NFSA: stakeholders campaign against secrecy

As the staff cuts at the National Film and Sound Archive rumble forward, stakeholders are writing unhappily to the board...

The NFSA is reminded that the screen sector takes a keen interest in its workings. Source: sandsculptures

A letter written by Geoff Gardner to the NFSA board has gathered more than 135 signatories across the screen sector. At issue is the decision to keep the Business Review confidential. CEO Michael Loebenstein has promised to release the basic introduction, with its overarching principles, but not the detailed text.

At least two basic impulses inform this letter. The screen community is used to agencies which circulate reviews for comment and revision, and receive external submissions. And the activists among the stakeholders remember their role in its history. It began as the National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library inside the Commonwealth National Library in 1935, and became a separate body within the Department of Home Affairs and Environment, responsible to the Minister and supported by an external Advisory Committee in 1984.

The pressure on government to turn the NFSA into a separate statutory agency was pretty continuous. By 2003 it was a fragment of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. To the surprise of all concerned, the Howard government gave it to the Australian Film Commission, whose mission, leadership and Board was focused on screen production.

When the legislation behind Screen Australia  lumped it in with the former AFC, the defunct Screen Australia and the superceded Film Finance Corporation, the agitation grew so noisy that freedom for the archive became an election promise for the ALP.  In 2007, it finally became an autonomous statutary authority, with its own board, budget and autonomous culture.

The screen sector is peculiarly attached to the NFSA. It expresses the passion for cultural history which many of us feel. It is the custodian of the works and reputation of screen practitioners. It is a practical tool for creators in search of archive, most of whom are tenacious documentary makers. It is also very stable, so independent producers develop long relationships with the place and its enduring staff.

So it is not surprising that many people in the sector feel they are active stakeholders, who helped to create the NFSA and depend on its role. They want to be involved in its changes.

Geoff Gardner, a former government bureaucrat and policy wonk, Director of the Melbourne Film Festival from 1980-82, co-creator of Ronin Films, film tragic and contributor to the NFSA Oral History Programme penned and circulated a letter to Ms Gabrielle Trainor, Chair of the NFSA.


Dear Ms Trainor,

We the undersigned are writing to express our concern at the management and other changes currently being undertaken by the National Film and Sound Archive.

These changes have resulted from the implementation of a Business Review conducted by the Director and which have, it is claimed, been endorsed by the Board of the NFSA, the Department of the Arts and the Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis.

Regrettably the Business Review document has been kept secret from all but a handful of people and thus those with professional and other interests in the work of the NFSA have had no opportunity to examine, review and contest any of the findings of the Review. We do not believe that this is an appropriate way to deal with matters of such significance which involve major changes to the organisation’s activities, focus and management as well as continuing use of taxpayer funding.

Among those changes are a proposal to reduce staff by over 10% of those working for the NFSA which shortly will lead to the sacking of some of the NFSA’s most experienced managers, administrators and industry-trained professionals. 

We therefore request the following:

  1. Immediate public release of the Loebenstein NFSA Business Review to enable its contents to be analysed, discussed and where necessary contested by those inside and outside the NFSA affected by its decisions; and
  2. Your agreement that the NFSA will at the earliest possible opportunity convene a properly publicised open forum or series of fora in the major capitals to enable a full public discussion of these matters wherein those proposing the changes, and in the case of the Board, supporting their implementation, publicly defend and explain them. Such discussion should take place before final decisions on terminations, sackings and personnel restructures come into effect.

Thank you for your consideration

Yours sincerely

Geoff Gardner

Cc  Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, Minister for the Arts (

The Hon Mark Dreyfus, Opposition Spokesman for the Arts (

Senator Christine Milne, Leader of The Greens (

Signatories supporting this letter:

Martha Ansara, Founding Convenor FBIOHG, member The Archive Forum

Philip Adams

Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Jacka, formerly at UTS, co-author of The Screening of Australia

Sue Milliken, AO, Samson Productions

Alice Ansara, committee member FBIOHG

Tina Kaufman, Writer on film, media and communication issues for various publications.  Editor, Filmnews. Honorary Life Member of the Sydney Film Festival and of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia.

