Australian national cinema Essay


Question 5:  Australian national cinema is primarily government- supported, with limited infrastructure and with a small population. Discuss key debates on the issue of developing, supporting and sustaining a national film industry.

The Australian film industry also commonly referred to as the Cinema of Australia is a term used to describe the system of production, exhibition, and distribution of films made in Australia. It is commonly argued that the production of the film in Australia begun in the year 1906 when the first-ever film made in the country known as the story of the Kelly Gang was produced. Since the production of this ancient film, other films have been made and distributed in Australia, some of which have received international awards and recognition for their creativity.

It has also been indicated that a significant number of actors who are now known internationally begun their acting careers in the Australian film industry, as well as filmmakers most of whom are globally recognized and who have found great benefits, financial- wise from their acting careers. There are numerous Australian films that have been successful commercially in the international market and some of them include such films as Babe and Moulin Rouge. Some of the actors who have been trained in Australia and moved on to become international stars include such people as Nicole Kidman, Rod Taylor, and Hugh Jackman, among others (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002).

In the years between 1968 and 1971, the then Australian prime minister initiated a series of government support for the industry and established the National Film and Television Training school, the Australian Council for the Arts and the Australian Development Corporation as efforts by the government to offer support to the film and arts industry. The following prime minister also made efforts to continue that support for the industry, and as a result, more corporations and organizations supporting the industry were established to produce and fund the production of films that would compete internationally. The federal government of Australia had supported the industry by developing and funding more agencies in producing and funding the production of films in the country. All these agencies were all combined to form what is now referred to as Screen Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002).

As of today, the industry still produces a significant number of movies every year, but when compared to other developed countries like the US and England, Australia has always found itself in a difficult place because of the stiff competition offered by the countries in film making and production, which is much supported by home markets that are large. As a result, the Australian film industry has lost a significant number of actors and actresses to these foreign film markets and they rarely participate in the growth of their home film industries.

Currently, there is an ongoing debate over the role and the need for the Australian government to support the growth and development of the film industry in Australia. Some have indicated that it is only through the support of the government that the Australian film industry will be able to compete against the other giant industries such as the United State’s Hollywood. However, there are counter-arguments that the industry can do fine without the interference of the government, and that it can be stronger and more competitive if the increasing forces of the international markets are allowed play in the industry without interference (Murray 1995).

This paper will hence put much of its focus on these debates that have a major potential to affect the development, sustenance, and support of the Australian film industry.

Debates over the character of the Australian film industry and the possible directions the industry might take in the international market have been around for quite a while. In the past, there was significant optimism that the industry would steer the country into the international market for the benefit of the country especially after the Labor government came up with the Creative Nation notion that was supposed to give support to the film industry. Currently, there is the feeling that some of these imperatives have become limited and derailed by the numerous pressures the industry is experiencing when it comes to development, market liberalization and advances in technology.

Nevertheless, the new age of digital and technology innovation has given film industries a greater level of integration with other international and national cultural economies, providing each industry with new ways of understanding about the film industries and their place- disconnection. Convergence is also another element that has made most governments in the world to rethink policies governing film industries that acknowledge television and film as part of a greater sector in creativity. This reframing of policies, results from a new development of an industry logic that emphasizes on spatial configurations of film industry sectors within the context of the global market, and the location specificities; which might be composed of advantage in competition, and how that information might be exploited for the development of film and television industries (Cunningham 2006).

The independent production film sector in Australia has shown that it has the ability to come up with drama and factual narratives that are compelling about different kinds of experiences in Australia. However, reduced local and international financing and the observed increase in the costs of production have put the industry in a difficult situation, and it has especially affected the industry’s ability to deliver and develop programs that are of high quality. This has been indicated to be a significant threat to the industry and its sustainability.

A range and volume of outputs that are declining are also threatening the Australian film industry’s capacity to fulfill its cultural objectives. The achievement of the sustainability of the film industry means that the stakeholders will have to ensure that enough opportunities are available for the creativity personnel for the purposes of developing and enhancing their talent and skills (Moran and Vieth 2006).

In this regard, many have argued that the production of film and television is the foundation upon which the film industries, in addition to, the most effective methods of reaching audiences that are diverse and large lies. Therefore, to increased and establish the sustainability of the sector, the combined indirect and direct support by the public must draw increased investment by both the public and private sectors (either international or domestic) to production projects. Moreover, emphasis and more focus should be put on sustaining and developing business, and even individual projects that support the industry (Moran and Vieth 2006).

The Australian government on its part has been committed to developing and marinating a film industry that is active, strong and vibrant for economic and cultural reasons. In its election policy of 2004, the government indicated that it was committed to ensuring more private investment in the industry and to encouraging an approach that was more entrepreneurial to secure the viability of the industry that was long term. This commitment covered such issues as promoting an international and domestic appreciation for film and television productions from Australia.

A film industry that is vigorous enables the establishment and production of television and film products that are of relevance and interest to the public of Australia, that have the potential to gain a wider audience from the international market and that which can enable a record of the culture and the life of Australia to be preserved for the future generations. To further the cultural objectives of the government, establishing Australian films that are highly skilled is also critical. Up to today, the Australian government offers support to the development and establishment of a film production sector that has a strong commercial background (Joint Media Release, Hon Richard Alston and the Hon Peter 2004).

