Is a scandal brewing in Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s arts portfolio over the Pacific Film and Television Commission (PFTC), Queensland’s film funding body? It certainly appears that way, with senior executives being sent packing while the local industry rejoices.

Last month, long-serving CEO Robin James resigned in disgrace. James was being investigated for misconduct by the Commission’s board after allegedly flying his jazz-singing wife to the Cannes Film Festival without authorisation. The Australian‘s Michael McKenna reported he was “marched out” of his office by newly appointed Acting Chairman Jim Soorley, Brisbane’s former Labor Lord-Mayor.

James denied the allegations and tried to fight the investigation in Queensland’s Supreme Court, claiming that he had a letter from the PFTC’s then-Chairman Des Power which authorised the trip. But no sooner was his Supreme Court injunction lodged then it was promptly withdrawn; James resigned within the week “to pursue other projects.”

Was James the only PFTC executive rorting travel expenses? The intrigue deepened yesterday with the sudden departure of one of James’ most senior executives, production boss Henry Tefay, who has also resigned “to pursue his own projects.”

In a PFTC statement issued by email, Soorley wished Tefay “every success in his future endeavours,” but many are speculating on the real cause of his departure. Reports have also surfaced of a number of workplace bullying claims made by staff against co-workers and senior executives in the PFTC.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s tight-knit film-making community is celebrating Tefay and James’ demise. According to former PFTC officer and University of Queensland film lecturer Bruce Redman, “there’s dancing in the streets”. Redman has received texts from film industry friends from as far afield as South Africa and Europe.

“They’re saying ‘it’s safe to come home’,” he said in a phone interview.

The PFTC is notoriously unpopular in the Queensland screen industry. The Commission regularly intervened in creative decisions on projects it financed, sometimes even re-casting or re-editing short films. A 2006 survey of Australian film-makers by industry website Screen Hub found widespread discontent with the Queensland funding body; according to Screen Hub‘s Alex Prior, “an astonishing 81% of respondents to the original Screen Hub survey believed the PFTC decision-making process was unfair, with one comment calling Queensland ‘Mordor for filmmakers’.”

The survey led to a damning independent audit of the Commission in 2007 (which the PFTC sat on for six months before it was leaked) which labelled the PFTC “interventionist, overbearing and obstructive.” Redman agrees. “There’s contempt for local film-makers,” he told Crikey. “There’s no trust or empowerment, and all control.”

Crikey contacted the PFTC and the office of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh for comment. A spokesperson for the Premier said “the misconduct allegations against Robin James are a matter of public record. The Premier is not aware of any further misconduct allegations against any other staff members at PFTC.”

Peter Fray

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