Screen Australia yesterday announced that it will cease processing applications for the Producer Equity Program (PEP) for the remainder of the 2018-19 financial year, with funds for the program now exhausted.

PEP provides a direct payment of funds to producers of eligible low-budget documentaries, equal to 20 per cent of the approved budget. Unlike the Producer Offset, which is funded via the ATO, PEP comes from within the agency’s budget.

In late January, Screen Australia flagged that the $2.5 million base funding pool allocated for the PEP would likely run out before June, with demand on the program reaching an all-time high. As such, it increased the budget to $3 million.

It continued to accept applications up until March 29 based on the existing guidelines, and from April 1, introduced a series of interim clarifications around eligibility for the program.

However, the agency announced yesterday that applications for PEP are now in excess of $3.3 million. In a statement on its website it said “allowing a further 10 weeks of application processing to the end of June 2019 would have drastically impacted the funds available through the Producer, Commissioned and Development documentary programs.”

Screen Australia will honour all eligible PEP applications received up to and including April 16. Producers can continue to submit applications, which will begin being processed in July.

The interim qualifications to the program introduced April 1 will continue until December. These include of “an appropriate and realistic pathway to audience”; that the producer, writer and director/s of the documentary be Australian citizens or permanent residents; and evidence of appropriate cultural consideration, particularly on projects with Indigenous content/participation. PEP applicants will also no longer be eligible for other Screen Australia documentary production funding (including initiatives) and vice versa.

In March, more than 250 filmmakers co-signed an open letter calling for a “radical overhaul” of government policy to support the independent documentary sector. Among their various concerns were Screen Australia’s announced changes to PEP, with the filmmakers arguing they should be halted until there was extensive industry consultation.

Screen Australia will conduct a full review of its documentary programs later this year, for which it will seek industry submissions. Any permanent revisions to guidelines or programs are expected to be introduced in the first quarter of 2020.

“Screen Australia’s funds are finite, and unfortunately we simply don’t have the budget to meet the continued demand on the Producer Equity Program this financial year,” said Screen Australia head of documentary Bernadine Lim.

“We understand this 10-week pause on processing PEP applications is far from ideal, and it’s not something we want to have to repeat in 2019/20. As such in the review process we will be looking to industry to provide feedback in terms of whether PEP should have an annual or monthly cap to ensure continuity of funds, and how to best split the funds available to each documentary funding stream.”

“Low budget documentaries are an essential part of the sector and I encourage creators to take part in the review to help develop a sustainable funding model within Screen Australia’s available resources.”

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