Sunday 10 January 2016

AFTRS – has the national film school become a TAFE?

During its first 30 years from 1973 to 2002, the Australian Film Television and Radio School produced 70 graduates who have directed 204 feature films. A complete list is included below.

For an industry as small as ours, it’s impressive.  AFTRS is about more than training directors, but much like the acting students at NIDA, the graduates who direct feature films attract the attention and their skills are arguably the most significant drivers in the film industry.

The roll call of leading directors from this period includes:

Phillip Noyce, Jane Campion, Chris Noonan, Gillian Armstrong, Stephen Wallace, Mario Andreacchio, Rolf De Heer, Alex Proyas, PJ Hogan, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Sue Brooks, Shirley Barrett, Kriv Stenders, David Caesar, Peter Duncan, Rowan Woods, Robert Connolly, Warwick Thornton, Rachel Perkins, Ivan Sen and Cate Shortland. (124 features between them).

The new School
 Following this first 30 years, the educational remit of AFTRS to produce feature film directors has gone into catastrophic decline. Between 2003 and 2012, only three graduates have directed four feature films and the last of those graduated from the “old” School 10 years ago in 2005.

Alarmingly, AFTRS stopped publishing its graduate credits in feature films after 2012.

What happened?
 Eight years ago, AFTRS moved from North Ryde to Moore Park and the new CEO Sandra Levy and her Council set about overhauling the School’s curriculum, the intake and its educational philosophy.

The existing Master of Arts and M.A (Honours) programs were scrapped in favour of Graduate Diplomas, Graduate Certificates and a Foundation Year; the student intake was tripled; and the educational philosophy moved from the immersive specialisation model favoured by national film schools around the world into something more akin to a very expensive TAFE.

During the past eight years, the new School has offered TAFE-sounding courses such as Graduate Certificate in Webisodes, Graduate Certificate in Multi Platform Content and Graduate Certificate in Camera Assistant.

New School ‘master plan’
The CEO of the new School, Sandra Levy wrote in the AFTRS self-published, on-line magazine LUMINA #10:

I asked the staff three questions:

·         if you could start from scratch, what would your ideal film school look like?

·         how could we take into account the technological and industry changes likely to take place in the next ten years?

·         in the light of the plethora of short films being made, how can the School differentiate itself in the future?

I asked graduates:

·         what did they value from their time at the School, what would they change, what problems did they see?

I also talked to the industry and wanted to know what the industry as a whole thought of AFTRS and what suggestions they could make to give us the chance to be better, to be more relevant and effective.

I was aware that some of the industry criticisms of the School were that it was elitist and was making films that were a triumph of style over substance. I wanted to see how we could change this perception. It was a chance to re-present the School with a new building, new courses, new attitudes and new values which would hopefully see a great flowering and blossoming of talent. That was the master plan.

Old School awards
Over the first 30 years at the old AFTRS there was, to borrow a phrase, a “great flowering and blossoming of talent”.

Graduates won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (Jane Campion), the Camera d’Or at Cannes twice (Shirley Barrett, Warwick Thornton), Academy Awards in Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie, Dion Beebe) and Best Original Screenplay (Jane Campion). Academy Award nominations were also bestowed on graduates Chris Noonan (Direction, Adapted Screenplay), Pip Karmel, (Editing), Dion Beebe (Cinematography) and Jane Campion (Direction).

Despite the perceived “triumph of style over substance”, three student films were nominated for Academy Awards. Student films have won over 300 local and international awards.

Mission becomes Purpose
 As previously reported in a widely circulated post on this blog, AFTRS was initially established to provide elite training for a very small burgeoning Australian Film Industry. In its 2002/03 Annual Report the Mission of the School was “to develop the skills of students and industry practitioners to the highest creative and technical standards to promote innovation and excellence of production in Australian’s film, television, radio and new media industries”.

By 2014/15 the Mission had become a “Purpose”:AFTRS’ purpose is to provide specialist education and training to advance the skills and knowledge of talented individuals to meet the evolving needs of Australia’s screen arts and broadcast industries.

