by Andrew Pike, OAM, June 2021
Andrew Pike, Chair of the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund’s assessment panel from 2010 to the present
“The MPA APSA Academy film Fund is the single most important film development fund in Australia simply because it rewards new and audacious ideas and is not beholden to conventional market pathways or bureaucratically acceptable finance plans.”
This statement from film producer and two-time Fund assessor, Glenys Rowe, is indicative of the enthusiasm that seems to grip industry participants when they engage with this progressive development agency.
Created in 2010 through the combined vision of the Motion Pictures Association (MPA) and the Asia Pacific Screen Academy (APSA), the Fund has annually given grants of $25,000 (USD) to support the development phase of four production projects from across the Asia Pacific including feature films, documentaries and animation. Now in its 12th year, the amount donated totals $1.1 million (USD), supporting 44 projects.
The Fund is an integral part of APSA’s work to support and celebrate creative achievements in film, promoting inclusiveness and opportunity regardless of nationality, religion or race. The grants facilitate creativity and empower filmmakers in countries where they may often be dauntingly isolated and deliver long term benefits as films backed by the Fund find new audiences with every new generation.
The MPA also plays a significant role as an advocate for the protection of copyright. Creative ownership is essential for filmmakers to maintain fair and reasonable income flows and to help the sustainability of their work in all of the 70 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Even where infrastructure support for filmmakers is absent, governmental support for anti-piracy measures to protect copyright are essential.
For Australian producer Robert Connolly, a grant recipient for an ambitious animated feature, Magic Beach, the grant was especially significant as it represented the first funding that the project had received from any source. In Connolly’s words: “The impact of the grant was crucial: the first commitment to a film is always a hugely valued element of film financing. … The support for Magic Beach at this very early stage enabled us to begin work with a team of creative filmmakers and has been a great impetus to the project.”
Many high-achieving films supported by the Fund have been produced in profoundly difficult political or logistical environments – Memories on Stone, a film from Iraqi Kurdistan supported by the Fund in 2011, won awards world-wide; and No Burqas Behind Bars (also supported in 2011), a feature documentary by a female Iranian director in Afghanistan, won an International Emmy.
The experience of Adilkhan Yerzhanov, a writer-director from Kazakhstan, reflects the imapct that can flow from an MPA APSA grant. Adilkhan received a grant in 2018, and reported back to the Fund:
“The support for my film, A Dark, Dark Man, allowed me to have more time for script development and to complete the production within a very short time. And most importantly, this recognition helped me to obtain the trust of potential investors in my future projects.
“APSA/MPA funding is also a great moral support. Our whole team was strongly motivated by the fact our project was picked by such a solid international organization. In the times when auteur cinema gets more and more vulnerable such funding seems to be essential for its survival. It gave us the opportunity to film comfortably and find additional sources of financing,”
In the Pacific region, grants to one project helped the filmmakers make creative use of the COVID lockdowns. New Zealand producer Catherine Fitzgerald wrote about the grant’s importance for Sweet Lips, her collaboration with Samoan writer-director, Tusi Tamasese, supported in 2019:
“For Tusi the grant has proven a godsend during COVID… while we couldn’t go to Samoa because of closed borders to do what we wanted to get underway, one of Tusi’s brothers had been stuck there and kept some things moving. Meanwhile the fact that this story which is set in a time of huge change precipitated by the 1918 ‘flu, has heightened Tusi and my interest in exploring what the story means for now and the near future. This catapulted Tusi back to writing and wrestling with the conundrum of ‘what is this story really about’, and the grant has meant that he has had the money to do that”.
The Fund has a distinctive application process which focusses on the concepts, ideas and aspirations behind projects, rather than the more common industry focus on commercial prospects.
A basic principle is that strong ideas will, if properly supported, create their own space in a crowded and competitive film market. For example, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Fahardi was awarded a grant in 2011 for A Separation, on the basis of a project outline that was a scant 2 pages in length. It was so strong however, that it convinced the panel of its merit and went on to win over 150 international awards including an Academy Award for best Foreign Language Film.
Currently 148 Australians are among the 1,300 directors, writers, producers, actors, cinematographers and other creative partners across the region who are eligible to apply for grants. For Australian members, the Fund offers special significance: for producer and former Fund assessor, Melanie Coombs, “the Fund is invaluable, connecting Australian filmmakers with peers in the Asia Pacific.”
Both APSA and the MPA can be very proud of what they are achieving with just $100,000 a year in this innovative and unique development fund.
To become an Academy member, an applicant needs to be nominated in any category of the annual APSA Awards, or to have participated in APSA’s deliberations processes, or be recognised by APSA for services to the film industry in the Asia Pacific region. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org to check your eligibility and to receive the entry form.
The 2021 MPA APSA Academy Film Fund is now Open for Submissions. The Rules and Regulations for the fund are found here.
Applications close on 22 October 2021.
WATCH the 2021 MPA APSA Academy Film Fund Trailer to find out more.