Mar 27, 2012

Screen Australia says no conflict over film funding

Screen Australia has defended its most recent feature film funding round against conflict of interest allegations after it bankrolled the projects of a Screen Australia director and an employee charged with assessing which scripts receive cash.

Andrew Crook — Former <em>Crikey</em> Senior Journalist

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

Screen Australia has defended its current feature film funding round against conflict-of-interest allegations after it bankrolled the projects of a Screen Australia director and an employee charged with assessing which scripts receive cash. In a list of funded feature films announced last week, the Commonwealth government agency shunted teenage love story Galore $720,000, alongside four other promising films including Tracks, The Babadook and Robert Connolly's The Turning. Galore's executive producer is Victoria Treole who, alongside colleague Matthew Dabner, is part of an industry committee that makes funding recommendations to Screen Australia's CEO. The hallowed Connolly is a Screen Australia director. A spokesperson for Screen Australia, Teri Calder, told Crikey that Tristram Miall and Joan Sauers replaced Treole and Dabner as industry specialists when it came time to assess the creative merits of Treole's project. Connolly's adaptation of the best-selling Tim Winton novel received more than $1 million. Under Screen Australia guidelines, that decision required board approval because of the amount granted. Connolly declared the conflict and was excluded from his fellow directors' deliberations. Another Connolly project, Paper Planes, also recently received funding from Screen Australia. Under the guidelines, feature films are assessed by a committee comprising industry specialists employed as part-time feature film consultants -- usually Treole and Dabner -- and Screen Australia executives. That recommendation is then passed on to CEO Ruth Harley or the Board. Calder told Crikey that "Screen Australia ... balances conflict of interest with the need to engage industry specialists. It does so with a comprehensive and transparent conflict-of-interest policy. In this fashion we have taken all the necessary and appropriate steps as conflict of interest matters and perception are very important to us." But Screen Producers Association of Australia CEO Geoff Brown said the conflicts of interest inside the small world of Australian film "had always been an issue". "From time to time practitioners from the industry will sit on the board. That should not necessarily disqualify them from funding. There are governance rules that require them not be in the room when the board is deciding or something," he explained. The recent funding round has also drawn criticism from industry insiders on comments threads announcing the successful projects. Calder said Connolly "was not involved at any stage of the decision making and absented himself from any discussion or consideration of the project". "We have a detailed and transparent conflict-of-interest policy that we adhere to rigorously which is available publicly on our website," she said. Calder said 20 features were eligible for funding but the majority were withdrawn and that SA "may well see them down the track". Galore producer Philippa Campey ruled out the conflict-of-interest suggestion, telling Crikey that Treole joined her project in 2009 -- well before her involvement with Screen Australia. "From our perspective Victoria has had nothing to do with the Screen Australia side of things," she said. She confirmed that the project received about  $720,000 from the body and that she would also be sourcing cash from other funding agencies such as Screen ACT. Last year, storied British crime writer Lynda La Plante lashed out at SA's funding rules, after her feature on the last woman hanged in Australia was viewed dimly by the "three idiots" on the production panel that included Dabner and Treole. Screen Australia is mulling changes to the system. In an interim SPAA submission to the revised draft Production Investment Guidelines for Feature Film, obtained by Crikey, the producer peak body slams a proposal for the two-person committee to be replaced with a single feature film consultant czar. "SPAA’s particular concern is with the external feature film consultant," the submission reads. "First, what are the qualifications of this external assessor? A script editor is not an appropriate person -- we believe it needs to be someone who understands the market and can assess a project, including script, but also including all the elements you list as relevant to the selection process." Brown also takes aim at the process to decide on investments of less than $1 million delegated to the CEO. "SPAA ... feels that the CEO's [less than] $1 million delegation for production investment decisions could be used more dynamically in the above circumstances, especially where timing is a critical factor for the project." He says SA "should consider forms of investment other than straight equity". Screen Australia has annual budget of about $100 million, of which $23 million is tipped into feature films. Funding is also available through a popular producer tax offset, the threshold of which was lowered in last year's budget from $1 million to $500,000. Correction: a sentence in a previous version of this story incorrectly substituted Bob Connolly for Robert Connolly. The copy has been amended.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

5 thoughts on “Screen Australia says no conflict over film funding

  1. CID

    Perhaps a stupid question, but why are we giving $23 million to people to make commercial films? Are they loans that they have to pay back should the film be profitable? Are DVD’s of worthy films sent to all schools for free? Besides propping up employment. where’s the benefit?

  2. c d

    Just another day at Screen Australia… or any government funded content creation area for that matter. More incestuous than the old boy network.

  3. roger

    You dope Andrew Crook. You know so little about the industry that you confuse Australia’s leading documentary filmmaker, Bob Connolly, with the narrative film director Robert Connolly. And the jokey headline about Rats in the Rank (now disappeared) is a reference to Bob’s work, not Robert’s. Bob Connolly had nothing to do with this story. Doh!
    The next time you follow up on a malicious leak, at least get your facts righ

  4. Andrew Crook

    Yeah, sorry Roger, got the two Connollys mixed up. Was a little too eager to insert an unrelated Albo reference and that’s how it went out in the email (I don’t write the headlines). Less sure about the “malicious leak” thing though — these are just the facts of the latest funding round. Anyway, amended above.

  5. susana.stock

    It was Leichhardt Council not Marrickville Council that was featured in Rats in the Ranks by the way.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details