Ben Cho, film-maker & cinephile

Tom Dickson, Retired international TV program specialist

John Turner, Treasurer, Australian Council of Film Societies

Frank Heimans, Cinetel Productions, filmmaker and member of the FBIOHG

Georgia Wallace-Crabbe

Gregory Miller

Michael Angus, Producer/Director, Jerrycan Films

Tom Ryan, Film critic, former member of advisory board to the NFL re the NFSA

Debi Enker, TV critic, Fairfax, the ABC

Dominic Case, Consultant, former Board member and Development Manager, NFSA

Julie Rigg, Broadcaster and Film Critic

Barrie Pattison, Film-maker, Archivist and Writer

Rod Bishop, Film Producer, former CEO of the Australian Film, Radio & Television School, Critic and Consultant

Juanita Kwok, Post-Graduate Student

Ian Taylor, Film Reviewer,

Anne Demy-Geroe, Film Scholar, Festival Director and Interim NFSA Councillor

Gary Andrews, Cinephile

Alex Kelly, Film-maker

Rosalind Gillespie, Silver Films

Dr Trevor Graham, Yarra Bank Films

Jane Castle, Film-maker

Fabio Cavadini, Director/Producer, Frontyard Films

Amanda King, Founding member of OzDox, member of ADG, Director/Producer Frontyard Films

David Bordwell, Film Historian and Critic, co-author with Kristin Thompson of FILM ART: AN INTRODUCTION and FILM HISTORY: AN INTRODUCTION and author of many books

Megan McMurchy, Independent Producer, Suitcase Films

Adrienne McKibbins, Executive Officer/Awards Manager, Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA

Helen Yeates, Adjunct Professor, Film, Screen and Animation, Creative Industries Faculty, QUT, Brisbane

Dr Barrett Hodsdon, Initiator of NL Film Study Collection 1974/75

Frances Bonner, Honorary Associate Professor, English, Media Studies and Art History, University of Queensland

Carole Kostanich, Film-maker, Rose Street Films

Peter Hourigan, Teacher, Critic and Historian

Sylvia Lawson, Film Critic, Writer on cultural history, fiction, essays and critical journalism.  

Professor Chris Berry, Department of Film Studies, King’s College, London

Anthony Buckley, AM, Producer of Caddie, Bliss, Oyster Farmer and the mini-series The Harp in the South, Poor Man’s Orange, The Heroes,  Bryce Courtenay’s The Potato Factory and Jessica. Film Editor and re-discoverer of Wake in Fright.

Associate Professor Jane Mills, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW

Judith Crombie, First Film Australia archivist,  First Film Librarian at the SAFC responsible for depositing feature film and documentary materials at the NFSA, Director of Marketing and Development at Film Queensland (now Screen Queensland). Deputy chair of the Queensland chapter for the Centenary of Australian Cinema, former CEO of Ausfilm, former CEO of South Australian Film Corporation

Donald Crombie, Film Director whose work is held at NFSA.  Former President Australian Directors’ Guild and current Board member

Sharon Connolly, Film-maker, Former CEO, Film Australia

Daniela Torsh, Retired journalist and filmmaker

Pat Fiske, Documentary Filmmaker, Bower Bird Films / Paradigm Pictures

Russell Edwards, Film critic & film-maker

Dr Adrian Danks, Co-editor, Senses of Cinema, co-curator of the Melbourne Cinematheque, Director of Higher Degree Research, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University

Dr Wendy Keys, Griffith University

H.J.Prideaux, Secretary, Wollongong WEA Film Society

Trish FitzSimons, Griffith University

Jane Oehr, Film-maker

Ray Thomas, Screen Editor, Member Australian Society of Editors

Louise Sheedy, Program Coordinator & President, Melbourne Cinematheque

Wayne Coles-Janess ,  Producer/ Director

Tom Zubrycki, Producer/director

Curtis Levy, Film-maker and NFSA user for over thirty years

Nicolette Boaz, Composer for documentary

Michael Campi, Cinephile, Festival Consultant

Werner Meyer, Producer/director, Mort Bay Films

John Duigan, Film Director, double AFI Award Winner

Anna Grieve, Film Producer

Associate Professor Adrian Martin, Film Critic, Film and Television Studies
Co-Director Research Unit in Film Culture and Theory, Monash University

Ron Johanson, OAM ACS, National President, Australian Cinematographers Society

Amanda Brown, Screen Composer

Greg Reading, Former Film Australia documentary maker

Margot Nash, Film-maker, As If Productions 

Murray Forrest, Former managing director Atlab, National Executive member, The Society of Australian Film Pioneers.

