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Scope SCREEN INDUSTRY VIEWS

good films from sinking in the online swamp. Brown makes clear that the business model is to pursue the long tail of a neglected boutique market:

OZFLIX: EVERY AUSTRALIAN FILM, EVER, ONLINE? LAUREN CARROLL HARRIS

It seems that film-streaming services are about as abundant as film festivals at present. The latest VOD platform to enter the market is Ozflix <http://www.ozflix.tv>, set to launch this year; its mandate is solely the provision of Australian screen works. Most Australian titles are entirely absent from digital shelves, a problem that has been compounded by the closure of DVD stores and remained mostly unacknowledged in media discussions about Australian cinema’s predicament and popularity. It is difficult enough being able to find new Australian films after they’ve finished their theatrical runs; older Australian films are even harder to access. The issue, then, is much bigger than the announcement of a new streaming channel. Underlying the Ozflix initiative is the larger question: how can we support Australian storytelling in the digital age? How can intelligent and artistic films get the audiences they deserve via the right kind of marketing and distribution support? What we know at present is this: upon its launch, Ozflix will include only feature films, with a long-term plan to eventually include documentaries, television series and short films. CEO and co-founder Ron Brown tells me that Ozflix will create two of its own programs, including @TheFlix, a fifteen-minute Margaret-and-David-style film-review show. Each week, @TheFlix will discuss a bundle of five curated films to be featured on the site – for instance, five films from a particular era, or five Nicole Kidman films. In this way, a degree of specialist curation, packaging and recommendation will structure and market the catalogue. There will be no advertising, except for on the Ozflix-created content. An ambitious directive, to say the least – ‘every Aussie movie ever’, as Brown puts it. Is this possible? Brown told me that Ozflix is in negotiations with all the major and independent film distributors, saying there is ‘no difficulty in accessing titles’. Further, Brown says Ozflix is working with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia as well as federal and state film-policy bodies to access and digitise relevant titles, despite what he describes as a ‘lukewarm response’ from policymakers during the project’s early stages. The issue of film policy should come

124 • Metro Magazine 187 | © ATOM

We don’t have to be a giant; we have to be a well-run niche. We don’t have the agenda of iTunes or Netflix. Copyright owners [of Australian films] would be happy to see the films out there and available. Our business model and the desires of our audience align.

JINDABYNE

into play here: digitising the back catalogue of Australian films is surely a public project, something that is in the national interest and worthy of taxpayer expenditure. So far, the task of enabling the digitisation and online distribution of Australian cinema has been left to the market, and the results have been dreadful. Further, the process of digitising and building a library is curatorial – Brown says this process is about ‘making sure we’ve got the right mix’ of titles and genres for the site. What about the proposed business model? In the all-you-can-eat Netflix era, is a pay-perview streaming site – which Ozflix promises to be – the best way to provide content to viewers? Issues of access, convenience and cheap digital distribution are crucial to ensuring Australian films can reach audiences in a diffuse and expansive media landscape. Many viewers have already established the expectation that paying to stream individual films is clunky and costly compared to paying a monthly price to choose from a huge library of films. Brown says that, although the pricepoint of the films is still confidential, the company’s market research found ‘an o ­ verwhelming response from audiences that twice as many people in the survey wanted to access Australian films online from a pay-per-view model’ rather than a buffet-style approach. Is adding a new service to an already scattered and hyper-competitive film-­distribution market the way to go? The market’s tendency is towards big monopolies amid a sea of smaller services that easily get lost. The iTunes and Netflix brands are already established, and their platforms, already installed on the laptops, televisions and phones of millions of users everywhere. Central to the success of Ozflix will be whether it can delineate a clear ground for itself to stop