No longer are words such as “excellence”, “highest” or “creative” part of the School’s “Purpose”. Rather, providing “specialist education and training to advance the skills and knowledge of talented individuals” might fit well with a TAFE mission statement.

Increased student numbers
 Over the last decade, while the number of graduates directing feature films from the new School has fallen away to almost nothing, AFTRS has enrolled almost three times the number of students in film and television. In ten years between 1993 and 2002 the School enrolled 532 students in film and television, but between 2003 and 2012, the School enrolled 1,441 students in film and television.

Despite this spike in enrolments, AFTRS has made less student films than it made during its first 30 years.
                                           2003-2012        1993-2002         1983-1992    1973-82

enrolled in film
and television                        1,441                   532                   347             155

short films                              218                     246                   220             325                     

Paradoxically, vastly increased numbers of students are being trained in film and television but are making fewer student films. This cannot produce the quality of education AFTRS was initially set up to provide.

A new Bachelor of Arts qualification being introduced  in 2016 may be a sign the School Council is finally concerned about the drastic TAFE-like new School, but it may be too little too late.

The Old School model
 National film schools choose the small intake/ high intensity model for a reason. They want a continuous supply of “industry-ready” practitioners to feed their film industries. The expectation is that these practitioners will contribute at the quality end of film-making. 

Two other distinct advantages of the small intake/ high intensity AFTRS model of the first 30 years are missing from the new TAFE-like model. Students formed invaluable life-long friendships with students from other specialisations and this was carried forward into their professional working lives.

Secondly, the flexibility of the high intensity/small intake model of the past allowed students from disciplines other than Directing to pitch ideas and direct films during their time at AFTRS. Cinematography students Kriv Stenders, David Caesar, Alex Proyas and Scriptwriting students Rowan Woods, PJ Hogan and Peter Duncan all directed while at AFTRS and have directed 34 feature films since.

 Another significant marker of the differences between the old and new AFTRS can be found in the approach to Indigenous training. On the AFTRS website under “AFTRS Indigenous Award Course Alumni” there are 56* graduates in film and television listed, yet only seven have graduated since 2005. The remaining 49 are all from the old School and specifically from the period 1993 to 2005. They include the Indigenous directors who have made feature films - Ivan Sen, Rachel Perkins, Warwick Thornton, Beck Cole and Catriona McKenzie, a total of 10 feature films between them. No Indigenous feature film directors have graduated from AFTRS since 2001.

*Although listed as an Alumnus there is no record of Wayne Blair, director of The Sapphires, 2012, graduating from AFTRS. Blair was the recipient of the AV Myer Indigenous Fellowship in 2006. Darren Dale, currently Deputy Chair of the AFTRS Council and recipient of an Honorary Degree is also excluded.

The Questions
The old School is gone and with it the industry-ready graduates who would make their mark both here and overseas. It’s to be hoped those unnamed industry professionals, AFTRS staff and graduates consulted for the new School are happy with the result. Many others aren’t and feel it’s only a matter of time before Canberra looks at this very expensive outlay for so little result.

Why did the School Council - under three Chairs over the past 8 years - decide to re-invent the wheel or fix something that wasn’t broken?

It remains a mystery. The record shows the old model worked extremely well despite what some might feel about elitism. And now that the dreaded elitism has gone, just what is AFTRS doing?

·         Do increasing student numbers, devaluing the courses and failing to produce industry-ready practitioners justify a $25 million a year Federal Government appropriation?

·         Does our industry really need AFTRS to graduate more than 200 students a year?

·         Why was the successful small intake/high intensity model abandoned for a model that doesn’t produce feature film directors?

This is a complete listing of AFTRS graduates who have directed feature films. Like all data quoted here the information comes from the AFTRS website. The data stops at 2012.

