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FILM QUOTA. |
LAW LEAVES INDUSTRY
(By a Correspondent.)
The outlook for Australian film pro- duction steadily becomes more gloomy. Only 15 months ago the Cinematograph Films (Australian Quota) Act was gazetted, amid the rejoicing of all who had the progress of the local industry at heart. To-day, rightly or wrongly, a great majority of the film trade looks on the Act, in its bearing on Australian production, as a dead letter.
With the exception of Columbia Pictures, the American distributors have not produced any films in Australia; and do not seem likely to do so. Australian individuals or com- panies who want to produce find, in most cases, that the public hesitates to Invest money. No one has confidence. Everyone Is waiting to see what someone else is going
Under the terms of the Act. 24 films ought to have been produced in Australia during 1936. Actually, the total will be about eight, or, even including carryovers from previous years, not much more than a dozen. There- fore, after January 1, 1937. confronted with the fact that the distributors have not ac- quired their five per cent, of Australian pic- tures, as demanded by law, the Government will have to consider its next step.
According to the Act, a defaulting distri- butor is liable to a penalty of £100, and. If the Court convicting him considers that he has offended with intent to defeat the pur- poses of the Act, it may suspend or cancel his registration. But the belief is becoming more and more widespread that the Act offers an easy loophole on a point of law, which will allow defaulters to escape.
That means that the Government will have to admit defeat; and either frame an entirely new law, or else let the whole matter of the quota drop. The former alternative would Involve serious and disheartening delay; the latter, a fiasco.
The weakness in the framing of the Act centres round the word "acquire." Section 4 says that it shall be the duty of distribu- tors "to acquire and make available for dis- tribution" the stated percentage of Australian
When the Chief Secretary had the legisla- tion drawn up. everyone supposed that it would force the distributors, and particularly the Americans, to finance production of Aus- tralian pictures, if none could be purchased in the open market.
"You claim that you cannot distribute Aus- tralian films." the Court would say to the delinquents In January, 1937, "because not enough of these films have been made. Well, why didn't you make some?"
DUTY TO "ACQUIRE."
That is certainly what the Government in- tended. But, in practice, if tested in a court of law, the word "acquire" may be Judged not to refer to production at all. The Act is "an Act for securing the exhibition of a certain proportion of Australian cinematograph films; and for purposes connected therewith." There Is no mention in this title of any intention to secure production. The omission seriously affects what follows.
Section 2 defines a distributor as "a person for the time being engaged in the business of hiring or selling films." There is again no reference to production; and, later in the same section, a "producer" is separately
The word "acquire," in relation to a dis- tributor, "Includes the production or obtaining possession of films for the purpose of hir- ing or selling them." But, considering that the Act is not explicitly designed to force production, the word "production" can be taken in this section as protecting the dis- tributor, rather than placing an obligation on
For, in the ordinary course of things, cer- tain organisations will bt producers rnd dis- tributors as well. The words "obtaining pos- session of films," if they stood alone, might debar an organisation of this kind from using Its own productions to fulfil the requirements of the quota.
The word "production," according to this hypothesis, simply clarifies the situation.
The point is a trifle complex for the lay mind, when considered in its full legal for- mality. Roughly, the issue is that if the Act meant to enforce production, it ought to have said so. But it does not.
A further doubt arises in section i, sub- section 2. If in any year the Minister is satisfied that compliance with the quota regu- lations is "not commercially practicable," he "may" exempt the distributors from their obligations.
Opinion tends increasingly to regard that "may" as mandatory. What the Act reallv says, in effect, is that the Minister "must" give exemption.
All this will be argued in due course. But it is regrettable that the Act leaves such scope for divergent interpretations. When it was being framed, responsible members of the Aus- tralian film Industry begged the Chief Secre- tary to take them into his confidence before he made any move.
They, after all, wore the people the Act was designed to benefit. But no confidence was given, and no consultations were held. The Chief Secretary went his own way. and apparently depended largely on a report drawn up b" Mr. F. W. Marks, who had conducted an official inquiry on behalf of the Govern-
If the quota legislation is invalidated, Aus- tralian producers will have enjoyed none of its advantages, and, in one particular, they will have been subjected to needless Interference. This particular is the matter of the board which gives a certificate of quality.
Without the board's approval, no film can be reclstered as a "quota film." Theoretically, this means simply that the picture which fails to pass is debarred from certain advantages.
The exhibitors, according to this supposition, will naturally give first preference to the films which count toward their quota, or obligatory percentage, of Australian productions. But they will not necessarily refuse to show the non-quota picture. In practice, they do refuse to show it. Failure to gain a pass from the "quality board" will condemn a film to virtual oblivion. A case hi point has been "The Burgomelster." "
Had that production come on to the market without official comment, it might have re- turned to its makers at least a proportion of their outlay. Now that it has been explicitly Irelected from the quota field, they have not
received back a penny of the money they put into it. Though made last year, it has as yet received no public showing. To sacrifice bad films for the sa' ; of encouraging better ones seems reasonable. But to suppress the bad when there is only a sprinkling even of the passable is an unwarrantable Interference with artistic liberty. , ,
Faced with the "Burgomelster" debacle,
"Ctlve investors are likely to put their money into gold mines or invest it on race- courses, rather than put it into films.
The testing time of the Cinematograph Films (Australian Quota) Act draws near. The future of production in this country depends on the verdict.