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IndieDoco : Reinvigorating Australian Documentary

IndieDoco is a group of independent Australian filmmakers that have developed a strategy to reinvigorate a once-bountiful Australian documentary landscape. We spoke to IndieDoco member and Australian filmmaker Jennifer Crone about the beginnings of IndieDoco, and what we can expect to see from the group moving into 2014


HRAFF:  What does IndieDoco stand for, and how does it plan on achieving its objectives?

JENNIFER C:  Indiedoco was established in November 2013 by members of the Australian Director’s Guild to campaign for support for independent authored documentaries in Australia. Details of our campaign and objectives are available on our Facebook page:

HRAFF :  When did you realise IndieDoco was necessary to protect Australian documentary filmmakers? Was there a particular moment or was it a slow, gradual process?

JENNIFER C:  Documentary filmmakers have been aware for some time that public funds allocated by federal legislation specifically to support the production of high quality documentaries in Australia, managed by Screen Australia, are no longer reaching documentary filmmakers. Last year a veteran arts administrator and public campaigner for documentary, the former CEO of the now defunct government documentary producer Film Australia, Sharon Connolly, was commissioned by AFTRS to research the figures on documentary production. She found that 85% of Screen Australia’s documentary funding is controlled by the ABC and SBS, and that the public broadcasters have allocated the majority of those funds to specialist factual series and formats, not to documentaries.The result is that while in 1997-98 71% of total documentary hours produced by production companies were single documentaries, by 2012-13 fewer than 21% of total documentary hours were single documentaries. Sharon Connolly’s report established the factual evidence than our impression that documentary filmmakers were being squeezed out of the public funding system in favour of larger companies and international corporations who are producing factual features and formats, not documentaries, was accurate. The report will be released in February so that everyone can see the detail.

HRAFF:  IndieDoco has begun to gain momentum. In December you were invited to Screen Australia’s review of documentary funding. How is this particular project progressing? Do you feel the film industry and wider community are beginning to understand the importance of what IndieDoco stand for?

JENNIFER C:  Indiedoco has gathered an incredible degree of support right across Australia and the screen sector. We have been endorsed by Antenna Documentary Festival, the Documentary Australia Foundation, Metro Screen, Australian Teachers of media (ATOM) , ICE Parramatta, Doco3000 Ozdox, the Australian Director’s Guild, and Qdox. When we posted on our facebook page asking our friends to show their support for our objectives, within a few days the post was viewed by more than 5000 people.In December the FORMER ABC chairman Donald McDonald called for the ABC board to launch a full-scale review of the broadcaster’s operations and priorities to ensure its coverage is distinctive, high quality and represents a broad range of views. Other high profile commentators have also called for the public broadcasters to produce higher quality, more diverse programs.

After Indiedoco began our campaign, Screen Australia announced that it ‘plans to kick off a consultation process at the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) in Feb 2014 to update the documentary funding programs currently offered through its Documentary Unit.’ (Dec Screen Australia newsletter released 11.12.13)

Meanwhile Indiedoco has held high level meetings with the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia to present them with Sharon Connolly’s report and explain our objectives in detail.

HRAFF:  You have compared our film funding systems to those of other countries like the UK, what does their system facilitate that ours doesn’t?

JENNIFER C:  The UK industry and public broadcasters BBC and Channel Four led the move away from documentary as a mainstream offering from public broadcasters. Australia’s public broadcasters followed in their footsteps.  However both the BBC and Channel Four have recently returned innovative, risky and challenging documentaries to the prime time schedules of their main channels. Meanwhile America’s national Public Broadcasting Service never abandoned its highly promoted primetime documentary strands. Australia’s ABC and SBS are now out of step with world best practice. Indiedoco has offered to work with both broadcasters to bring back Australian produced high quality documentary strands to their main channels. However we don’t believe that the ABC and SBS should have total editorial control of public documentary funds. We want the Screen Australia funds for high quality documentary to be allocated by a panel of independent documentary experts.

HRAFF:  Can you give us some examples of great Australian films that were produced on the Single Documentary Strand (or another Program that is no longer available to independent filmmakers)? 

JENNIFER C:  The list of films mentioned on our Facebook page as having been produced by Indiedoco directors is a good start. ‘Mabo’ by Trevor Graham, ‘Rats in the Ranks’ by Bob Connolly and Robyn Anderson, ‘Then The Wind Changed’ by Celeste Greer, winner of the 2013 Walkley Documentary Award, Gillian Armstrong’s ‘Love Lust and Lies’, Tom Zubrycki’s ‘Molly and Mobarak’,  Rachel Lander’s ‘A Northern Town’, George Gittoes ‘The Miscreants of Taliwood’. The list could go on and on. Just five years ago Australian audiences could see 20 – 25 Australian documentaries each year on both the ABC and SBS. Last year SBS showed just four single documentaries.

HRAFF:  How can those interested get involved and help out with the IndieDoco cause?

JENNIFER C: Like our Facebook page to show your support and receive updates of the campaign and future requests for help. Indiedoco is preparing to release new information in the lead up to Screen Australia’s consultation at AIDC. After that we will be off to Canberra to take our campaign directly to the politicians! We will need as much support as you can give us.

Jennifer Crone is a Founding Member of IndieDoco and an independent Australian filmmaker. She runs her own production house called Jennifer Crone Productions.

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