Content Cafe


Piracy blights Asia-Pacific filmmakers

by Glenys Rowe

The 7th annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) Academy Film Fund held in Brisbane this year received submissions from 27 countries and regions including Korea, Australia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Japan, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Iraqi Kurdistan.

In many of these countries filmmakers operate on the margins, struggling to make truthful films with no film culture or peer group, lacking established financing means and often in opposition to the regulatory authorities.

Compounding the problem, once their films enter their local market, their works are ripped off by bootleggers who can offer a digital download internationally before the film can even enter a given area where it might stand a chance of returning a few dollars to the creative team who made it.

Filmmaking in developing countries is not the work of rich elites. By and large films are made by artists struggling to keep their heads above water. The equation is simple: If filmmakers in the developing world get ripped off as they do in the first world, they will not be able to keep making films and the world of cinema will be left dull and mono-cultural.

When ideas come from somewhere new, the whole industry and the audience gets rejuvenated. The developing world is as bad as the developed world when it comes to copyright infringement. Criminality knows no borders.

We need a grassroots movement to raise the moral bar, not just legislation. Illegal downloading and all the other myriad ways cheapskates rip off poor filmmakers weakens the will and the ability of filmmakers to go on working at their craft. Everyone deserves to be paid fairly for the work they do.

The business is a fragile ecosystem. All our jobs are dependent on the existence of a vibrant, diverse and continuing film industry. We need to step up and take some personal responsibility for ensuring it continues. Talk to people about how paying for movies, whether by purchasing a stream, downloading from iTunes or buying a cinema ticket, is the only way the film industry can keep delivering.

The returns from distribution recycle back to production one way or the other. The more money coming in via distribution, the more films get made requiring more work in distribution. Your job is on the line. Education is the key, so unleash your inner schoolteacher and start spruiking the benefits of consuming content legally.

And tell your kids that you’ll confiscate their phones and computers if you catch them downloading illegally.

I had the pleasure of serving on the jury of the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund panel in Brisbane this year, where we considered 92 film proposals in three days. The chairman was the distinguished Australian independent distributor Andrew Pike, joined by producer Hanna Lee from Korea and myself.

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) collaborates with APSA through the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund and offers a script development fund that provides grants, each $US25,000, annually to four new film projects. To date, 28 scripts have received funding, with most already gone into production.

The film fund is intended to stimulate production in the countries of origin, particularly at the development phase.

In some Asian Pacific countries, $US200,000 is enough to complete a film, so the APSA prize money might well equal a tenth of the whole budget. As MPA- APSA is usually the first money in, the MPA-APSA mark acts as a seal of approval that often sees other investment quickly follow.

The very diverse 2016 prize-winners were:

Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, for her delightful and exuberant feature animation proposal Miss Camel, about a young girl who escapes from home on her pet camel. She intends to enter the camel in a beauty competition to win the prize money which will buy her way out of an arranged marriage.

Kazakhstan’s Emir Baigazin’s The River is an elegiac meditation on the threats to the traditional, but also paternalistic, way of life in rural Kazakhstan.

Korean Joo Young Park’s Morning Star explores the heartache of family separation between North and South Korea as it follows a determined old man as he sets out to cross the border to see his son for the first time in 40 years.

Australian Rolf de Heer’s Mr Ward’s Incredible Journey is the true story of the elderly and respected Indigenous man who was locked in the back of a police van where he literally fried to death on a 500km journey. De Heer’s long-time collaborator David Gulpilil will play the lead.

The Australia Pacific Screen Awards can have a profound impact on a script and filmmaking team. One of the recipients of the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund, Until the Dolphin Flies, has just been announced as an Australian-NZ coproduction between Trish Lake’s Freshwater Pictures and Catherine Fitzgerald’s Blueskin Films – a great example of an original story finding regional partners and, hopefully, wider distribution.

At the APSA award ceremony in Brisbane on November 24, the excitement of the APSA nominees and the warmth of the audience were palpable. While accolades and praise may inspire creators to develop unique stories, the revenues and financial reward will ensure they have a sustainable career and produce the type of incredible films we saw in 2016.

Glenys Rowe is a veteran film producer and marketer. Her first production was Richard Lowenstein’s 1986 musical Dogs in Space, which starred INXS frontman Michael Hutchence and was widely hailed as a landmark Australian film. Among her credits are David Caesar’s Idiot Box, which starred Ben Mendelsohn and
received six AFI Award nominations, and Feeling Sexy, which screened at the Venice Film Festival and won best screenplay for Davida Allen at the Film Critics Circle of Australia awards. Currently she is producing a British period costume drama about artist William Blake and an Australian comedy written and directed by stand-up star Kitty Flanagan.