Australian Feature Film Working Group founding members (L-R, top to bottom): Sue Maslin, Lori Flekser, Adrianne Pecotic, Antony I. Ginnane, Claire Gandy, Sasha Close, Holly Brimble, Gino Munari, and Marc Wooldridge.

In 2018, producer and distributor Sue Maslin posed some provocative questions regarding the future of Australian feature film.

Among them: Have we turned into a vanity publishing industry with little connection between creative ideas and audiences? If the old business models are broken, how can we work differently?

It kicked off introspection among industry, and sparked lively conversation at that year’s Prism, hosted by Screen Producers Australia (SPA), that gathered executives from federal and state screen agencies, producers, distributors and exhibitors.

Out of that event hatched a cross-industry working group who for the past three years have met regularly to strategise how to grow a local feature film sector that makes more commercially successful and culturally relevant films.

Among its founding members are Maslin; Independent Cinemas Australia CEO Adrianne Pecotic; producer Antony I. Ginnane; Event Cinemas general manager of content Claire Gandy; SPA director of policy Holly Brimble; Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA) executive director Lori Flekser; Maslow Entertainment MD Marc Wooldridge, and Brisbane International Film Festival program manager Sasha Close, working in consultation with advisor and consultant Gino Munari, ex-Village Cinemas COO.

Now, that group is launching a new event; the Australian Feature Film Summit.

The two stage event, to be held across October and February, aims to break down the silos between producers, distributor and exhibitors, and foster ideas as to how to work together differently to ensure theatrical success for Aussie features.

Broadly, exhibitors will be asked to share insights from the coalface, provide intel about what gets audiences through the door, and with distributors, offer insight into data that drives programming decisions. At the other end of the ‘supply chain’, producers will be invited to share with exhibitors what goes into the development and filmmaking process.

Stage one will be an online event taking place on October 22, providing an overview of the performance of Australian cinema in 2020/21 and survey the challenges and opportunities currently facing producers, distributors and exhibitors. It will be a prelude to the main event next year and invite all participants to identify common ground and new ideas on how to increase cinema audiences for Australian films.

Stage 2 will be an in-person conference event to be held on the final day of the Australian International Movie Convention (AIMC), February 11, 2022.

The event is arguably timely, not only because of the the shifts in the theatrical market that COVID-19 has accelerated. As IF has reported, this is already the second best year for Australian film on record, thanks to the performance of films such as The Dry, Peter Rabbit 2, Penguin Bloom, Mortal Kombat and High Ground, and the Producer Offset will be maintained at 40 per cent for theatrical features.

What lessons there are from the ‘summer of cinema’ – at one point four out of the five top titles at the box office were Australian – now US product has re-entered the market, will surely be on the agenda.

“Australian audiences have demonstrated their love affair with quality Australian films when given the opportunity to see them,” Maslin said.

“The past 12 months provided that opportunity. Australian movies have delivered a record-breaking box office performance in 2020/21 in the absence of Hollywood product. But the seismic industry changes in the past 12 months have meant that all of us – producers, distributors and exhibitors – need to look at new ways to do business, raise finance and grow audiences. On the back of restoring the 40 per cent Producer Offset, the time is right for us to come together and have a long overdue conversation about working together more strategically going forward.”

A full speaker program will be announced in due course.

Visit www.affsummit.com.au to register.

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