In this sense, having all Australian films in one place actually demands a new platform: the existing players have no desire to embark on such a project. In terms of the bigger context, it’s still unclear whether VOD has helped or hindered Australian cinema so far. Ozflix could be a game-changer in this regard: a project that puts the question of access at the heart of Australian film distribution. The difficulty of just trying to find a local film in such a splintered VOD media-scape is a major problem to overcome. Say you want to watch Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (2006); you can get it on iTunes and Stan but not Netflix or Presto. The same director’s debut, Bliss (1985), is nowhere to be found online, and must be ordered on DVD directly from its distributor, Umbrella. And say you’ve been inspired by George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) to revisit the rest of his dystopian series. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (co-directed by George Ogilvie, 1985) is on Google Play, PlayStation and Xbox; Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) is on the same platforms as well as iTunes, while the original 1979 instalment is only on Google Play and PlayStation. None of the earlier Mad Max films are on Netflix – a rather shocking oversight. Even something like Two Hands (Gregor Jordan, 1999), a popular film in the Australian canon, is totally offline. Brown says there are ‘hundreds more of films in this category – entertaining, worthy films that have faded because of time, disappeared without a trace’. The reality of even just searching for Australian films to watch online is messy and difficult. If Ozflix can centralise local titles and offer them in the one place, and audiences can be assured that what they want can always be found there, it might have a chance of succeeding. Digitising and distributing every Australian film ever through a single platform will prove difficult – but it’s necessary for Australian film culture to thrive.


Scope SCREEN INDUSTRY VIEWS

good films from sinking in the online swamp. Brown makes clear that the business model is to pursue the long tail of a neglected boutique market:

OZFLIX: EVERY AUSTRALIAN FILM, EVER, ONLINE? LAUREN CARROLL HARRIS

It seems that film-streaming services are about as abundant as film festivals at present. The latest VOD platform to enter the market is Ozflix <http://www.ozflix.tv>, set to launch this year; its mandate is solely the provision of Australian screen works. Most Australian titles are entirely absent from digital shelves, a problem that has been compounded by the closure of DVD stores and remained mostly unacknowledged in media discussions about Australian cinema’s predicament and popularity. It is difficult enough being able to find new Australian films after they’ve finished their theatrical runs; older Australian films are even harder to access. The issue, then, is much bigger than the announcement of a new streaming channel. Underlying the Ozflix initiative is the larger question: how can we support Australian storytelling in the digital age? How can intelligent and artistic films get the audiences they deserve via the right kind of marketing and distribution support? What we know at present is this: upon its launch, Ozflix will include only feature films, with a long-term plan to eventually include documentaries, television series and short films. CEO and co-founder Ron Brown tells me that Ozflix will create two of its own programs, including @TheFlix, a fifteen-minute Margaret-and-David-style film-review show. Each week, @TheFlix will discuss a bundle of five curated films to be featured on the site – for instance, five films from a particular era, or five Nicole Kidman films. In this way, a degree of specialist curation, packaging and recommendation will structure and market the catalogue. There will be no advertising, except for on the Ozflix-created content. An ambitious directive, to say the least – ‘every Aussie movie ever’, as Brown puts it. Is this possible? Brown told me that Ozflix is in negotiations with all the major and independent film distributors, saying there is ‘no difficulty in accessing titles’. Further, Brown says Ozflix is working with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia as well as federal and state film-policy bodies to access and digitise relevant titles, despite what he describes as a ‘lukewarm response’ from policymakers during the project’s early stages. The issue of film policy should come

124 • Metro Magazine 187 | © ATOM

We don’t have to be a giant; we have to be a well-run niche. We don’t have the agenda of iTunes or Netflix. Copyright owners [of Australian films] would be happy to see the films out there and available. Our business model and the desires of our audience align.