Madeleine Hetherton – Director/Producer – Media Stockade 

Michael Koller, Executive Programmer, Melbourne Cinémathèque

Deb Verhoeven, Archive Forum

Bruce Hodsdon, Film Critic, Historian, Programmer

David Bradbury, Documentary Film-maker, Five Time AFI Award Winner, Twice nominated for an Academy Award

Barbara A Chobocky, Producer/Director

Peter Thompson, Producer/Director, Critic & Presenter, Former Board Member of the NFSA

Storry Walton AM, writer, director, producer, formerly Director Australian Film and Television School, Chair Academic Board NIDA, Executive Director International Cultural Corporation of Australia

Magritte Gillies, Cinephile

Bruce Hulbert, Cinephile

Richard Brennan, Film Producer, Former General Manager of the Australian Film Institute

David Stratton, Film critic, author, Presenter ABC-TV At the Movies

Margaret Pomeranz, Film Critic, Presenter ABC-TV At the Movies

Krizia Cook, Communications Student, University of Notre Dame

Elaina Neville, Publicity Officer, Orange Film Society

John Olson, Audio engineer and Oral Historian

Simon Taaffe, Cinephile

Louis Irving

Prof. David MacDougall, Film Maker, Research School of Humanities & the Arts, the Australian National University

Beverly Duncan, Orange Film Society

Ken Wallin, Cinephile

Ray Argall, Film-maker, Cinematographer, President, Australian Directors Guild

Geoff Burton ACS, Director/Cinematographer, Kurrajong Films

Tim Waygood,  Retired, Former General Manager, Colorfilm Laboratories, Supervised Restorations for NSFA, The War Memorial, Cinesound, Movietone, The Last Film Search. Company designed and installed the B&W lab at NSFA.

Dr Janet Merewether, Director, Producer, Media Academic

Jane Hinton, Cinephile

Nigel Giles, Oral historian

Bob Connolly, Documentary Film-maker, Academy Award Nominee, 5 times winner AFI (AACTA) Award for Best Feature Documentary

Ruari Elkington, PhD Candidate, Media, Entertainment and Creative Arts, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Gil Scrine, Antidote Films

Dr Anne Whitehead, Writer/Director, Winner of AWGIE, Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Documentary Script

Tim Read, Film Producer and former Director Film Development, Australian Film Commission

Paul Coulter, Festival Programmer, Cinema Entrepreneur

Mee Wun Lee, A concerned member of the tax-paying public

Eddie Cockrell, Film Critic, Writer, Artistic Director, The Big Picture Film Festival

Jane Keneally, Film Producer, Associate, The Big Picture Film Festival

Michael O’Rourke, Cinephile

Ross Tzannes, AM, Former President, Sydney Film Festival

Leth Maitland, Secretary, WEA Sydney Film Society, Vice-president, Australian Council of Film Societies

David Donaldson, Founding Director, Sydney Film Festival

David Parker, Producer/Writer/Director/Cinematographer, Cascade Films

Armin Miladi, Co-Director, Iranian Film Festival in Australia

Herman van Eyken, Head, Griffith Film School

Max Berghouse, Cinephile

Peter Tammer, Film-maker

Meg Stewart, Filmmaker and author

Patricia Rubie,  CEO, Top Technicians Management

Stephen Gaunson

Dr Richard James Allen and Dr Karen Pearlman, Filmmakers, Educators at Sydney Film School and Macquarie University, Artistic Directors of The Physical TV Company

Lee Whitmore, Animator

James McCarthy

Jack Thompson, Actor

Rod Quantock, Actor

Mary Keneally, Actor

Billy Pinnell, Radio programmer/presenter, writer, NFSA Interviewer

Paul Harris, Oral Historian, Director, St. Kilda Film Festival 

Don Harley, Formerly of Film Australia

June Thody, Actress

Sophia Turkiewicz, Film Director

Gabrielle Haumesser, Eastside Radio

Jake Wilson, Film Reviewer, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.