‘It’s not bad, for an Aussie film’. How many times have we heard this? Or a disclaimer from a filmmaker, ‘just remember, we didn’t have the budget or the shooting days we wanted.’ As Australians, why do we have a different measuring stick when comparing our own work to international content?
The fact is, many of us feel like we don’t belong on the international stage, suffering from imposter syndrome. We feel like frauds. Is this a remnant of our diminishing isolation as a distant island nation? Or due to our tall poppy syndrome? Is it because we innately support the underdog, that we want to be that underdog? Or is it due to how Australian films are (or aren’t) marketed to ourselves?
Whatever the cause, it seems that we don’t value Australian films the same way we do international films. It takes a lot more to convince someone to watch Australian content than the latest hit on Netflix. It’s ingrained in our culture. We feel our work is second rate, inferior, lesser than, ‘not bad for a low-budget’.
While we can be proud of our work, it’s also important to acknowledge that our films struggle financially. In a 2017 analysis by Screen Australia, it reviewed the financial success of 94 feature films that it had invested in. Perhaps the most startling finding was that ‘not one of the 94 films had returned all its production costs and gone into profit’.
We know that our government bodies are not investing in films purely for financial gains, but the fact that not a single film had made a profit is startling. It goes on to say, ‘the average percentage recoupment of the top 10 financial performers was nearly 60 percent as of 14 March 2017. The average across all 94 films in the sample was just 16 per cent’.
But let’s not confuse financial success with artistic value. It’s not all doom and gloom. And it shouldn’t be. We know our cast and crews are well respected internationally, and often they are lost overseas, never to return to our domestic film industry. Every year it feels like we are seeing more and more new Aussies nominated for (and winning) awards internationally, such as All These Creatures winning the Palme d’Or Short film at Cannes last year.
It’s not just our filmmakers that we should be proud of. It’s the films themselves, from gritty crime stories to imaginative genre movies and timely documentaries. We have many excellent films that we should be proud of and encouraging each other to see. From the last couple of years alone, we have the edge-of-your-seat thrillers, Hotel Mumbai and Berlin Syndrome, to the wholly original genre films, Cargo and Upgrade, to the heart-filled dramas, Jirga and Lion, and the engaging and moving documentaries 2040, Gurrumul and The Australian Dream. The list could go on.
We must also recognise our homegrown film companies like Blackmagic Design who are the ones actively supporting our filmmakers by providing the equipment that we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Their products give emerging filmmakers the opportunity to create and produce cinema quality content, breaking down barriers to entering the industry.
But why do we still often feel that our films are inferior? That we are a little kid trying to fit in at the grown-ups table. We have much to be proud of.
Considering that our multiplexes are filled with sequels, remakes, reboots, prequels and spin-offs, perhaps we don’t want to be comparing our films to the Hollywood blockbusters. It’s time for a new mindset. We need to stop underselling ourselves, making disclaimers or valuing our work on a different scale.
As Australian filmmakers and content creators, it’s time to recognise our place amongst the international community and value our voice and contribution in this beautiful art form.