JINDABYNE

into play here: digitising the back catalogue of Australian films is surely a public project, something that is in the national interest and worthy of taxpayer expenditure. So far, the task of enabling the digitisation and online distribution of Australian cinema has been left to the market, and the results have been dreadful. Further, the process of digitising and building a library is curatorial – Brown says this process is about ‘making sure we’ve got the right mix’ of titles and genres for the site. What about the proposed business model? In the all-you-can-eat Netflix era, is a pay-perview streaming site – which Ozflix promises to be – the best way to provide content to viewers? Issues of access, convenience and cheap digital distribution are crucial to ensuring Australian films can reach audiences in a diffuse and expansive media landscape. Many viewers have already established the expectation that paying to stream individual films is clunky and costly compared to paying a monthly price to choose from a huge library of films. Brown says that, although the pricepoint of the films is still confidential, the company’s market research found ‘an o ­ verwhelming response from audiences that twice as many people in the survey wanted to access Australian films online from a pay-per-view model’ rather than a buffet-style approach. Is adding a new service to an already scattered and hyper-competitive film-­distribution market the way to go? The market’s tendency is towards big monopolies amid a sea of smaller services that easily get lost. The iTunes and Netflix brands are already established, and their platforms, already installed on the laptops, televisions and phones of millions of users everywhere. Central to the success of Ozflix will be whether it can delineate a clear ground for itself to stop

In this sense, having all Australian films in one place actually demands a new platform: the existing players have no desire to embark on such a project. In terms of the bigger context, it’s still unclear whether VOD has helped or hindered Australian cinema so far. Ozflix could be a game-changer in this regard: a project that puts the question of access at the heart of Australian film distribution. The difficulty of just trying to find a local film in such a splintered VOD media-scape is a major problem to overcome. Say you want to watch Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (2006); you can get it on iTunes and Stan but not Netflix or Presto. The same director’s debut, Bliss (1985), is nowhere to be found online, and must be ordered on DVD directly from its distributor, Umbrella. And say you’ve been inspired by George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) to revisit the rest of his dystopian series. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (co-directed by George Ogilvie, 1985) is on Google Play, PlayStation and Xbox; Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) is on the same platforms as well as iTunes, while the original 1979 instalment is only on Google Play and PlayStation. None of the earlier Mad Max films are on Netflix – a rather shocking oversight. Even something like Two Hands (Gregor Jordan, 1999), a popular film in the Australian canon, is totally offline. Brown says there are ‘hundreds more of films in this category – entertaining, worthy films that have faded because of time, disappeared without a trace’. The reality of even just searching for Australian films to watch online is messy and difficult. If Ozflix can centralise local titles and offer them in the one place, and audiences can be assured that what they want can always be found there, it might have a chance of succeeding. Digitising and distributing every Australian film ever through a single platform will prove difficult – but it’s necessary for Australian film culture to thrive.


BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO CINEMA: INTERACTIVITY AT FILM FESTIVALS GLENN DUNKS

If you ask any film veteran what the highlight of their time at a festival was, they will likely answer that – apart from the films, o ­ bviously – it was the social atmosphere there. Film festivals bring people together around cinema, and provoke discussions between friends and strangers in long theatre queues, in overflowing cinema foyers, and in bars over late-night glasses of wine. It’s the only time of the year you’ll find people en masse talking about obscure foreign films, international documentaries, and films on the fringes of the arthouse. As cinema-goer numbers fall due to the advance of home entertainment and streaming options, and as the number of film festivals rapidly expands, the festivals themselves have clearly picked up on this concept of the ‘festival as social hub’. Beyond ubiquitous opening- and closing-night parties, post-film Q&As and industry talks that have long been part of the cinema landscape, festivals have begun to expand their focus to include the interactive. We are seeing social events and alternative media that encourage filmmakers and patrons alike to experience festivals not just as places to watch films, but also as opportunities to explore cinematic frontiers. In years past, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has hosted trivia nights and recently held annual speed-dating events in the hopes of pairing up romantic cinephiles (and encouraging them to spend more money on movie tickets). In 2015, the festival featured a scavenger hunt inspired by the festival-selected documentary Finders Keepers (Bryan Carberry & J Clay Tweel, 2015). It also experimented with what was known as the MIFF Emotion Simulator Chair: willing participants (with the rule that men must be clean-shaven!) had their heads connected to a custom-built chair that allowed happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust or surprise to be simulated across their faces. It was a curiosity, but it did bring people into the festival’s lounge at the Forum Theatre in droves – and, no doubt, to the box office to purchase tickets or for beers at the bar. At the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival (AFF), virtual reality (VR) was one of the stars. This

