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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 857

Senator FORSHAW (7.44 p.m.) —I rise to speak this evening in support of the recent work of the Australian film industry and particularly to congratulate it on its local and international success. At the last election there was a clear distinction between the commitment given to the arts by this government and the lack of commitment offered by the opposition. While the opposition wanted to restructure the taxation system and turn back the clock towards discredited schemes which the industry has now moved beyond, the government clearly focused on assisting our vibrant arts industry. It is significant that the government's arts and cultural policy document at that election was entitled Distinctly Australian. Fortunately for the arts community, and the film industry in particular, the opposition did not win in March 1993.

  While I hope the opposition comes on board now and recognises that there is nothing wrong with the arts community being unashamedly Australian, I regret to say that the new shadow minister for the arts appears determined to follow the lead of his predecessor. In his statement to arts organisations of 8 June 1994, following his appointment as the shadow minister for the arts, Senator Alston demonstrated just how distinctly un-Australian his priorities are.

  When Senator Alston referred to film, he referred to Woody Allen; when he referred to theatre, like his predecessor Senator Baume, he eulogised over Gilbert and Sullivan; and, when he referred to music, his passion was for Freddy Gardiner and Billy Joel. He added that he liked central Asian and Middle Eastern carpets and Third World art, including coptic crosses. There was no mention of Australian film, Australian music or Australian literature, and only a passing reference to Aboriginal art. There was no recognition of the importance of our multicultural society to our artistic and cultural expression.

  The strength of the arts community in being proudly Australian, distinctly Australian, is well represented in this year's film releases. The government's investment in the film industry is reaping rewards. It is pleasing to see these rewards come in both artistic terms and financial terms. The formal recognition of artistic excellence has come through the numerous awards which have been achieved in most recent years, particularly at the Cannes film festival.

  This year, 1994, is the third year in a row that Australian films have been the hits at the Cannes film festival. Strictly Ballroom, The Piano, Muriel's Wedding and the Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert have brought international acclaim to Australia's film industry. This year Australia had the two hit films at the festival. One was voted the most popular and the other was voted the third most popular of all films chosen from throughout the world for official selection. This achievement has never been matched by any other country or film industry outside Hollywood.

  As well as these being the most famous with respect to these latest releases, the Australian film industry has impressive depth. Twelve new Australian films were screened during Cannes this year. More than 24 Australian films were represented by 13 sales agents, three of which are Australian. The same success which Australian films achieved at Cannes is now occurring at the Montreal film festival. This was noted in an article in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald. Comment was made upon the success at Montreal of Priscilla and The Sum of Us. The article states:

[Kevin Dowling, Co-director of The Sum Of Us] said the film had done better than expected. "We didn't know how the subtitles would translate and if they would understand the Australian humour."

They did.

"At the first screening, it was absolutely sold out—a 980-seater—and they were standing two-deep at the back . . . "

And many of the jokes received up to three laughs: as the subtitles were not on the print, but projected electronically with a one-second delay, English speakers laughed at things as they happened, French speakers as they read them, and then at each other for the delay.

Dowling said the film's official festival screening, its second, was also packed, this time with 1,200 people.

The film industry has a unique role in promoting Australia overseas. The current body of films achieving such success depicts Australian life in all of its diversity. The international focus which is placed on Australia because of the popularity of our films can only be beneficial.

  The promotion of Australia overseas through these films provides many economic spin-offs, not the least being the promotion of Australia as a prime tourist destination. The magnificent Australian outback, which is the backdrop to Priscilla, is evidence of this. One cannot overlook the more direct financial benefits in terms of box office takings. The success of Australian films at Cannes resulted in buyers paying, in minimum guarantees, more than $15 million over the course of 10 days.

  Priscilla opened in the United States with a platform release. This means that it opened in seven cinemas in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. The popularity of this film will see the initial distribution widened to many more screens across America. In its first five days, Priscilla grossed $US296,817. That figure continues to grow as its success spreads to other locations. Sirens opened in the United Kingdom on 29 July and within about eight days it had grossed in excess of #1,300,000. It was the most popular film at the London box office on the weekend of 5-7 August. Box office success overseas has been well matched by takings within Australia. The Sum of Us opened on 28 July and has already taken $2.3 million at the Australian box office. Its producer, Hal McElroy, has said that its total box office earnings might reach $6 million to $8 million, which will put it in the top 10 grossing Australian films of the year.

  The government's commitment to the Film Finance Corporation has been pivotal to the high quality of our Australian films which we are now all enjoying. It has also ensured that large sections of the profits which Australian films generate are ploughed back into the film industry.

  Since entering the Senate in May this year, I have taken the opportunity to meet with representatives of many of the various groups which comprise our film industry. The interaction of these various organisations, in particular the Australian Film Commission, Film Australia and the Film Finance Corporation, is certainly working well, with the proof being in the quality and popularity of this year's releases.

  These organisations can be rightly proud of the quality of Australian films now being made. We in the government can certainly be proud of the support we are giving to these organisations and to the industry. It is important for all governments at all levels to provide assistance and encouragement for this industry which is doing so much to promote our culture and our artistic and national identity both at home and throughout the world.