Many of the issues surrounding the ever-beleaguered state of the Australian film industry are encapsulated in Into the Shadows, a dense, compelling and cheaply produced documentary from debut writer/ director Anthony Scarano. Essentially a compilation of talking heads, Scarano collaborates an impressive cross-section of viewpoints from exhibitors, distributors, actors, writers, directors and other industry folk keen to chip in their two bob. The film canvasses a broad array of issues but narrows the debate by focusing particularly on the decline of independent cinemas in Australia, discussing the closure of venues such as the Lumiere in Melbourne, the Valhalla in Sydney and Electric Shadows in Canberra, in the context of the rise of multiplex giants such as Village and Hoyts.
Film aficionados will be alternating between nodding their heads in approval and shaking them in dismay at some of the anecdotes and analyses on offer. Memorable moments include one wag’s description of the session time screens at multiplex cinemas – “the airline indicator board,” as he sardonically puts it – and the weary words of Kenny director Clayton Jacobson, who explains that even though his film was cheaply made and was a huge player at the box office (generating more than $5 million) the experience nonetheless left him $250,000 in debt. That’s as good a summary as any of the perilous playing field local filmmakers inhabit.
Into the Shadows offers no clear-cut solutions, of course, but Scarano provides a good whack of optimism, seeing hope for the future partly by reflecting on stalwarts of the past who fought tooth and nail for venues to screen their films. Crucially, Scarano keeps a brisk pace and if in doubt simply moves on to the next interviewee. Into the Shadows is probably only for film appreciators, but for those interested in the business side of cinema-going in Australia it deserves to be considered required viewing.
Into the Shadows’ Australian theatrical release date: October 22, 2009.