THE FILM YOU WROTE

relatively new film-viewing medium, which requires patrons to wear bulky glasses – all the better for you to not realise how silly you look, spinning around and gawking madly! – and headphones, would potentially struggle in feature-length form due to issues relating to eye strain as well as the weight of the equipment. But anybody who sampled the collection of VR shorts at AFF – and there were often long lines of people eager to test out the technology between sessions – would have marvelled at the way it improves on 3D and offers the user a sort of intimate, 360-degree version of IMAX. Whether it was the Australian horror short Madeleine (Piers Mussared, 2015), in which ghosts appear in and out of the frame to give viewers a jolt, the Syrian refugee-camp documentary Clouds Over Sidra (Gabo Arora & Barry Pousman, 2015), or simply the experience of running out into an AFL stadium with your favourite team (naturally, the festival offered the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power), the experience was exciting and inspiring. I first encountered VR in 2013 at Sundance, a festival that’s made an industry out of interactivity. Known for its parties as much as for its films, the Utah-based independent film festival has been criticised for putting more emphasis on moguls, musicians and reality-television stars spruiking brands of vodka than the films screening there. The Tribeca Film Festival, on the other hand, is perceived to be doing a better job. In 2014, it had a heavy focus on new technologies and interactive elements – wise, too, considering

its status as a relative newcomer to the festival scene. One experiment was dramatic short Possibilia (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert, 2014), in which viewers could decide where the story of a bickering couple would go by clicking thumbnails, effectively replicating the structure of Choose Your Own Adventure narratives and giving audiences unique cinematic experiences. In a similar fashion, AFF 2015’s The Film You Wrote concept allowed audiences to vote online for a narrative or style decision, with the winner of each poll incorporated into the resulting four-minute short starring Tilda Cobham-Hervey. The project is, rather cutely, listed on the festival’s website as being directed by ‘You’, and premiered as part of a package of short films made in South Australia. The Film You Wrote, much like Possibilia, shows off the potential of this sort of endeavour as a way of engaging audiences in the filmmaking process as much as the viewing of it, while also helping film festivals remain relevant and artistically forward-moving. These initiatives can also signpost smaller festivals as ones with potential, when bigger, more prestigious ones are more or less closed to titles or styles without pedigree and prestige. If these initiatives can bring in the less ardent film lover to a festival, then the effort is obviously worth it. If they can inspire filmmakers to think further outside the box, then they are essential. For the time being, these approaches are novel aspects of our local film festivals that will no doubt only continue to grow and – true to the interactive form – take on a life of their own.

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WHAT’S IN A NAME: MARGARET POMERANZ PRESENTS THE HOLLYWOOD RETRO FILM FESTIVAL TARA JUDAH

This recent addition to the Australian filmfestival circuit is certainly a mouthful, but it does have a well-known, trusted name in tow. Margaret Pomeranz is Australia’s most famous female film critic. Co-hosting SBS’ The Movie Show with David Stratton from 1986 to 2004, before truly capturing the Australian public’s attention on the ABC’s At the Movies, Pomeranz is not just our country’s most famous female film authority, but also one of our most loved and listened-to women – full stop. Having presented influential film commentary for almost thirty years, the words ‘Margaret Pomeranz Presents’ are a weighty addition to any film festival’s title. As such, one imagines that she would not attach it lightly. Strange, then, that a woman with great public influence, especially concerning women and across multiple generations, should attach her name to a program of iconic film titles directed entirely by men. Of the festival’s twenty-two titles, which screened across five states, not one is directed by a woman. Pomeranz has received billing as ‘patron and co-curator’, but I can’t help wondering whether there’s anything more to her involvement with the festival beyond her name. Pomeranz certainly presents publicly as a feminist: earlier in 2015, for instance, she hosted the inaugural ‘Women in Film’ event as part of the Gold Coast Film Festival. Unfortunately, finding any further information on her involvement with this new festival (at the time of writing) has been difficult, and ascertaining the ethos or angle behind this male-centric program – supposedly co-curated by one of the country’s most famous women – has been entirely baffling. Disappointingly, Pomeranz was not available for comment. Despite being patron and co-curator, she ‘won’t be able to do any press for the festival’, according to a publicist from Melbourne’s Cinema Nova. Still busy, even after her retirement from At the Movies, Pomeranz has also spent time in 2015 attending one of co-host David Stratton’s filmbuff cruises, and has been recording for the Foxtel weekly film-review show Screen. Fortunately, Paul Dravet, general manager at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, Sydney – who is said to have worked closely with Pomeranz to co-curate the program – was available to talk a little about the intent

