Doco to examine performance of Australian films Down Under

Three years ago Courtney Dawson had a question she couldn’t answer. Why aren’t Australians watching Australian films?

It was this query that threw the 25-year-old into research frenzy, the outcome of which is 60-minute documentary Advance Australian Film.

“I guess once I started looking into it and researching it all, the figures of how Australian films do fare at the box office got me wondering even more,” she tells IF. “So when I looked at the last Australian film to hit number one at the box office for the year, it was Strictly Ballroom, which was 21 years ago. That’s such a long time ago – it got me thinking, 'why has it been so long?'

“And looking at the yearly box office figures, Australian films grossed under five per cent pretty much year for over ten years. I just think those numbers are so small, it’s such a small percentage, and obviously we don’t make nearly as many films as America does, but I think we really should be supporting our films more than we do. So that’s what really got me wanting to investigate it more.”

Dawson has taken her query to a number of industry experts for their input; including David Stratton, Kriv Stenders, Emile Sherman and red carpet interviews with Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton and Hugh Jackman.

“Russell Crowe was sort of saying that the industry is cyclical so we definitely to go through phases. There are times when Australian films do [perform] really really well, and I think he was talking about the 90’s with Priscilla and Muriel’s Wedding, and those films that really did connect with audiences,” says Dawson. “It may have dropped off a little since but there are new innovative directors coming forth like Justin Kurzel who directed Snowtown and now has obviously gone off to America where he’s directing the new Macbeth movie.

“But that’s the other thing, like Justin Kurzel, he has left Australia, and that’s something else I look at – how we keep on losing our talent to Hollywood because that is continually happening.

“Obviously filmmakers need to take the next step of their career and it’s hard to make a film here but it’s such a shame it keeps on happening, and not only just with directors, with actors and DOP’s and everyone else.”

Dawson also takes into account recent developments in the industry, such as crowd funding and the emergence of VOD platforms, and how these could impact Australian filmmaking in the future. 

"I spoke to some people and a lot of them were saying ‘we cannot blame the distributors and exhibitors because this is show business and they are running a company or a business just like everyone else is. Why should they risk their money on a filmmakers dream?’” she says. “I guess that’s were new platforms like VOD are really opening that window up and hopefully that will catch on and we’ll be able to earn revenue from that platform later."

Advance Australian Film will have its world premiere at the Byron Bay International Film Festival on March 1.

It will also screen in Sydney as part of the WOW (World of Women) Festival on Friday the 7th of March and Saturday the 15th of March at the Powerhouse Museum.

View the trailer below, or visit the website:

  1. That’s an easy one to answer: because we rarely make films in this country. Most of what passes for “films” are actually scaled-up TV shows. Question – when was the last time you saw an Oz movie or its trailer that didn’t look like an extended episode of Home & Away? Movie-goers will not pay money to watch something at the cinema that they can watch for free at home on TV. And another thing – even when we do make a movie, nine out of ten have exactly the same plot. No, that’s not an exaggeration. Our funding bodies are obsessed with social realism, aka the kitchen sink melodrama, which means that most of our movies have a plot that involves someone sleeping with someone’s sister, then everybody shouting at each other in the kitchen for the entire second act. And then in the third act someone dies from a heroin overdose. Don’t laugh – these plots are so prevalent in Oz movies that we have become desensitized to them. And the punters just don’t bother watching because they’ve seen it all before. You can’t blame them.

  2. Why aren’t Australian’s engaging with Australian films?
    More people are learning the joy of reading. Watching a movie about a book is often a poor substitute for the real deal – the book itself. The old saying “Read the book before Hollywood (or others) ruins it” still abides.
    I speak as a novelist and screenwriter.
    A greater level of literacy can only improve screenwriting. Having said that I believe the best Australian films are yet to be made. And the best scripts may never be discovered.
    Graeme Bond Birdsong Press WA

  3. I think the problem is the question. It isn’t the Olympics where the country’s identity makes a difference. Other than France or Italy where language is an issue we comprise only about 3% of the English language in Australia so really we shouldn’t be concerned with the “Australian-made” logo. Our task is to make good entertaining products that have commercial appeal if filmmakers are to be sustainable.

    If your film costs $10 and makes $11 it’s commercial. Commercial is not a bad thing it’s a GOOD thing. There has been (far less now) a culture of ‘he or she is a sell-out’ if their film is successful which is stinking-thinking.

    Where it’s a milk bar, a taco truck, a car wash (other than A1A) the point is to reach people and return investment or exceed costs.

