Docs funding guidelines criticised

16 November, 2014 by Don Groves

Screen Australia has released the final guidelines for its new suite of documentary programs, sparking a wave of criticism that little has changed since the draft guidelines were published in September.

Australian Directors Guild executive director Kingston Anderson said, "We are very disapointed. This is a missed opportunity."


Simon Nasht told IF, "Documentary has been hit with a totally unjustifed cut of more than $2 million while feature film remains a protected species mired in failure."

Fellow filmmaker Tom Zubrycki said, "Of all the drafts Screen Australia has issued the initial ones issued back in June which recognised the changing nature of documentary production were far preferable to this comprised final version.

“It's very disappointing that the overall allocation for documentary has dropped by $1.1 million. Moreover this figure hides a far greater reduction because feature documentaries are no longer allowed to apply via the feature film production door and instead will be channelled through the new Producer Program.

“The new Producer Program also absorbs the Signature Fund which has now lost its distinct identity as a separate fund promoting innovative documentaries with a strong creative vision, which is a great shame.

“Signature documentaries now have to compete against feature docs and projects that have international finance. One of the positives, however, it’s that the Producer Fund will be open to low-budget programs which will benefit early career filmmakers. It will also benefit projects that have pre-sales from broadcasters that are below the figure required to trigger funds through the Broadcast Program.

"This applies for example to ABC Artscape documentaries or those commissioned by NITV. The expansion of "marketplace attachment" to include "cultural institutions… private investors or other partners”, however, is somewhat vague, and one would hope that includes philanthropic trusts, online distribution and film festivals. This is as yes uncertain and I would suppose that precedents would need to be set and each case forcefully argued. “

First application deadlines for the new programs are January 23 for development and January 30 for the Producer and Broadcast programs.

“The new guidelines respond to industry’s desire for both certainty and flexibility,” said Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason. "They maintain our strong partnerships with the broadcasters while giving producers opportunities to develop new funding models, reach audiences beyond television and drive more entrepreneurial deals.”

In the latest funding round the agency is investing $2.2 million in eight projects, triggering production worth $5.5 million. The beneficiaries are Cordell Jigsaw Productions, Mint Pictures, Smith & Nasht, Heiress Films, In Films, 360 Degree Films, Earthstar Productions and Northern Pictures.

Love & Marriage in Little India will follow three young people from Melbourne’s Little India searching for a marriage proposal in Australia, produced by 360 Degree Films’ Sally Ingleton and written and directed by Sean Cousins for SBS.

Cordell Jigsaw’s Michael Cordell, Toni Malone and Rick McPhee will examine the Australian education system in The Great Australian Education Experiment for the ABC.

I Can Change Your Mind About Recognition (working title) will look at two fierce individuals who travel the nation with opposing views about the referendum on Indigenous recognition, from writer/producer/director Simon Nasht and producer Ruth Cross for the ABC.

The hidden life of the reclusive Adass Israel community in Melbourne will be revealed in Australia’s Amish: The Secret World of Adass Israel, produced by Mint Pictures’ Dan Goldberg and directed by Danny Ben-Moshe for SBS.

Norfolk Island (working title) will profile the residents of Norfolk Island and the hardships they face, forcing them to reach out reluctantly to mainland Australia, produced by Heiress Films’ Jennifer Cummins and directed by Martin Taylor for SBS.

The four-part Salt Water Heroes for Discovery Australia will investigate the lives of fishermen and women and their disappearing way of life on the oceans surrounding Australia, produced by Northern Pictures’ Karina Holden, directed by Adam Geiger and written by Colette Beaudry.

Caged follows the trials and tribulations of several mixed martial arts fighters in Sydney’s Western suburbs, produced by In Films’ Nial Fulton and written and directed by Ivan O’Mahoney for SBS.

The follow-up to the On the Edge series, Over the Edge: Where Are They Now? will revisit eight Indigenous teenagers first introduced to audiences in 2009 on their journey of self-discovery.  Earthstar Productions’ Fran Dobbie will produce with writer/director Benjamin Rose for SBS/NITV.