There are several characteristics that can be associated with such an industry. One of them is that such an industry is characterized by a wide variety of films that are of high quality, which also have appeal for a large number of audiences, both in the domestic and international market. Another characteristic is that such an industry would have a significant number of businesses that are the viable and long term of different structures and sizes which can be viable in a commercial environment that is competitive. Such an industry would also be marked with a characteristic market place confidence in the product quality and a sound understanding of different vehicles of investment. The industry would also be characterized by a pool of artists, business people and technicians who are highly skilled (Joint Media Release, Hon Richard Alston and the Hon Peter 2004).

The financial support offered to the Australian film industry by the Australian government is currently being provided in a number of areas. Some of these include professional, script, audience and industry development; a production which is either significant culturally or economically, and preservation of the heritage of the Australian film industry. Additionally, the government is providing funds for the advancement of training and education of practitioners in the industry, encouragement on investment by private sectors in the industry, promotion of the country as a filming location and its films, and for the encouragement of productions based on large budgets to undertake significant participation in the Australian film industry.

There are also a number of agencies and organizations that receive direct funding by the government. These include the Film Finance Corporation Australia, the Australian Film Commission, Film Australia Ltd, Australia Film Television and Radio School, Australia Children’s Television Foundation, and Ausfilm. These are some of the agencies and organizations in the Australian film industry that have been formed by the government for the support and funding of the Australian film industry (Australian Film Commission 2004/05).


Below is a summary of the support in terms of funding the Australian government gave the film industry between 2006 and 2007.



Film Finance Corporation Australia (FFC) 70.50
Film Australia Ltd (FAL) 13.17
Australian Film Commission (AFC) 52.49
Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) 2.58
Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) 20.12
Ausfilm 1.35
TOTAL 160.21



There are a number of issues affecting the sustainability and success of the Australian film industry. The approach which uses the approach- by- approach process which has become extremely common in the Australian film sector has been questioned in a number of cases. It has been, for example, suggested for a long time that the industry needs to make a change from a cottage industry to an industry mainly built on business enterprises that are successful especially through restructuring.

There is also another significant debate on the level or degree to which the Australian film industry is genuinely responsive or determined by the demand of its audience. This debate has been going on even though such things as the essentially small size of the industry, the effect of exhibitor and distributor preferences, and the high-risk level of the film production of the industry are also generally seen as being elements that require to be considered when determining the rates of success of the industry (Dermody and Jacka 1988).

Such observations have been used to suggest the need for both the stakeholders in the industry and the policy makers in the government to reconsider and reconstruct their focus. The effect that changing platforms of communication has, and the advent of increased interactivity will also continue to, significantly, alter the association that viewers or the audience have with a creative property or idea.

The potential the industry has of producing and delivering content in audiovisual through a number of new communication platforms indicates that film producers have to design projects that include a wide variety of elements beyond the commonly used traditional program or film. While the form of delivery of film pr programs tends to be analyzed in the form of the potential it can have for the industry on additional streams of the avenue, the potential still remains to be realized in the Australian film context (Dermody and Jacka 1987).

Though many think that it is only through the support and the funding of the government that this potential can be realized and through which the Australian industry can be developed and sustained, others are of the view that a balance must be struck between the direct and indirect support by the government of the industry and the support and funding the industry derives from its revenues.

A mix of direct and indirect support has been continually provided for the film industry by the government, but direct support has been the dominant form of support, providing the industry with more than 75 percent of the total needed support. This has made certain stakeholders uncomfortable arguing that the industry should be able to support its operations from the revenues it generates, or otherwise it would not be a viable- enough industry for the government to support. Most countries have their film industries based on some form of indirect funding schemes from where the financial support to the industry comes from (Cunningham 2006).


The Australian film industry derives much of its support and funding from the government, and it has limited infrastructure and a small following. The government has at times been accused of crippling the industry by providing more than three-quarters of all of its required funding. Most critics of this approach are of the idea that the Australian film industry should be making enough revenues to support its production, and that the government should only be indirectly involved with the industry. However, others think that the industry will develop more and become more sustainable if the government keeps on supporting and funding its activities.


Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, ‘Television, film and video production’, Survey 8679.

Australian Film Commission, 2004/05, National survey of feature film and TV drama production.

Cunningham, S 2006, What Price a Creative Economy, Platform Papers, Currency

Press, July.

Dermody, S. and Jacka, E 1987, the Screening of Australia, 1: Anatomy of a Film Industry. Sydney: Currency Press, 1987.

Dermody, S, and Jacka, L1988, Screening of Australia: Anatomy of a National Cinema, 2, Currency Press, Sydney.

Joint Media Release, Hon Richard Alston and the Hon Peter 2004, ‘Strengthening Australian Arts’, The Howard Government Election 2004 Policy.

Moran, A and Vieth, E 2006, Film in Australia: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Sydney.

Murray, S 1995, Australian Film: 1978–1994. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.


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