Margaret Pomeranz Is Making A Lot Of Sense Right Now

Speaking at the SPAA (Screen Producers Association Australia) conference in Sydney yesterday, film critic Margaret Pomeranz, one of half of Australia’s most iconic and beloved film critic team, voiced her concerns for the future stability of the Australian film industry. We’ve read the full transcript (here, via Encore) and from the need for Government initiatives that keep local talent in Australia to our repressed attitude toward sex and intimacy – Pomeranz is making a whole lot of sense. Below, our top ten takeaways from Pomeranz’s insightful and impassioned address to the Producers of Australia.

On Arts vs. Sport and the uneven distribution of Government funding (that old chestnut). “Looking with awe our 177 medal total at the recent Commonwealth Games. We trumped England with a population in excess of 60 million. We trumped India with 1 billion population. It’s an indication of how much money this country is prepared to fork out to back winners. But how much money goes into creating that degree of success with our top artists? Our top filmmakers? Just as a current reference, the Federal Government is investing an extra $195 million in elite athletes in the run-up to the London Olympics. Gee, our top filmmakers should be so lucky.”

On the instances when parochialism is a good thing. “The most important element of our television is the work that is produced here, by us, about us, reflecting our values, our foibles, our weaknesses, our history. Australian television drama is fundamental to our culture. And it’s a fragile creature. It doesn’t happen because of free market money, it happens because of government regulation and funding support. Those regulations and that funding support are vital.”

On the difficulty of being an Australian filmmaker. “The feature film industry in this country is, in the vernacular, a ‘mug’s game’. As a director it’s a ‘mug’s game’. If you are passionate about your project then you sacrifice everything to get it up, to get it made. We cannot expect our top filmmakers to exist on one film every five years.”

On nurturing/keeping local talent in Australia. “I have an idea. Up to four successful filmmakers a year – and maybe there will be only one – are given $100,000 to develop their next project with a guarantee that there will be government funding of at least $2 million. You have to give them a head start, you have to give them a reason to stay here. What is David Michod going to do next? Animal Kingdom will take a large chunk out of his year as he promotes it around the world. I think we ought to encourage a talent like that to stay here, make his next film here, give him a major incentive to hone his skills in this country. We have to commit to rewarding success, investing in our talent, just like we do with sportspeople.”

On the importance of public service broadcasters. The BBC and Channel 4 have been the backbone of British film production…The fact that the ABC has been absent from feature film production has been a problem and it’s one not faced in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. It’s great to see that situation changing.

On the faults of Australian screenwriting. We inherited all that stuff from England about stiff upper lips and not showing emotions but we didn’t inherit the Oxbridge fraternity of exalting the written word. How many of Britain’s top writers, comics come from that tradition. The point that I have tried to make at many a dinner party and often been asked to defend is that we Australians and those Canadians have a hard time accessing the emotional core of our cinema.

On our attitudes toward sex. And I don’t think Australian films deal with sex or intimacy very well either…How many great sex scenes can you think of in Australian movies. I can’t think of many. As a matter of fact I can’t think of any? How many great loving relationships? Not many? It’s as if we’re frightened of exposing ourselves on screen, that rawness of emotion. We’re shy about delving into true emotion, we’re shy about celebrating our heroes, we’re embarrassed about exposing anything. I blame the Brits. We got all their uptightness with very little of their daring literary culture.

On the redemptive power of cinema. “[Samson and Delilah writer/director] Warwick Thornton trusted us, he believed in us. This is indigenous Australia trusting us to get what they’re on about. How important is that in our development as a nation? How cinema about our aboriginal people has established its place in our consciousness. How important an art form for reconciliation it is.”

On the need for a non-fiscal definition of “success”. “So much of our investment in film is skewed it seems to me. It’s about a business model, about the market, it’s not about the talent. Even the word investment has connotations. It implies a monetary return for a cash outlay. We ought to be thinking in much broader terms about return. We ought to be thinking about the cultural nourishment of investing in talent.”

On Australian screenwriters again. “Someone said to me recently writers in the United States are treated badly and paid well, in Britain they’re paid well and treated well and here they’re paid badly and treated badly.”

On the optimism she holds for the future. “Whatever happens I know the film and television industry in this country will survive. Since we began The Movie Show way back in 1986 there has been an explosion of interest in film culture, in short film festivals, in independent feature production. There’s a growing confidence in what we can achieve. It’s going to happen one way or another so that I know my grandchildren – if ever my children decide to breed – will be able to see their culture, their language, their actors, landscapes up there on the big screen and small so they can have discourse about their country and the issues that it faces, the personal issues, the political issues and the funny ones. I’m an optimist, I believe in our talent, I believe in our ability to regenerate despite setbacks.”