The future of Australian feature films is up for grabs at sector summit

The upcoming Australian Feature Film Summit promises to be a game-changer in a variety of ways.
Mad Max gang in truck

Production for the small screen (which are not small anymore) has an obvious tunnel of prosperity glittering into the future, based on streaming and conventional broadcasters. The battle to get an invitation to the party is ferocious, and we question the scale, but at least producers can build a business plan.

Not so feature films. Just as Nitram is hitting international festival audiences hard in the feels, we are all agog to see The Drover’s Wife, and Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is barking majestically across the Venice Film Festival, the future of cinema storytelling is shrouded in doubt and mired in cynicism.

So a group of true believers has been formed, including Sue Maslin AO, Adrianne Pecotic, Antony Ginnane, Claire Gandy, Holly Brimble, Lori Flekser, Marc Wooldridge, Sasha Close, advised by Gino Munari and supported financially by Screen Australia. They call themselves the Australian Feature Film Working Group or AFFWG.

They have announced the first Australian Feature Film Summit, broken into two pieces. On Friday 21 October 2021, a virtual day will be held which will…

provide an overview of the performance of Australian cinema in 2020/21 and survey the challenges and opportunities currently facing producers, distributors and exhibitors. It will be a prelude to the main event next year and invite all participants to identify common ground and new ideas on how to increase cinema audiences for Australian films.

It will cost all of $25 to be part of history. Part two is trickier because it occurs on Friday 11 February 2022, in Sydney and cost $150. It is actually the last day of the Australian International Movie Convention.

The mix will…

for the first time, bring exhibitors, distributors, producers and investors together in two dynamic events designed to grow the current success of the Australian feature film sector and demonstrated audience appetite for its content.

As Sue Maslin told ScreenHub, ‘I’m just looking into the last speakers at the moment so we’re probably another two weeks away from being able to reveal the detailed programs.’ Then we will explore the issues in more detail to ramp up to the virtual day.

‘All of us know full well we’ve been in a risky business for a long time. And we’re prepared to do it because you know when it works the rewards are wonderful, but the risk-reward equation itself has really profoundly shifted in the last couple of years, and most notably over the last 12 months, with the rise and rise of streaming. So, it’s a different ballgame now.’

From ScreenHub’s point of view, the feature sector has accumulated so many friction points which are really destructive – and also easy to fix. It is becoming evident younger generations are embracing Australian stories, that there are powerful opportunities through companies which have gone global, and we are seeing a generation of filmmakers in their prime. Backed as well by very sophisticated fiscal and production expertise.

All of this justifies the sense of hope which is built into the DNA of the feature film community. Now it is becoming a coherent political force of its own, inside the existing institutional structure, which is strongly present in the planning for this Summit.

You can tell that we are wildly excited.

Visit The Summit Site to register.

As the site says,

The Summit will focus on the future and merge art and commerce, facilitating a valuable information exchange between the often-siloed parties of the screen industry and develop ideas for working together more effectively to ensure the success and growth of the theatrical film sector. For the first time, exhibitors will be asked to share insights from working at the coalface in cinemas and provide valuable intel about what gets their audiences through the door. Exhibitors and distributors will also offer a peek at the data that drives programming decisions, while producers will be invited to lift the veil on the development and filmmaking process where the magic begins.

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.