    I don’t care whether the film is from Australia, Canada, Alabama or Hollywood I go see a film because I want to see ‘a film’. I don’t go to Coles or Woolies seeking out Australian products. I don’t seek out clothing made in Australia and looking for cars made here will now be made much easier by 2017.

    I do want as much PRODUCTION in Australia and for over a decade I have preached and been convinced that by 2020 we can and will be the new ‘Hollywood’ for the better part of English-speaking production regardless of the dollar exchange.

    So if the question is why aren’t we seeing ‘Australian films…” the question should actually be ‘why aren’t we seeing more films created or produced” in Australia…

    And that is a whole different set of answers.

    Let go of this prehistoric xenophobic “us vs them” and “our (blank)” rhetoric and look towards the light beyond the projector to revisit why we make films, and the massive advantages we have her to do so (internationally) and not be so concerned who makes them.

    That having been said, I’ll be see Ms. Dawson’s doco because it looks interesting and entertaining—not because she’s Australian…

  4. It is the patronising attitude the safe middle-class film-maker bureaucrats have which stifles any new ideas and styles.

    Within the first few frames of many Australian funded films it can be embarrassing for the predictable way we are usually hammed up. Quite often we try to stereotype ourselves through US eyes in some vain attempt to sell into the North American market. Many funded productions seem to be made by the same tiny pool of incestuous creative managers. This results in the sad insecure and amateurish attempts to please outsiders.

    We have many engaging misadventures we like to hear about but they are inaccessible to the film agencies.

    First Australians seem to be a bit luckier as they are not so encumbered by the legacy bureaucrats, yet, and have been the shining example of film making recently.

    It probably starts with our insular and insecure approach to literature in schools that makes us so creatively monosyllabic. Just one bow to play. GH

  5. Going to the movies is expensive. The difference between a multiplex and a DVD or Blu Ray is not as great as Film Vs VHS.
    Most Australian films get limited releases so most Australians can’t see them easily. Then of course there is the real reason… they aren’t really all that good. Or at least the marketing doesn’t make them seem that good. Wolf Creek has a proper marketing spend, it’s a genre film, people know what they are getting. Save Your Legs? Vomit and Poo gags in the trailer. What were they thinking? I can’t name an Australian film released this year. Have there been any?

  6. I have always supported and enjoyed Australian films. But we are bombarded by American rubbish and that is what people are so used to seeing. Also, people do not go to see films to ‘think’ but to be ‘entertained’ for a few more minutes of their unfortunate lives! Those in the know go to see films from any other country than America. Even Bollywood offers at least new dance steps! Younger people cannot concentrate to LISTEN and WATCH for more than a few seconds. The instant nonsense of modern gadgetry has put to rest a population who are capable of being able to understand what a quality film is all about.

  7. I agree with the sentiments of Billy- movies in this country are WAY TOO COSTLY
    on the weekend it cost me $23 to see Lone Survivor.
    theres no way i’d pay that to see something like Em for Jay , Hey Hey its Esther Blueberger Cate Blancjett pretending to be a junkie etc that the screen bodies deem worthy of funding
    bring back thrills and spills in the Oz industry that plays well overseas

  8. I disagree Brenton. By “American rubbish” what you’re saying is that the commercially viable films that the USA produce are because the production teams and writing teams there drive what most people WANT to see. Whether it’s quality or rubbish isn’t the point—it’s what the key demographic will pay to see.

    McDonald’s is rubbish… but it’s rubbish we love worldwide. Vegemite doesn’t sell outside of our shores but we’re obsessed with wanting the whole world to want Vegemite.

    The world doesn’t want it.. okay? The world wants entertaining and provocative and well-made films. It doesn’t care whether they’re made in Ukraine or Somalia or Moe (not that there’s a huge difference…:)

    But it wants them to LOOK good, SOUND hot, and take us into a different world for a couple hours.

    And if someone here is exuberantly passionate about making a film about a one-legged transgender Maori fly fisherman from Tasmania with a pet endangered owl that speaks Farsi and is a Member for the Greens… then don’t expect big P & A or a big budget or a big audience.

    Then again….

  9. Hey Bobby G – if you made the one-legged transgendered Maori fly fisherman a heroin addict then you’d get instant funding. Funding bodies like edgy material with Great Social Relevance. Gives it that gritty Social Realist feeling which Australian audiences just can’t get enough of.

    Don’t forget to add a lesbian shower scene featuring a fully-clothed Natalie Bassingthwaighte…LOL

  10. I’ll consider your advice Jim if I ever go the government funding route, and certainly giving your production design and wardrobe advice great consideration 🙂

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