Co-productions: nurturing or hindering Australian cultural identity?

Film co-productions emerged after the Second World War, and increased significantly during the 1990’s due to globalisation. The convergence of global industries has allowed different countries to collaborate on film production, but more importantly, to share financial, technical and creative resources (Baltruschat, 2002).

Since 1986, Australia has established co-production agreements with France, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Vietnam, Israel, Ireland, Germany, China and Singapore (Screen Australia, 2016). An increasing amount of Australian independent production companies are forging partnerships with global companies in order to gain access to financial support, distribution networks, and increased expertise in the industry (O’Regan & Potter, 2013). Co-productions offer seemingly endless advantages to both local and international film industries, however they can move focus away from local stories and audiences. While collaborative films “have the potential to reflect upon… the hybridisation of cultures and their diversification”, they often feature global characteristics instead of culturally specific elements (Baltruschat, 2002). Critics of co-productions argue that such international partnerships could mean that stories of cultural significance and national identity are neglected.

Dermody and Jacka (1988) assert that the Australian industry has two distinct categories, Industry 1 – film that is culturally inclined, and Industry 2 – film that is commercially inclined. However, recent film productions have lead to the emergence of a third group, Industry 3 – “internationally focused, footloose, but still Australian in some degree”.

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Mad Max 1979

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), is one such film. The Mad Max films are labelled as an Australian dystopian action series, which were created by homegrown director George Miller. The first three films were produced by Australian production companies, however the fourth instalment, Fury Road, was a co-production between Village Roadshow Pictures, Kennedy Miller Mitchell and RatPac-Dune Entertainment (IMDb, 2016). Fury Road also had a budget twenty times larger than the previous films ($200 million), and was the only one filmed outside of Australia (IMDb, 2016). The film’s international and commercial direction has raised the question: how Australian must a film be, in order to be considered a national cultural product ?

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Mad Max: Fury Road 2015

Mad Max Fury Road has an Australian director, editor, producer and many actors and is part of an iconic Australian series. The film also received six Oscar awards (from the ten nominations), making the most successful Australian film of all time (Tedmanson, 2016). However, the film itself makes no particular reference to Australian culture or identity, and is rather a reflection of the diverse range of people that helped create it. When accepting his Oscar award for production design, Colin Gibson remarked: “To get one of these, you’ve got an idea of the multitudes of Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, Americans, South Africans, Namibians who all come together under George’s vision to bring you [this story]”.

Fury Road provides further evidence of ‘Industry 3’ (O’Donnell, 2016), and demonstrates that co-productions can contribute to cultural production, while creating revenue to support local industries and stories that are integral to shaping Australia’s cultural identity.

References

Baltruschat, D. 2002, ‘Globalisation and International TV and Film Co-productions: In Search of New Narratives’, in Media in Transition 2: Globalisation and Convergence, MIT, Massachusetts, May 10-12, viewed September 12 2016, http://cmsw.mit.edu/mit2/Abstracts/DorisBaltruschat.pdf

Baltruschat, D. 2010, Global Media Ecologies, Taylor & Francis, New York

Dermody, S. & Jacka, E. 1988, The Screening of Australia: Anatomy of a national industry, Currency Press, Australia

IMDb, 2016, Mad Max: Fury Road, viewed September 10 2016, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392190/

O’Donnell, V. 2016, ‘What do Mad Max’s six Oscars mean for the Australian film industry’, The Conversation, March 1, viewed September 14 2016, http://theconversation.com/what-do-mad-maxs-six-oscars-mean-for-the-australian-film-industry-55564

Roach, V. 2015, ‘Is Mad Max Still Australian?, Daily Telegraph, May 13, viewed September 14 2016, http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/rendezview/is-mad-max-still-australian/news-story/d8097c943ecc178b792540977dfaab63

Screen Australia, 2016, Co-production Program: Statistics, viewed September 16 2016, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/funding-and-support/co-production-program/statistics

Tedmanson, S. 2016, ‘Oscars 2016: Mad Max Fur Road highlights Australian technical prowess’, Vogue, February 29, viewed September 15 2016, http://www.vogue.com.au/culture/features/oscars+2016+mad+max+fury+road+highlights+australian+technical+prowess+,38524

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