The Big Shave at ACMI’s SCORSESE


ACMI Channel, July 2016

Martin Scorsese’s men are always blind. On their way up or down, their default setting is denial: they march toward their cliffs, drinking, fighting, shooting and railing till the end without a shred of self-awareness. The first Scorsese man is no exception. In fact, he formed the blueprint. Made on 16mm colour stock in 1967 at the peak of the Vietnam War, The Big Shave is a high concept, six-minute art film. It comes at the very beginning of the master filmmaker’s body of work and of ACMI’s current SCORSESE exhibition. If The Big Shave contains the seeds of a Scorsese picture, what did they grow into?

A middle-class, side-parted, Anglo suburbanite – “a pillar of the American community” as the script describes – walks into a pristine, glacier-white bathroom. Before a gleaming mirror, he lathers and shaves his face to perfect smoothness. As our nameless everyman progresses, he nicks the skin’s surface below his left ear but continues all the same. Another stroke, another nick by his nose, and again and again. By the time he has finished shaving, blood is pouring off his face, across the faucet and into the deathly white basin. Expressionless, he stares into the mirror as he slits his own throat. There is no sound, except for an old 1936 trumpet-based jazz song from a bygone American age, lamenting the loss of a lover.

In small but important ways, this short film contemplates much of we now think of as typical Scorsese themes and conventions, the same ones the filmmaker has helped define and refine in cinema at large between 1967 and today. The critique of alpha masculinity, the casual yet deeply stylised cinematic violence, the typical domestic American setting as a banal backdrop for bloodshed: all the hallmarks of future Scorsese are found in this very early but very formative picture.

The film is an embryo of Scorsese’s micro-level, character-based approach to political themes. At first, the writer-director thought of a more overtly political route. The original title was Viet ’67 and the script suggested explicitly linking the anonymous everyman’s obliviousness to the massacre in Vietnam by cutting to archival footage of “a firing squad executing a prisoner…CUT back to the young American in complete silence. We now see him with face bloodied and cut, throat slashed, dressed in his three-piece suit, striped tie and carrying an attache case as he leaves his home to get to his office”.

Eventually, Scorsese cut that sequence and opted for something less literal and more strange and abstract. What results is a very disturbing yet still very political piece of filmmaking – a historical document straight from the guts of 20th century United States of America. The Big Shave has been described as “a strictly personal vision of death”, and I think that’s true, but as a display of self-mutilation it is also a metaphorical vision of politics that embodies the USA as a dead man walking. The links form themselves. Scorsese wrote at the end of the script, “I feel that the intent of the film is evident…However, I would like to state that I hope the film will express my sad feelings concerning the present general moral condition of my young country and a sentiment – a personal one – of an America I never knew.” That personal sentiment is what articulates the film’s political ideas most clearly: without dogma, the politics are felt. It’s a subversive space for an artist to move in.

From there, Scorsese’s pattern was set. Seen through the lens of The Big Shave, Scorsese’s subsequent films take on more focused connotations. Taxi Driver is a direct post-script – it is obliquely about the aftermath of Vietnam War, the loose ends of a veteran, the shadow of post-traumatic stress disorder. Goodfellas and The Godfather show generations of blind men following each other to graves beyond graves. The Wolf of Wall Street relates to another kind of American cluelessness: that nation’s blind walk towards impunity and recklessness, not in foreign policy, but in the finance sector. After all, why make a political documentary about the global financial crisis when you can make a character study of the decline of a corrupt Wall St banker? In all the great bodies of work, as in Scorsese’s, it pays to go back to the beginning.


Review: Last Cab to Darwin

Big Issue, #187, August 2015

Last Cab to Darwin is another local film of theatrical provenance – one of Australian cinema’s major trends this year. The latest makes the cinematic leap more gracefully than siblings Ruben Guthrie and The Daughter. This is a road-trip film made for a mature audience, and those tired of Hollywood’s superhero treadmill. The star it steers by is sincerity. Director Jeremy Sims (Beneath Hill 60) avoids the heavy social-conscience mood that a film about a dying man’s euthanasia mission suggests, slowly revealing a love story that overcomes the de-facto racial segregation of Central Australia. Compared to lead Michael Caton’s famed work in The Castle, his performance here is an irony-free-zone, and our beloved comic emerges as a genuine dramatic artist. Unlike life, the loose ends are neatly tied and any sadness is met with sweet smiles. This is conventional, feel-good cinema, quintessentially but not parochially Australian, occasionally but forgivably maudlin, executed with love and hope.

Down the Rabbit Hole, virtual reality art review.

