State of the Industry: Where are Australian films heading?
Nathan McMillan | On 08, May 2018
Do Australian films need to tell Australian ‘stories’? Or entertain Australian Audiences?
I want to start by saying that I do not think that film is dead or the Australian industry is dying, but there is a lack of creativity. I had a conversation with some friends about their favourite Australian films released in the last five years. They couldn’t name one, favourite or not. Just Mad Max, and for some reason Gladiator was mentioned.
While we live in the age of the franchise, where studios play it safe and audiences expectations have significantly lowered; there have been outliers. Films like It and the recent, A Quiet Place, enjoyed success with Australian audiences that rivalled the big franchises. Horror films especially offer something more than just scares, they offer an experience, and one that can be shared.
That’s where I feel audiences interest in film is heading, the experience. Watching The Avengers is a computer-generated wet dream that leaves audiences wide-eyed and shocked. While A Quiet Place is the opposite, with it’s simple concept is amplified by it’s shared experience; almost-silent theatres that make even eating that overpriced packet of M&M’s an anxious experience.
But what can the Australian industry learn from this? It can start by being brave enough to creatively pursue ideas that go against what Australian cinema is, or what it has been for decades. There are a lot of stereotypes in our films that tie them down out of fear of not being ‘Australian’.
The stories in our films generally fall under three categories; crime, coming of age stories about dysfunctional families and crime again. Some of our most popular and well-known films have been criminal biopics or gritty dramas about criminals. Maybe this fascination with them stems from the fact this country was born from criminals? Maybe it’s genetic? But throw some hard drinking and a couple of ‘mates’ and you’ve got yourself an Australian story. Our films are very one note experiences that are becoming predictable and dare I say it, boring.
The films that stand out amongst these stereotypical Australian stories, always enjoy critical success and leave a mark on audiences. A film like the first Wolf Creek was celebrated for finding new ground but was still based on a notorious backpacker killer. Or The Rover, which portrayed the most realistic post-apocalyptic version of Australia. But I could spend a lot time listing Australian films that stand out, but when these films go against the grain, audiences take notice.
Upcoming films like Upgrade, a sci-fi thriller from Leigh Whannell show that Australians have these ideas but have to look overseas for production. Cargo is another exciting new one, turning the Australian outback into a zombie apocalypse. The film is actually based on an 2013 Tropfest short film of the same name, same idea but a smaller budget. Again these ideas do not require mountains of cash, making them perfect for our industry.
But there is hope, with initiatives put in place by Screen Australia to allow a wider range of filmmakers to create their films. This wider net being cast will bring in different voices and thus be able to reach different audiences. Hopefully these new ideas will bring about different experiences and get people excited about Australian films again.
Images from Film Ink