Melbourne On Screen 2005

We’re in the midst of Melbourne On Screen, a series of film and television and interactive media events pulled together over ten days.

Whew! What a week! For me, it began with the knock-out Kubrick exhibition. Who could miss Terry Cutler introducing the great Malcolm McDowall as Malcolm MacDonald? Well I did, actually – I was stuck in traffic after attending a meeting of writers at AFTRS. But I heard about it downstairs in the exhibition itself, as the exceptionally generous Malcolm ignored the fluff and chatted to all-comers in the throng. What a guy!

The Kubrick exhibition is a must see for all filmmakers who can possibly get to it, a real eye-opener into the genius of Stanley Kubrick.

The previous event that made me miss the opening speeches was an informal gathering of Melbourne writers with the Australian Writers’ Guild’s two UK guests, Lucy Scher and Adrian Hodges, to discuss the current situation of film and television in Australia. When the local writers were pessimistic about the state of play, especially television which seems in danger of disintegrating, Lucy Scher was far more optimistic, recalling that the UK film industry has returned from the grave more than once in its history.

She seemed amazed when we informed her that in Australia, first timers are given precedence over more experienced practitioners, to the extent that it is unusual for a writer to achieve more than one film screenplay produced, let alone two, and the number of Aussie writers who have had three films produced can be counted on one hand.

I stepped out of the discussion to usher our British guests to their waiting cab, and on the way back bumped into producer Franziska Wagenfeld, who questioned my pessimism about the film industry. “It’s not that bad,” she told me. “I believe that next year, ‘Irresistable’ will prove irresistible to audiences, “The Book of Revelations” will be great, as will “Jindabyne’ from director Ray Lawrence. And I’ve heard great things about the rough cut of Geoffrey Wright’s ‘M’.” And then there’s “Candy.” So perhaps next year’s film output will be as strong and this year’s. I hope so.

It was time to dash down to the car park and forage five dollars in change to escape the chains of the wasteland car park next to the AFTRS building, and enter Melbourne’s peak hour traffic. On the way Megan Elliott, the AWG’s Executive Director briefed Alison Tilson and South Australia’s Christine Sweeney about the Guild’s plans to assist writers weather the television drought.

So we were too late to hear Terry Cutler’s gaffe and the other speeches, but in time to witness the breathtaking exhibition, which clearly is worth every cent of the considerable dollars someone has forked out bringing it to the Antipodes.

The next day I was off to the Plaza Ballroom for a tech check for the AWGIEs, the Australian Writers’ Guild awards. Then across town again to Docklands for the AFI Craft awards, where Russell Crowe showed why he got where he is today – professionalism and charisma in spades, plus the ability to effortlessly work the audience. Onya, Rusty. And thanks for your support of the AFI.

We left the Craft Awards after Russell’s song, to scoot back to town for the AWGIEs. Brian Rosen, CEO of the FFC sprinted past me to accost a taxi for the same reason. The AWGIEs too went off smoothly, thanks to the work of producer Jane Ballantyne and AWG staffer Pip Newling among many others.

As always there was some controversy on the night, this time evoked when “Ra Choi” overcame three well-known films to take off the Feature Film screenplay award. Unlike the AFI awards, which require a film to have been released nationally in order to enter, the AWGIEs accept any screenplay that has been produced. And by all accounts it’s a great read, although the finished film has still not found a distributor.

Despite the plethora of Melbourne on Screen events, the AWGIEs were well attended, with many writers as well as Sandra Straulig from Film Victoria, Brian Rosen from the FFC, Kim Dalton of the AFC and many politicians, including Peter Garrett, the Federal spokesperson for the Arts, and Mary Delahunty, the Victorian Minister for the Arts.

A theme of the night was anti-sedition law speeches, with Simon Hopkinson, Bill Garner and David Williamson all voicing their disquiet about the proposed laws, as well as Mary Delahunty who pointed out the State Government is doing all it can to oppose them. Even Richard Harris from ASDA turned up for the event, perhaps wishing that his organization had the wherewithal to celebrate the work of directors in the way the AWGIEs so succesfully celebrate writers.

ASDA in fact hosted the next day’s event, Meet the Director, where Sarah Watt, Rowan Woods and John Hillcoat sprawled back on red sofas waiting for host Megan Spencer to finish pontificating about their work, so they could get to talk about it themselves. When the directors did manage to get a word in, they provided a fascinating insight into the way they each approach their work. More on this later.

For me, it was time to return home to reintroduce myself to the children (Hi kids, remember me, I’m your daddy) before dusting down the tux and heading back to Docklands once again for the AFI Awards. Drinks in the darkness of the Waterside Pavilion, followed by a coach ride to the Docklands Studios across the road.

The event itself was great, with Russell Crowe doing a fabulous job for the second day in a row. Crowe presented many awards himself, which saved heaps of time. Many of the right people won the awards, in my humble opinion, especially Chris Kennedy for his work as a production designer (he worked on the film I wrote, A Single Life, and even back then his talent shone brightly.) Great too to see Robert Connelly and Elliot Perlman take out the award for Best Screenplay (Adaptation), which was richly deserved. And Sarah Watt winning best Screenplay, best director AND best film for Look Both Ways, a film I love. Perhaps John Hillcoat, Rowan Woods and Greg Maclean could feel unfairly treated though, as this is one year where it could be argued all four directors were equally justified to win. But four way ties are a rarity in AFI history.

The afterparty began darkly, back in that tent, dimly lit and overly filled with music. But the alcohol flowed in profusion until two a.m, and there was enough food (just!). The entire gathering drifted towards the smoker’s corner outside the tent, producing a human traffic jam. I tried to enter the smoker’s den but was rebuffed by the crowd. I felt two hands on my shoulders belonging to Bryce Menzies, urging me forward. “I can’t get in Bryce, there’s no room,” I protested. “You can,” he soothed, ‘you CAN!” And suitably motivated, I discovered I could shove my way through with the best of them, to the rear of the tent where documentary producer Gregory Miller, fresh from Small Screen Big Picture in Perth, was chatting to the always engaging Sonia Pemberton and the witty Stuart Menzies, two indefatigable commissioning editors from the ABC. Even Russell Crowe and Melissa George were amongst the throng.

Staggering home for a few hours’ kip before flitting around the AWG masterclasses held by the personable Adrian Hodges, writer of the acclaimed BBC series “Charles II,” and Lucy Scher of the UK’s Script Factory, the day ended for me with drinks at FAG. “The industry is cyclical,” our UK guests assured us. “When things turn down, it’s important to ramp up the training so that when things turn up again, you’ve got a crop of freshly trained writers ready for the challenge,” said Lucy Scher. On behalf of all of us, I sincerely hope they’re right, and that things will turn up again.

Melbourne On Screen continued with a talk by Rolf de Heer, and continues today with a talk from Lucy Scher, Adrian Hodges and Simon Hopkinson at NGV. MOS has certainly kicked on since it was invented by publicist Deb Withers, who worked with the AWG in 2003 to create a weeklong series of public screen events. In its current incarnation, MOS seems poised to gather the sort of momentum cherished by the Adelaide Festival, and that’s all to the good.
Melbourne in spring cultural frenzy for film
by: Mark Poole

Screen Hub
Monday 28 November, 2005

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