Year

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication

Abstract

Since the introduction of public assistance to the Australian film industry in 1970, Australian governments have employed a variety of policy mechanisms to help build local production capacity and to ensure that Australian viewers would have access to films telling Australian stories. Such policies have been heavily critiqued for failing to meet either commercial or cultural objectives, resulting in films that are unsuccessful at the box office or that fail to resonate with Australian audiences, and for creating a welfare-dependant industry. Despite extensive criticism, there is little consensus as to why policy mechanisms might be failing.

This thesis explores the Australian film policy problem from a new angle. It is argued that Government Reviews and scholarship based on published or previously aggregated data are an inadequate means to understand the discrepancy between policy objectives and outcomes. The study instead aimed to understand how film policies are interpreted and implemented on the ground by filmmakers and public agencies. The study focused on a specific policy instrument, the Australian Official Co-production Program and examined seven films funded by the French-Australian co-production agreement between 1986 and 2006. Analysis drew on the voluminous files for each of the films held in the archives of the Centre National du Cinema et de l'Image Animee, which provided a rich and detailed picture of how the coproduction program worked in practice.

Key findings to emerge were: that policy was implemented in an opaque and inconsistent manner. The policy criteria were subject to evasion, circumvention and negotiation by a range of stakeholders normally considered external to the policy apparatus. This was known and tolerated by public agencies because it permitted the attainment of other unstated objectives. Second, the policy instruments had a tangible and often detrimental impact on the content of the film and the creative process, which were significantly reshaped to fit bureaucratic funding criteria. The findings of this thesis complicates in productive ways the conventional narratives of the film policy problem and contribute to arguments to rethink the framework of cultural nationalism underpinning government assistance to the Australian film industry.

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