126 • Metro Magazine 187 | © ATOM

CASABLANCA

behind it all. On the process of film selection, he says: Margaret and I (and David, of course) share a passion for the ‘Hollywood classics’. Many of the titles in this festival were featured in Margaret and David’s weekly classics in their At the Movies program. While Casablanca [Michael Curtiz, 1942], Gone with the Wind [Victor Fleming et al., 1939], etc. were essential to the festival, many other marvellous films were programmed on the basis of how rarely seen they were, especially in blackand-white and especially on the big screen. A further criterion was that the titles be chosen from the American Film Institute’s and ‘many local and overseas film critics’ “best” lists’. The ethos, perhaps, is as simple as highlighting a single strand of theatrical exhibition; as Dravet puts it, ‘Giving audiences the opportunity to see classics on the big screen, with an audience.’ The twenty-two titles span the 1930s to the 1960s but, despite the correlating dates, the festival doesn’t shed light on the moralising effects of the Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code), which was adhered to by major studios from 1930 to 1968. Nor does the program go in any way towards explaining the use of the term retro. The announcement of this festival does, however, follow the success of the Great Britain Retro Film Festival, of which Stratton is patron. And it seems another spate of undefined umbrella festival titles – under

which other easily available classic titles can be screened – has been planned, including the equally elusive ‘European Classics’. With festival culture on the up, the question becomes whether or not Australian audiences are refusing to attend non-‘eventised’ screenings (a cynical industry term at best), or if the industry itself has now created a situation in which exhibitors cannot run standard programs without covering them in meaningless gloss. While classic cinema of this ilk, such as The Searchers (John Ford, 1956), Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954) and Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952), has merit and will look good on a big screen – owing to major studios’ digital restorations – the Hollywood Retro Film Festival’s line-up fails to reach beyond conventional and already available repertory content. Celebrating Ford, Wilder, Frank Capra, Elia Kazan, Stanley Kubrick, William Wyler and Joseph L Mankiewicz, among others, under a nebulous title that refuses definition and connotes the opposite of curation offers Australian audiences little more than the continuation of the male-dominated, mainstream fodder we’ve been exposed to for decades. It could have been heartening, for instance, to see the name of female filmmaker Dorothy Arzner among the festival’s list of cinematic greats. Though this lack of female representation is, in and of itself, unsurprising, it is certainly disappointing – especially as it appears to be utterly free of the critical eye of a strong female role model we so desperately need.


ELECTION SPILLS IN THE TIME OF TWITTER LIZ GIUFFRE

I first heard of the possible spill against Tony Abbott while on the bus home in the early evening of 14 September; it was news I gathered while scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds. As is the way with these platforms, particularly when used on mobile devices in public spaces, there was really only the opportunity to read surface reportage regarding what was happening. When I got home, I put on ABC News 24’s live television broadcast; however, given the lack of ‘actual news’ about the vote, I remained on social media as well. This was a much more dynamic, informative and out-and-out entertaining place to be. Firstly, Facebook and Twitter were drawing an international audience as well as a local one, so it was interesting to see how my network overseas perceived the whole thing. (In short, they thought we were mad for continuing to do this kind of hokey-pokeying with those in charge.) But it was also where ‘ordinary Australians’ – or, at least, those with a good internet connection and the desire to connect – were calling out the event for what it was: ridiculous, ironic and somewhat inevitable. Much of the traffic was, perhaps predicably, targeted towards highlighting the various gaffs Abbott had made during his time in office. One of the more famous, the ‘eating the raw onion’ episode that happened in March, was not only recalled but given a particularly meta treatment. Twitter and Facebook users started creating images and posting them with the hashtag #PutOutYourOnions – a reference not just to the former prime minister, but also to the Australian Twitter audience itself. The hashtag and images drew on the #PutOutYourBats campaign that ran in November 2014, which involved the Australian public circulating images on Twitter and Facebook of cricket bats on backyards, front lawns or fences, in honour of the late cricketer Phillip Hughes. The campaign emerged during a period of national mourning, and was a simple but soon-popular way for the general public to commemorate a young man who had died from a freak accident while playing state cricket. #PutOutYourOnions also exemplified the Australian Twittersphere sharing a moment – only, this time, it was a ‘memorial’ of a very strange media event. Meanwhile, back on broadcast television, political experts and opinion-makers killed time as best they could. Suited talking heads from both left and right did their best

