To Our Films?
By A Staff Correspondent
LAST WEEK Australian producers claimed that the local film industry had received a "death blow" from the policy of the Capital Issues Board in not allowing it to raise capital and the decision of Ealing Studios to give up making films here. Unprejudiced observers are inclined to ask,
"What film industry?"
SINCE the end of the
war it has become a habit to speak of the Aus- tralian feature film as a
lusty and promising infant. In sober fact Australia's record since the war leaving aside the document- ary field and the work of non-Australian companies -has been barely up to the level of its "pioneer" prewar years.
No one has replied effective- ly to the statement of Mr. Eric Williams, Ealing's general manager in Australia, that Australia had failed "miser- ably" in establishing a repre- sentative film industry.
Australia's two leading pro- ducers, Charles Chauvel and Ken G. Hall, had made only three films between them in 20 years, one of which was made for an American com- pany, Mr. Williams said.
Moreover, he said, only 14 feature films had been made in Australia since 1946, of which eight were made by non-Australian production companies.
The restrictive policy of the Capital Issues Board only came into operation in the
last six or seven months. But the Australian industry had not shown vigorous signs of life before that.
IN fact, Mr. Williams's im-
plication that six all Australian feature films have been produced since 1946 is, if anything, rather flattering.
Most of these were made soon after the war, when the industry really did look to be heading for a boom.
The only Australian pro- duct released here in the last 12 months was a lamentable little piece about Ned Kelly, and the only ambitious local film released in the two years before that was Chauvel's "Sons of Matthew."
The illusion of expansion in the post-war years has been based largely on
. The activities here of overseas companies,, notably Ealing and Hollywood's 20th Century-Fox;
. Frequent, usually unful- filled, announcements that this or that unit was going into production in a big way;
. Glowing statements by
local and visiting film perso- nalities on Australia's poten- tialities as a film producing country;
. The genuine and exten- sive activity in the documen- tary field of the Government's Films Division and certain smaller groups. It is the work of the Films Division (found- ed in 1945 and piloted since 1946 by Stanley Hawes, a former associate of John Grierson) which has really put Australia on the film map artistically, with docu- mentaries like "Capacity Smith," which won praise at the last Edinburgh Festival.
In December, 1950, accord- ing to newspaper reports, 10 local and overseas companies, or independent producers, were planning to start pro- duction of feature films in Australia.
Of the 13 or more films mentioned only one has been completed, or, it seems, even started. That was Fox's "Kangaroo"-a routine "loca- tion shoot" which gave little employment to Australian technicians or actors.
The only all-Australian pro- duction that has been com- pleted in the same period is "Captain Thunderbolt," an un- ambitious venture made pri- marily for television screen- ing. It has not yet been re- leased.
The pattern for the three or four years before that since the brief "boom" of 1945-6-has been much the
EVEN in its "good" years
Australia's product hard- ly measured up to that of other film-making countries
outside Europe and the United ;
In 1945, Mexico produced 64 feature films and Argentina 22, against Australia's three In 1947 Egypt was reported to have 200 features on its
schedule for the year. India's product in any year is well into three figures.
These countries make films for their own language-culture groups. Australia, whether It makes films for the home market or the overseas mar- ket, has to challenge in quality the English and American products.
This is what the impoverish- ed and war-torn Continental film industries succeeded in doing in the postwar years and what the Australian in- dustry - documentaries ex- cepted - has conspicuously
failed to do.