1973 to 1982

Phillip NoyceBackroads 1977; Newsfront, 1978; Heatwave, 1982; Echoes of Paradise, 1987; Dead Calm 1989; Blind Fury, 1989; Patriot Games, 1992; Sliver, 1993; Clear and Present Danger,1994; The Saint, 1997; The Bone Collector, 1999; Rabbit Proof Fence, 2002; The Quite American, 2002; Catch A Fire, 2006; Salt, 2010; The Giver, 2014  
Gillian Armstrong  – My Brilliant Career, 1979, Starstruck, 1982; Mrs Soffel ,1984; Hightide, 1987; Fires Within, 1991; The Last Days of Chez Nous, 1992; Little Women, 1994; Oscar and Lucinda, 1997; Charlotte Grey, 2001; Death Defying Acts, 2007
James Ricketson – Third Person Pural, 1978; Candy Regentag,1989; Blackfellas, 1993
Chris Noonan Babe, 1995; Miss Potter, 2006 

Open program only

No graduates

No graduates

Sophia TurkiewiczSilver City, 1984
Stephen Wallace Stir, 1980; The Boy Who Had Everything, 1985; For Love Alone, 1986; Prisoners of the Sun, 1990; Turtle Beach, 1992;  
Martha Ansara – The Pursuit of Happiness, 1988

Mario AndreacchioFair Game, 1986; The Dreaming, 1988; Napoleon, 1994; The Real Macaw, 1998; Sally Marshall is Not an Alien, 1999; Young Blades, 2001; Paradise Found, 2003; Elephant Tales, 2006; The Dragon Pearl, 2011 
Geoff BennettBoys in the Island,1990, Turning April, 1996; Hating Alison Ashley, 2005

Rolf De HeerTale of a Tiger, 1984; Incident at Raven’s Gate, 1988; Dingo, 1991; Bad Boy Bubby, 1993; The Quiet Room, 1996; Almost Alien, 1997; Dance Me to My Song, 1998; The Old Man Who Loved to Read Stories, 2001; The Tracker, 2002; Alexandra’s Project, 2003; Ten Canoes, 2006; Dr Plonk, 2007; The King is Dead!, 2012; Charlie’s Country, 2013
Di DrewRight Hand Man, 1987; Whipping Boy, 1996; Hildegarde, 2001
Ray Argall  - Return Home, 1990; Eight Ball, 1991
Denny LawrenceEmoh Ruo, 1985; Afraid to Dance, 1989; Rainbow’s End, 1995

Alex ProyasSpirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds, 1989; The Crow, 1994; Dark City, 1998; Garage Days, 2002; I, Robot, 2004; Knowing, 2009; Gods of Egypt, 2016   
Peter AndrikidisThe Kings of Mykonos, 2010; Alex and Eve, 2015

Karl Zwicky - Vicious, 1988; Paws, 1997; The Magic Pudding, 2000
Laurie McInnesBroken Highway, 1993 
Gerard LeeAll Men are Liars, 1994
1983 to 1992

Jane Campion  – Sweetie, 1989; An Angel at My Table, 1990; The Piano, 1993; Portrait of a Lady, 1996; Holy Smoke, 1999; In the Cut, 2003; Bright Star, 2009
PJ HoganThe Humpty Dumpty Man , 1986; Muriel’s Wedding, 1994; My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997; Unconditional Love, 2001; Peter Pan, 2003; Confessions of a Shopaholic, 2009; Mental, 2012
Jocelyn Moorhouse – Proof, 1991; How to Make an American Quilt, 1995; A Thousand Acres, 1997; The Dressmaker, 2015
Julie MoneyThe New Girlfriend, 1999
Alison TilsonJapanese Story (co-director), 2003                           

Sue BrooksRoad to Nhill, 1997; Japanese Story (co-director), 2003; Subdivision, 2009; Looking for Grace, 2015

Leslie Oliver  – You Can’t Push The River, 1985                                  
Nicholas ParsonsDead Heart, 1994                                                     
Stephen Prime Powderburn, 1999                                                       

