Screen Australia says the value of documentary production hit a record high last financial year, underpinned by a greater number of more expensive series.

Screen Australia chief executive Ruth Harley told the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) this week that 430 hours of Australian documentary projects were made in 2010-11, totalling $133 million of expenditure, which was above the $118 million five-year average.

“What we can clearly see is that the Producer Offset has been effective in buoying the industry and driving growth in the documentary sector," she said.

"Prior to the introduction of the Producer Offset in 2007, the annual five-year average for documentary production was $77 million and now we’re almost doubling that figure. The record budget level driven by more hours of high-production value series of programs above $250,000 per hour shows that the Offset is also driving an increase in premium content.”

Harley attributed the strong performance of the sector to popular documentaries such as Mrs Carey's Concert, which was watched by more than 1 million people across all platforms; Go Back to Where You Came From, which was SBS's highest rating program for 2011; and the Wide Open Road series, which had over 1 million viewers per episode. Documentaries also did well on the festival circuit, including The Tall Man (Toronto), Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Sundance) and Mad as Hell: the Peter Finch Story (Busan).

"Through our documentary production programs, Screen Australia provided $17 million in production finance, which leveraged $54 million in production spend." (More about Harley's speech can be found here.)

Arts minister Simon Crean said: "We are proud to support the Australian screen industry because it is a sensational medium for telling our story, our way. It’s an investment governments must get behind. The enhancements to the Producer Offset, announced in the 2011-12 Federal Budget, will go even further in supporting low budget documentaries, providing $11 million over four years in direct support through Screen Australia’s Producer Equity Program."

Screen Australia also announced that it would again be working with the ABC on the Opening Shot program – five compelling half-hour documentaries by emerging documentary makers that will be shown on ABC2.

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