When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called together the nation’s leading thinkers to the Australia 2020 Summit and included the arts as one of its ten focus areas, the film industry didn’t hold its breath. It had its own worries to think about as changes shook the film production landscape with the new Offset and the announcement of the formation of Screen Australia.

However, after the complete list of creative representatives was made last week, confusion turned into optimism that this was the industry’s opportunity to refresh itself with a new vision.

‘I’m going into this summit very optimistically because group forums (such as the Summit) are a very healthy thing,’ says industry veteran producer Hal McElroy.

In the light of his participation at the Summit, McElroy points out that this form of exchange has not been held before among industry players. ‘The industry doesn’t sit down often enough to create dialogue. Even as chair for the Screen Council in 2004, I’ve seen that there is a shortage of meetings and forums to articulate dilemmas and all the issues it faces.’

When asked why, he says, ‘I interpret this by saying it is the fear of change, the fear of loss of control. There seems to be a level of ego that comes with certain positions of power that keeps them from viewing things on a broader context. This Summit obliges people to be less selfish and say, “let’s solve this problem”.’

Problem solving might just happen, given the timeliness of the Summit amongst industry overhaul, says producer Robert Connolly, who published his own 10-point proposal in February entitled ‘Embracing Innovation: a new methodology for feature film production in Australia‘ (see also ‘White paper wake up call’, Inside Film #108 April, 2008).

‘The fact that the Rudd Government has included the Arts in the Summit means that the issues our industry faces are worth exploring. And I will be presenting this paper there,’ Connolly says.

It is hoped that the AFTRS commissioned white paper focusing on business sustainability that was initially relevant to the formation of Screen Australia and the new Producer Offset will duly gain prominent attention by the Rudd Government and be debated openly by other industry players.

While Connolly and McElroy are optimistic, Handshake Media’s Rachel Dixon has only modest expectations of the Summit.

‘The Summit is less than two days in duration. I don’t think that’s very much to get the 100 people involved together. I don’t think the conference itself will come out with many grand statements because I think, in the film industry, there’s a considerable difference of opinion about whether or not the people believe the government is a solution to the industry’s problems. Or that the industry is a solution to industry’s problems.

‘Despite that, I think there are a couple of good things that will come out of it. The section on creative has also something to do with skills and innovation. And with people like Sandra Levy, James Strong from the Australia Council, Terry Cutler who’s currently doing the national innovations network and people from the academic sphere participating, there’s quite a lot we can do in changing education, particularly in relation to the creative industry.’

In particular, Dixon will present the idea of collecting the cultural output of Australia in a digital age – ‘a virtual museum of the moving image online.’

On whether he thought two days was too short, writer Geoffrey Atherden (Grass Roots, Mother and Son) would beg to differ. ‘With good management, we can get to the core ideas. The Summit is more of a bigger picture exercise. Two days is plenty in order to identify those ideas.’

One of Atherden’s ideas is to get more respect for writers in the industry, particularly in film.

‘People tend to remember the director, even if they weren’t the ones responsible for creating the stories,’ he says. ‘With Lars and the Real Girl, I’m sure director Craig [Gillespie] didn’t think up the idea of a guy’s relationship with a doll. It was definitely the writer’s [Nancy Oliver’s] involvement. In Australia last year, more than two thirds of the films made were written by directors. Whereas in the US, only a quarter is written by directors. This is an indication of the degree of respect they have for the writer there.’

Atherden believes that the Summit will help the industry get stimulated into thinking about the future. ‘What will come out of it is more than just a government initiative. People are going to take those ideas back and actually start doing things.’

The Australia 2020 Summit will be held the Australian parliament’s Great Hall, in Canberra on April 19 and 20. Cate Blanchett, who was part of the steering committee responsible for the selection of the 100 creative participants, will chair ‘Towards a Creative Australia’.

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