Sue Milliken calls for screen funding shake-up
After 50 years in the film industry, producer Sue Milliken is convinced the current funding structure of government investment and the producer tax offset isn't working.
Milliken regards the formation of Screen Australia as a wasted opportunity to revitalise the industry and she questions the value of the Australian Film Institute/ Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA).
She outlines her vision for a more efficient and better targeted funding system in her new book, Selective Memory: A Life in Film.
The tome is primarily an insightful and colourful memoir of a producer who served her apprenticeship at the ABC in the 1960s on Skippy and worked with the legendary TV producer Hector Crawford before embarking on films including The Odd Angry Shot, The Fringe Dwellers, Black Robe, Sirens, Dating the Enemy and Paradise Road, and serving as a completion guarantor.
Like many in the industry, she hoped the amalgamation of the operations of the Film Finance Corporation and the Australian Film Commission into Screen Australia combined with the introduction of the producer tax offset would usher in a new era.
"Unfortunately, the transition fell between the outgoing and incoming governments, and the new organisation, Screen Australia, retains many of the problems of the old organisations," she writes. "It was a disappointing waste of a rare opportunity to revitalise subsidy to the film industry. The tax offset has many benefits but it is cumbersome and complicated. I can't help wondering if direct subsidy and simplified administration might not give as good or better a result while directing more of the taxpayer funds where they should go- onto the screen."
Milliken told IF, "While I am a supporter of offshore productions in Australia and of incentives to bring them here, in principle I feel that government subsidy should be prioritised to the expression of Australian culture, and there should be less bureaucratic judgement by the federal funding agency on producers and directors with a track record. While this does apply to Screen Australia's Enterprise companies, there are many film makers who are not included in this incentive.
"If a way could be devised to subsidise development through the tax system rather than through the gauntlet of the bureaucracies, there might be more successful films."
The producer was not a supporter of the Australian Film Institute when she was chairman of the AFC in the 1990s. She wanted to close down the AFI but was thwarted by the institute's board.
"Eventually, we instituted reforms which made the organisation more efficient, but not much more effective. And so it continues to lurch along. It is a dinosaur left over from the sixties and seventies, and should have been dealt with in the major shakeup of federal funding agencies in 2008," she writes.
"It has recently sought to reinvent itself with the establishment of the AACTAs- a new and silly name for the AFI Awards– but I don't see a lot to justify its continuing existence."
Asked to nominate the films she's most proud of, she cites Bruce Beresford's Paradise Road, the 1997 saga of a group of English, American, Dutch and Australian women who were imprisoned by the Japanese in Sumatra during WW2, starring Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Pauline Collins, Julianna Margulies and Cate Blanchett.
"It's about heroism and a group of women in an appalling situation," she said. She also singles out The Odd Angry Shot, Tom Jeffrey's 1979 drama about Australian soldiers in Vietnam, starring Graham Kennedy, John Hargreaves, John Jarratt and Bryan Brown.