SBS COMEDY’S TAKE ON #LIBSPILL

to speculate without much new information and, importantly for broadcast, without new images. When the various members of the Liberal Party walked into the voting room in Canberra, much was made of the possible significance of how each arrived – Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne were both alone, perhaps indicating indecision, while Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull were part of large groups, likely implying solidarity and strong support. Working particularly hard was ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann, who reported while standing in front of an image of Parliament House so as to demonstrate to viewers that he was ‘on the ground and ready for action’. The broadcasters got so desperate that, at times, they simply showed images of the media in empty corridors, waiting for the party to emerge from the vote – accompanied by speculative voiceover variations on the theme of, ‘I imagine it’s all very tense in that room,’ and, ‘This will change the course of the leadership and possibly the prime minister.’ While I didn’t turn the television off, I was much more drawn to the Twitter and Facebook reports and reactions from nonexperts like myself. They were a mixture of questions, jokes and sheer bewilderment that this could all be happening again. Soon, doctored images were circulating with a mixture of insight, parody and borderline meanness – some of them set up as memes of Gillard apparently laughing at the whole event. These were witty ways of highlighting the irony of Abbott’s loud criticism of the instability of Labor when Gillard and Kevin Rudd were in power, and later provided fodder for conversations about the gendered reception of the spill in the press (Gillard’s opposition to Rudd had been emotionally described as a ‘backstabbing’, but Turnbull’s was more calmly framed as a ‘leadership challenge’). The best coverage was by SBS

Comedy, which accompanied an image of Gillard laughing with the fake headline ‘Julia Gillard Rushed to Hospital After Overdosing on Schadenfreude’. Finally, when Turnbull emerged victorious and thanked the journalists assembled in the room – ‘The hour is late, everyone should go to bed’ – the cameras dutifully clicked and the television feed remained focused on the calm but uninformative speech. My attention was diverted back to Twitter, and it didn’t disappoint. ‘You don’t tell me when to go to bed Malcolm. You’re not my real Dad,’ quipped comedian Wil Anderson, appending his tweet with the hashtag #nannystate. It was quick, silly and perfectly summed up the audience’s perspective. While those meant to be representing us fought, we’d represented ourselves by watching and adding to the event. We would be done when we were ready.

Lauren Carroll Harris is a writer and artist, a PhD candidate at UNSW, and the author of Not at a Cinema Near You: Australia’s Film Distribution Problem (Platform Papers, Currency House, 2013). Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer, critic, author and festival curator from Melbourne. His article ‘Launching The Rocket: Beyond the Typical Australian Film’ in Metro 178 won the Australian Film Critics Association’s Ivan Hutchinson Award for Writing on Australian Cinema. Tara Judah was the programming and content manager at The Astor Theatre from February 2011 to April 2015. Dr Liz Giuffre is a lecturer in communication at the University of Technology Sydney as well as a freelance arts commentator and journalist. m

www.metromagazine.com.au | © ATOM | Metro Magazine 187 • 127

Metro 187 Scope  

From Metro no. 187 (Summer 2016). Buy or subscribe to Metro at http://www.metromagazine.com.au/magazine/subscribe.asp

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