Megan Simpson HubermanAlex, 1986; Dating The Enemy, 1996                                           
David Caesar Greenkeeping, 1992; Idiot Box, 1996; Mullet, 2001; Dirty Deeds, 2001; Prime Mover, 2009; Nowhere Boys: Book of Shadows, 2016   
Peter Leovic Roadman, 2010                                 

Monica Pellizzari – Fistful of Flies, 1996                                
Shirley BarrettLove Serenade, 1996; Walk The Talk, 2000; South Solitary, 2010               

Kay Pavlou – Mary, 1994                                             
Pip KarmelMe Myself I, 1999                        
Kriv Senders – Illustrated Family Doctor, 2004; Blacktown, 2005; Boxing Day, 2007; Dark Frontier, 2009; Red Dog, 2011; Kill Me Three Times, 2014                                    

Jonathan Ogilvie Emulsion, 2006; Tender Hook, 2008  
Belinda Chayko Bored Olives (aka City Loop), 2000; Lou, 2010                 

Pauline ChanTraps, 1990; Little White Lies, 1999; 33 Postcards, 2011                   
Mojgan KhademSerenades, 2001                                                        

Stavros KazantzidesTrue Love and Chaos, 1997; Russian Doll, 2001; Horseplay, 2003

Murray FaheyGet Away, Get Away 1992; Voyage in Fear, 1993; Sex is a Four Letter Word, 1995; Dags, 1998; Cubbyhouse, 2001
Shawn SeetTwo Fists, One Heart, 2008
1993 to 2002

Peter DuncanChildren of the Revolution, 1996; A Little Bit of Soul, 1998; Passion, 1999; Unfinished Sky, 2007
Daniel KrigeWest, 2007; Inhuman Resources, 2012
Andrew LancasterAccidents Happen, 2009
Rowan WoodsThe Boys, 1998; Little Fish 2005; Winged Creatures, 2009

Robert ConnollyThe Bank, 2001; Three Dollars, 2005; Balibo, 2009; The Turning, 2014; Paper Planes, 2015
Sam LangThe Well, 1997; Monkey’s Mask, 2000; L’Idole, 2002
Craig Monahan, The Interview, 1998; Peaches, 2003; Healing, 2014
Daniel Nettheim, Angst, 2000; The Hunter, 2011

Tony McNamara The Rage in Pacid Lake, 2003; Ashby, 2015
Warwick Thornton Samson and Delilah, 2009
Anna ReevesOyster Farmer, 2004

Rachel PerkinsRadiance, 1999; One Night The Moon, 2001; Bran Nue Dae, 2009
Michael James RowlandLucky Miles, 2007
Mark ForstmannMonkey Puzzles, 2007
Martin MurphyLost Things, 2004

Adam BlaiklockCaught Inside, 2011
Ivan SenBeneath Clouds, 2002; Dreamland, 2009; Toomelah, 2011; Mystery Road, 2014


Louise AlstonJucy, 2001; All My Friends are leaving Brisbane, 2007;
Serhat CaradeeCedar Boys, 2008
Kim FarrantStrangerland, 2015
Cate ShortlandSomersault, 2004; Lore, 2012

Sean Byrne The Loved Ones, 2009; The Devil’s Candy, 2015
Tony KrawitzDead Europe, 2012
Clare McCarthyCross Life, 2007; The Waiting City, 2009
Steve PasvolskyDeck Dogz, 2004
Catriona McKenzieSatellite Boy, 2012

Beck ColeHere I Am, 2011

Rupert Glasson - Coffin Rock, 2009; What Lola Wants, 2015


Alister GriersonKokoda, 2006; Sanctum, 2010

Dean FrancisRoad Kill, 2009
Granaz MoussauiMy Tehran For Sale, 2010




1 comment:

  1. I attended AFTS (no 'R' then) in the first 3 year intake in 1975. There were 25 students. By 1977 there were 75 students. Total. Over three years everyone did everything, only settling into a speciality in the 3rd year. That range of experience - even though I have been a mere screenwriter since then - proved invaluable. No one asked me what I thought of my time there or what I think of it now.


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