Are things looking up for Queensland’s troubled Pacific Film and Television Commission?

Like the upheavals in the broader Australian film industry, the PFTC has had a turbulent recent history. As we reported in Crikey earlier this year, the commission recently let go of its CEO Robin James and senior production executive Henry Tefay in controversial circumstances.

James was “marched out” of his office by former Brisbane lord mayor and PFTC chairman Jim Soorley, while Tefay quit to pursue other projects.

The new CEO, Maureen Barron, was appointed in June. It soon emerged that she had an executive producer credit on the film In Her Skin, which the PFTC had previously loaned more than $2 million in production funds. But when the producers of In Her Skin, Liberty Films, missed their deadline for repayment, the PFTC started legal action to recover the money — placing the commission in the unusual position of suing the last project of their new CEO.

Then in October, this advertisement appeared on the PFTC website and at Screen Hub. Asking for new script assessors, it also stipulated that “applicants must not be a resident of or professionally based in Queensland.”

This raised a few eyebrows in the industry, to say the least, suggesting to some a rather lukewarm confidence in the local sector by the state’s key government funding body. Surely the PFTC could find someone in the great state of Queensland who would be able to assess scripts?

But perhaps things are finally improving at the troubled PFTC. In the bad old years under James, for example after the notorious 2006 Screen Hub industry survey about Australia’s film funding bodies, a media request to the commission often saw the PFTC turn hostile, bunkering down against the inevitable storm of industry possible criticism.

In contrast, when Crikey contacted the PFTC to inquire about the advertisement, we received a surprisingly prompt and straightforward response. According to the commission’s spokesman, “the PFTC use a mix of local, interstate and international assessors and the aim of the ad was to increase and refresh our pool of assessors”.

“We already have an extensive list of local assessors and want to make sure that we are on top of the available expertise outside of the state. Queensland assessors will still be used where we believe we have the right person available.” So there you go.

Crikey also asked the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission about the ad, who informed us that “the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 does not cover geographic location in regard to the work area so this advertisement is not covered by the current Act.”

It’s been a tough few months for Premier and Arts Minister Anna Bligh but at least this part of her portfolio is looking healthier. There is an industry forum to discuss the PFTC’s new funding programs on October 23 and the commission is seeking industry feedback about the new grants. In the past, industry feedback tended to be cherry-picked from a small group of PFTC supporters.

Industry insiders are cautiously optimistic. Veteran producer and University of Queensland industry consultant Bruce Redman told Crikey that the PFTC has “turned the corner” with the appointment of Barron and new production manager Meredith Garlick.

“Maureen has the runs on the board but she also is very open to Queensland filmmakers,” Redman said, adding that “she’s breath of fresh air as CEO.” Time will tell if the fresh start continues, but for now at least it seems genuine.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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