Saturday, June 25, 2022

New Platform Paper No 3


Nobody Talks About Australianness on our Screens by Sandy George.  

New Platform Papers No 3, June 2022: Currency House, Sydney.  Edited by Julian Meyrick.
Media Contact: Martin Portus, Phone 0401 360 806,

Reviewed by Frank McKone

"The simple act of watching film and television equates to very big business for some……My argument is about something much more important than financial value. It is about how only Australian film and television delivers local cultural value to local audiences, about why less drama is available, why it is harder to find, why there is uncertainty about its future and why some of it feels a lot less Australian……and there is evidence everywhere of economic value taking priority over cultural value––a folly, given cultural significance is the predominant reason the industry gets public funding."

So Sandy George’s central question is How can more and better film and TV with (on-screen) Australianness at its heart be made and seen?  It’s not for her just a practical and economic problem, despite her longstanding experience in “the business that sits behind film and television” where “the menu [is] offered to audiences and how each dish on that menu appears on the plate.”

“Stop pretending everything is OK,” she yells. “Depending on economics to deliver cultural value is arse about.”

Determined so furiously to have the right thing done, who is this Antigone yelling at?  

Not the recently dead king, her father, Oedipus (Scott Morrison); but his incestuous brother-in-law Creon (Anthony Albanese) who’s just taken over.  But surely it will all turn out OK if she marries Creon’s son, her cousin Haemon (Tony Burke), won’t it?

I feel a Baz Luhrmann coming on.  He’s done Elvis a treat, so I hear.  Will my pitch make it on Netflix?  Will it be made in a Melbourne, Sydney or Gold Coast studio by all our expert Aussie techs, with American money?  Will that mean it can be called an Australian production and attract the Producer’s 40% Offset?  Will Screen Australia buy-in?

Before reading New Platform Paper No 3, this was all Greek to me.  Now I know much more about FTA TV and SVODs and the way the viewing world is changing, for screens at home and in cinemas, as the younger generation is not just watching video-on-demand but creating work on TikTok and other platforms, ready for streaming services to distribute.  

Now available at the Paper is essential reading for anyone seeking to create work or perform in any version of the drama world.  Sandy George is an insider with self-awareness in the production process across the sector, providing real-life examples which explain why we must be concerned about maintaining our culture, how it may evolve, and how Australianness is being and will be perceived – by ourselves and by people around the world.

Importantly, she is not just crying out like Antigone.  Nor will she suggest such direct action, as Antigone did in burying her brother, which inevitably led to her death.  She writes, with statistical backup, of Australians’ love for Australian content and our recognition of what makes the grade as having Australianness.

George has many practical action suggestions on different aspects of government arrangements and funding, for the new Federal Government, State Governments, and even at local levels – which I trust Tony Burke as both the previous Shadow Arts and now the fully-fledged Arts Minister will take to heart.  

She writes, for example: We need to cultivate that love and encourage it to be shared. The enthusiastic can be given resources to run book-club-style events that would elevate attention at the time of a production’s release. If done right, the impact could be phenomenal. Fostering a community of supporters would help keep some local cinemas open on the back of Australian films, and could even lead to the establishment of a lottery that funds production initiatives designed to involve the public.
To have the Minister open his Arts Policy Launch, in St Kilda, Melbourne, in this way, is enormously encouraging:

“Very few drivers realise they are accelerating past the oldest living thing in Melbourne.

The Bunurong Corroboree Tree, or 'Ngargee' Tree.  An ancient red gum thought to be between 300 and 500 years old.  With leaves still soaking in energy and roots deep, deep into the land of the Kulin nation.

That the tree belongs in place and on country - matters.
That it lives - matters.
That it grows - matters.

It has stood guard over every change, every ceremony, every battle, every conversation of pain or love, that has occurred beneath its boughs, and within its sight. It has stayed, flourished, and grown.

Stories can be universal. Emotions, and ideas can ricochet around the globe. But everything starts with place. Every story, work of art, movement, harmony or discord starts in a place.

And that’s why I want to talk today about cultural policy.

Because creativity that comes from this land isn’t important simply based on whether the rest of the world takes notice.

It isn’t important simply because of its commercial value, although the economic contribution of our creatives is immense.

To Australians, our creativity should matter simply because it’s ours. It happens here. Its roots drive deep into our home. Our stories matter because they are ours. And I am determined to shine a spotlight on our artwork, have our poetry spoken, our literature read, to fill the stalls and dress circles of our theatres, see the names of Australian creatives as the credits roll on screen, and crank up the volume to 11 for our music.”

Perhaps a modern Creon’s son will form a true relationship with Oedipus’s daughter, and change the ending of Sophocles’ play of present and future doom.  I, the old blind prophet Teiresias, need no longer warn of horrific omens from the gods, but hope for a perfect marriage for Sandy George and Tony Burke.  With Prime Minister Albanese's blessing.

Sandy George
Photo supplied