Monday 10 July 2017

AFTRS and after - ABC iView shines a light on AFTRS history

I thought it may be that someone at the ABC has a malicious sense of humour. We know the answer. Lots of people at the ABC have a malicious sense, not just of humour. One such may well be the person responsible for a selection of shorts made by students at the Australian Film Television & Radio School which has gone up on the broadcaster’s iView platform. Probably however the selection was done by someone at AFTRS. Now that Julie Rigg has gone, it’s unlikely that anybody at the ABC would know any of the films at AFTRS and certainly wouldn’t bother going through the library.

The selection perhaps inadvertently reinforces the view, expressed In a now long ago post  and on other occasions, that the national training body for the film industry seems to have lost its way. Its students are not making films that attract attention in their own right and go on to win prizes and have festival screenings around the world. Its students also don’t seem to be breaking into commercial feature film production.

The selection delves into AFTRS history in a way which can be interpreted as showing up the decline in quality over the years of the 21st century. 10 films are offered on the platform and four are by Aboriginal film-makers. On the AFTRS website reference is made to the films made by blackfellas thus: Celebrate #NAIDOC2017 with a selection of short films produced by AFTRS Indigenous alumni when they were students at the School. See Ivan Sen's Warm StrangersCatriona McKenzie's The Third Note and Redfern Beach; Adrian Wills' Weeping Willow; and Natasha Lawrence's Resistance on ABC iview now.

The last mentioned, a documentary, was made in 2012. The other four were made in what now appears to be a golden age for the school’s production of talented Aboriginal film-makers, between 1996 and 2002.  In that time, Aboriginal students Ivan Sen, Catriona Mackenzie, Erica Glynn, Rachel Perkins, Kelrick Martin, Steve McGregor, Beck Cole and Adrian Wills made 22  films while they were students at the School. Many of that group went on to distinguish themselves via both feature film-making and, more recently and notably, via their work almost as a self-contained group on the various iterations of the TV series Redfern Now produced by Blackfella Films, the company run by Rachel Perkins and current AFTRS Deputy Chair Darren Dale.

Interestingly enough, during the seven years that Darren Dale has been on the Council of, or Deputy Chair of, AFTRS the output of films by Aboriginal students has decreased significantly.

The remaining films were made by women film-makers at the School – 100 a Day (Gillian Armstrong), Peel (Jane Campion), The Drover’s Wife (Sue Brooks), Joy (Cate Shortland) and Cherith (Shirley Barrett). All are now major figures in Australian film but that selection digs back from between forty and fifteen years ago.

So, one analysis suggests this schema: The group of films from 9 filmmakers has been carefully selected for diversity – 4 blackfellas and 6 women of which 5 are anglos. One is from the 1970s, three from the 1980s, four from the 90s to circa 2000 and one from the last 16 years of AFTRS. The 21st century is, as was stated long ago (see above link), a near blank page for the emergence of new film-makers from our major, most prestigious film training institution.

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