Wednesday 10 August 2016

MATAUNGAN (2) - The story continues with some fascinating information from historian Ken Berryman and some insights into early film culture endeavours

Rod Bishop (front) films a Tolai demonstration
On 11 July this blog posted a note from Rod Bishop which you can find here if you click on the link providing some personal information about a long ago film project embarked upon by a group of film-makers and scholars from La Trobe University. In brief Rod wrote about the experience of being part of an uncompleted film from 44 years ago and the integration of the 40-minute “double-head” film into a new exhibit at GOMA in Brisbane.

Rod wrote: I was a student at La Trobe University in 1972 when Dr Heinz Schütte, a specialist in Third World development, asked Peter Beilby and me to make a film in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Heinz had received a grant from the Experimental Film and Television Fund, the fledgling government production entity.

The post has had hundreds of page views since (it’s the fourth most viewed of all time on Film Alert blogand has caused a flurry of activity and much recollection. 

I’ve commenced editing much of the information into what follows below. 

First up is a note from historian and professional film archivist Ken Berryman who advises of his efforts to uncover the facts about the production. The information discovered by Ken is in the files of the National Film & Sound Archive. 

Ken writes:  My effort pales alongside what Rod and the others were able to achieve in relation to this project, but there are very rough parallels. My interest in it arose out of my research for my Masters thesis completed at LaTrobe in the 80s. The subject for it came out of an approach to me by then AFI George Lugg Librarian Helen Zilko; the AFI had in the 1970s administered the Experimental Film & Television Fund (EFTF), the first of the Fed Govt's film industry assistance schemes to get underway at the time. That deal concluded in 1977 and the Fund itself copped a makeover by the AFC, but all the files and paperwork for the EFTF had been moved offsite to a storage location and Helen asked if I would consider putting them in order and archiving the essentials... which is what I did. The AFC also took me on contract for a time to deal with all the filmmaker files, which they had retained.

The resultant thesis - basically a history of the Fund and its legacy - went way beyond course requirements and Ina Bertrand who was my co-supervisor with Bill Routt made a strong push to get it tarted up for publication. Scott Murray was interested in doing this via Cinema Papers and agreed to act as editor if we could secure some funding for it through the AFC. With Scott's help, we drew up a chapter plan to make the subject less academic and hopefully of more interest to the general reader and, given that it was impossible to discuss 800+ film projects in any significant detail, agreed that a limited case study approach might work. My research had thrown up Mataungan (or Two Cultures as it was also described) as one of the more interesting EFTF projects and so it was selected as the basis for one of the case study chapters.

Short story long, some AFC funding was approved, the draft chapter prepared, but ultimately the book didn't materialise, and the Mataungan m/s went into the bottom drawer. It was resurrected and a new intro prepared, together with a series of breakout boxes to help explain or clarify some of the more arcane aspects of EFTF administration, when I was encouraged to submit something for Cinema Papers 25th anniversary issue in August 1999, coinciding neatly with the 30th anniversary of the Fed Govt's historic announcement, as part of its new package for the arts, of a grant of $300,000 to aid Australian filmmaking. Ultimately, my article never found its way into publication here either, but was - with the accessioning assistance of Simon Smith at the NFSA - consigned eventually with Rod's VHS copy of the extant Mataungan footage to the national collection in March 2008.

That m/s is the only surviving 'clean' copy that I'm aware of. I have only a cut and pasted draft copy and there is no digital version. While I was interested in the Mataungan project's culture clash, and the film crew dynamics, which Rod's, Heinz Schutte and Dave Jones’s 1972 Cineaste article and more recent account detail well, it was the AFI's handling of the project which became the greater focus for me - for the AFI/EFTF administration, the entire Mataungan project was a salutary experience, highlighting the difficulty Fund officials faced in implementing policy, particularly a contractual requirement that all projects be completed within 12 months. Some memorable quotes from the time:

Albie Thoms ( in characteristic style, arguing that the AFI's imposition of a payment voucher system ) "...tended to suggest mistrust of filmmakers and the desire to build the AFI into a monolithic organisation controlling independent filmmaking in Australia."

Fund administrator Isaac Gerson ( on the EFTF contract ) suggested an informal letter to successful Fund applicants would serve as well, since "... there is not the remotest chance that even with flagrant infringement of its conditions the Interim Council, or the AFI, or their officers will litigate for the enforcement of the conditions. In these circumstances the issue of a contract is about as valuable an action as fitting a corpse with a perfect set of dentures." 

And industry commentator Barrett Hodsdon from 1976: " Because it heralded a new era of government involvement in funding of the arts in Australia, the funding programmes existed in advance of the rationales to explain them. Hence arts support programmes were based on a few generalised assumptions which provided considerable freedom in actual implementation of such programmes."

And just to conclude, in looking again at my notes from the time, after Rod had indicated in our recent exchanges that the NFSA title summary contained some inaccuracies, I found the letter from Dave Jones at Drexel University in Philadelphia in Sept 1985, in response to my written query to him about the film, which at least points to the source of some of the original summary information. Dave wrote:

"Most - possibly all - of the surviving Mataungan film footage is sitting in my office. A few years ago, when the project seemed to have been finally abandoned in Australia, I asked that the material be sent to me in the hopes I could manage to do something with it.

"The material arrived in an appalling state; nevertheless, I thought and still think that an intriguing 40-minute film could be made out of it. Because much material is missing, damaged, faded, or stretched, the film should be a black and white slash print made for a tape-spliced workprint, with no subtitles but with brief introductory titles added to place the film (and its problems) in context. It would cost about $2000 to do it right."

So, what happened?

How did the original negatives, soundtracks and workprints end up at a university in Pennsylvania?

PART 3 of the Mataungan story will be posted in the coming days.

1 comment:

  1. Onya, Ken and Rod. What a time that all was. The filmic spirit then makes today look rudimentary.


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