Is Australian cinema important to Australian culture?

Nadene Budden explores whether or not Australian films are worth the watch.

In a society where trillions of bits of information are available literally at our fingertips with the aid of laptops, smartphones and the Internet, sometimes we can lose track of what’s going on back home. Sometimes we get caught up in the US election or what plane just disappeared inexplicably. While trying to keep up with all this information, we can lose sight of things closer to home.

With the cold, hard statistics of gradually declining revenue, the same can be said for Australian film.

“2014 was a disastrous year at the box office…five years in a row it had been going down…” said UON lecturer in media production, Dr Simon Weaving, “…and then of course in 2015 it went the other way.” Speaking, of course, about the monumental success of Mad Max: Fury Road. Screen Australia ranked it in within the top 10 highest box office grossing Australian films of all time with $21,685,344AUD.

“This year,” Weaving said, “looks really bleak.”

According to Box Office Mojo, the highest grossing film in the Australian box office of 2016 (so far) is Deadpool with a gross profit of $33,314,499USD. The closest any Australian film got to that was the American-Australian jointly funded Gods of Egypt with $1,871,004USD, sat at 31st in ranking of profit. Between those two movies is an assortment of films from anywhere but home – thrillers to children’s movies, critical acclaim to wide panning – but below them sits only five other Australian films. Australian film The Daughter is so far the only other domestic film to make over $1 million this year.

“I think it’s a structural issue,” Weaving said, “In America they make almost 2000 films a year, but only the top 10 per cent of those films will ever get a cinema release…In Australia we make about 60 films a year and half of them go to the cinemas.”

The problem lies with the often huge gap in budget between Australian and American films. American films can benefit from the multinational corporations behind their funding, often spending just as much on production as they do on advertising and publicity. Just think about all the ways in which Deadpool invaded everyday life. Are there any Australian films that have come close to that level of anticipation from viewers?

By contrast, films created for theatrical release within Australia are funded by the government under Screen Australia, which leaves the budget for films sometimes exceedingly smaller than that of their US counterparts. As theatrical releases become increasingly expensive with the domination of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, the problem becomes putting Australian film at the forefront of Australian culture.

“I do think people love going to the cinema and seeing things on the big screen, but filmmakers also love seeing the work on the big screen, and I think that’s a great place for festivals,” Weaving said.

Film festivals have become a place where alternate content and those special characteristics that make films uniquely Australian can have their time to shine. There are also digital means of distribution such as Netflix streaming, iTunes downloads and uploading short films to Vimeo or Youtube for all to see.

Despite this, there are doubts held by the people who try to break into the industry.

“I feel like if I want to work in the film industry I am going to have to move to America and try my luck there, because in Australia it’s just too hard to break into,” UON student and aspiring cinematographer, Allanna Wigley, said. Even though it is now easier to make films with cheaper equipment – even a smartphone – it does get increasingly harder to keep work in the industry.

“It’s all about sticking to your passions,” Wigley said, optimistic, “I would film here, I would try and get Australian actors, I would do all I could to put the Australian mark on that film,” she said in support of Australian film and all those involved.

If we go by statistics, the future of Australia’s film industry may just become reliant on the involvement of American money, or alternatively be restricted to an Australian director or producer at the helm of an otherwise American product. At the end of the day, it’s about recognising where our media comes from.

“Pay your subscription to your online service provider that’s going to be putting Australian films on, or go onto iTunes and search for Aussie films and pay for them that way,” Weaving said, believing in Australian film’s future on the Internet.

Maybe box office figures aren’t all that important, but the recognition of the hard work put into these productions by Australian people is almost certainly a main drive to ensure Australian people get to share Australian voices.

Feature Image: Jackie Brock.