content counts as Australian, which encourages television networks to commission cheap second-run content from New Zealand instead of commissioning home-produced Australian content. Meanwhile, the content buyers – television networks, distributors, etc. – have too much negotiating power, so filmmakers are increasingly being offered poor deals.
Investment in film has fallen, say analysts on leading MetaTrader 4 platforms. In 2015, analysts revealed that the film industry contributed $5.8 billion in GDP. At the end of 2016, Screen Australia released a report titled Screen Currency. This revealed the Australian film industry contribution had fallen to $3 billion.
Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield said at the time: “The screen industry’s contribution to GDP, jobs and other sectors such as tourism is impressive enough, but the report further informs what we already instinctively know about Australian screen stories: they have a value that is more than entertainment.”
However, as critics point out, Fifield and his predecessor have cut Screen Australia’s funding and shown more interest in encouraging Hollywood to shoot movies in Australia, Thor being a recent example.
The TV and film industry earns $252 million from exporting its products each year. The industry also serves to attract more than 200,000 tourists every year, who are inspired to visit by the stunning on-screen content broadcast in cinemas and homes internationally.
98% of people surveyed as part of the Screen Currency report say they watch Australian content and 64% say homegrown content represents more than 50% of their viewing choices. With stars such as Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman enjoying high profile roles on the international stage, it’s about time the Australian government recognised how much talent there is at home – and do more to support it.