Thursday 31 December 2015

The Film Institutions in 2016 – (1) AFTRS

During the course of 2015, this blog published a number of widely read pieces about the current state of things at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School. You can find the key piece here. Other pieces can be located via the links at the side of this blog. The thinking behind them was to question AFTRS about the philosophy (hope that’s not being too grand) behind its current teaching and admissions policies. Lurking behind that matter was a judgement that AFTRS had abandoned its former goal of providing an elite education with a view to enhancing major film-making talent and had instead embarked upon a practice whereby it concentrated on greater student throughput . This was epitomised by its offering of dozens of short courses which earn students paper qualifications across a myriad of specialist activities.

By one view, this educational practice was similar to that now provided by state-based TAFE institutions across a range of trades. (Except of course those trades provide qualifications that allow for virtually instant entry into the workplace due to significant and continuing labour market shortages.)  Such a practice brought into consideration whether a national Federally funded tertiary institution school should in effect reduce itself to a place whereby young students mostly from Sydney and its environs have access to a massively well-resourced body providing only rudimentary learning. In such circumstances whether AFTRS should exist at all as that Federally funded  elite educational institution is also brought into serious question.

Further concerns about AFTRS activities in 2015 arose because of the way it handled the transition from its retiring CEO to a new appointee. Without re-iterating all of the problems that were caused by the delay in this appointment, which the AFTRS Council claims was almost entirely the fault of dysfunction in former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s personal office, the fact is that in late 2014, a senior staff member, appointed from overseas, arrived to set new directions for the elite students yet was banished within a bare six months. A former staff member, working at a film school at Ealing Studios, but without CEO experience, has now been appointed the new CEO. He only took up that appointment some four months after his predecessor had departed.

Meanwhile, the Board of AFTRS is in what some would call disarray. It lacks a Chair and does not have sufficient numbers to make serious decisions about the school’s future activities. The fault for this lies with the Turnbull Government which has refused thus far to appoint a new Chair and fill the statutorily required nine positions. The former Chair Julianne Schultz served only one term and it is assumed will not be re-appointed. She is possibly a victim of the Abbott/Credlin/Turnbull policy of not renewing statutory appointments made by the previous Labor Government. An enquiry to Professor Schultz asking whether she was available for re-appointment brought the following response “Unfortunately (Professor Schultz) is currently overseas and will be unable to answer your query immediately but she should be able to get in touch upon her return at the end of December.” However, we’ve reached that time and no news is forthcoming.

At its final meeting for the year Cabinet did not fix up the vacancies on the AFTRS Council before its members headed either for the beach or for study tours and ministerial consultations in northern climes including apparently in Hong Kong, though I may have got the timing of unseemly matters out of whack. Notwithstanding any excuses, the capacity of the Council to make decisions thus remains in near limbo until February.

For an extended analysis of AFTRS history and current activities check back to the Film Alert 101 blog over the next couple of days when a further insightful forensic analysis will be posted.

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