RealTime, #133, June-July 2016

What exactly is Virtual Reality? It’s not film. It’s not television or web storytelling. It’s not art. It’s easy to describe its characteristics: with the aid of an individual headset and headphones, VR creates a multimedia vision with depth of space and progression of time. But it’s much harder to get a sense of this nascent creative technology’s aesthetic possibilities, of the things that make it unique relative to art.

Until engaging with Down the Rabbit Hole, the 2016 Sydney Film Festival’s VR exhibition, I had not met a VR work that leapt beyond purely technological appeal. Its artistic possibilities strike me as still latent. The absence of hard-and-fast rules and conventions make it an exciting area for artists to work in—to play freely and experiment.

One recent experiment in applying narrative principles to the 4D world is artist Lynette Wallworth’s Collision, shown at Carriageworks last month. The winner of SFF’s inaugural UNESCO Sydney City of Film Award, Wallworth has made a career of using immersive technologies to create filmic works, with Collision forging a space between VR and documentary storytelling. But generally, without the progression of plot, VR is at the point of exploring the visual and spatial mechanics of the medium—an infatuation with the actual technology.

That was the feel of A History of Cuban Dance (US, UK, Cuba; lead artist Lucy Walker) and The Rose and I (USA; lead artists Eugene Chung, Jimmy Maidens, Alex Woo). Inspired by The Little Prince, The Rose and I reimagines Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s iconic illustrations as animations. In a candy-coloured galaxy, the Prince emerges on a small, lonely planet. He watches a rose bloom from a crater and tends to it within the wider expanse of his empty universe, the sun rising and setting all the while. In a sense, the Prince’s lone predicament should be well suited to the VR format. When attended alone, cinema can offer a type of public solitude, in contrast with SFF where you are likely to be in a packed auditorium with 800 strangers. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is a purely solitary experience. With your helmet on, the experience of the work is unsharable.

At five minutes and with a linear, single concept, The Rose and I feels most like an animated short film with a few 4D enhancements. Similarly, A History of Cuban Dance had the feel of a documentary from the online magazine Vice. In brief chapters of live action, dancers in various Havana locations perform the Afro-Cuban Santería rumba, mambo, cha-cha-chá, salsa, breakdancing and reggaeton with typographical information popping up to the viewer’s left and right. The project’s success lies in the way it harnesses the potential of VR to capture wide vistas. By combining traditional one-point-perspective with a 360-degree view, Havana’s long seaside roads and cavernous architectural interiors are made quite real and quite lovely.

Though enjoyable, neither of these films felt more immersive than a fully-realised video work, such as Hossein Valamanesh’s Char Soo currently showing at Sydney’s Carriageworks and as part of SFF’s Beyond Cinema program. Here the artist places the audience at the centre of an intersection in an Iranian market, its roads extending out and away via four video channels with discreet edits to transition us through a whole busy day in this market’s life. Sometimes a motorbike will cruise towards you on one screen and turn the corner into another. The scale of the projection and the four-screen set-up make for a genuinely immersive experience barely matched by most VR works, which by comparison are small, intimate affairs offering an often passive and solo spectatorial experience. In a way, Char Soo is more cinematic than animation projects like The Rose and I. Indeed, it’s produced by art and film production company Felix Media, manifesting a much larger set of professional video skills than any single contemporary artist could ever muster.

The most engaging work of Down the Rabbit Hole, to my mind, made that isolation a strength rather than a weakness. Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness (UK, France; lead artists Arnaud Colinart, Amaury La Burthe, Peter Middleton, James Spinney) is an extension of Notes on Blindness, an experimental documentary in competition at SFF. When theologian John Hull’s sight began to dim in 1983, he commenced recording audio diaries in order to come to terms with the meaning of blindness. Filmmakers Middleton and Spinney rearticulated the diaries in filmic form for their documentary. The VR project (see the trailer) takes this one step further, plunging us into the eyes of Hull, who for several years could detect light at the periphery of his field of vision and as it bounced off forms. The effect in VR is very much like seeing images of light pollution around the world: dark and monochromatic with spidery pinpricks of soft light. We sit on a bench in a park, listening to Hull’s observations, seeing and hearing the world as he sees it. “I hear the footsteps of people walking past,” he says into our ears, and those footsteps appear aurally.

In this way, we come to understand the importance that sound holds for the blind. The work uses audio sourced directly from Hull’s tapes and presented binaurally, which means the sound changes depending on how you move your head. When sitting under a park pagoda, we look at a bird, we hear it chirp; when we look at a leaf, we hear it rustle with others; when we look at a duck in a pond, we hear it paddling. At Hull’s instruction, we look to the right, and hear a breeze moving through the trees. He says that all these sounds create “a world of activity. In the blind person’s appreciation of weather, wind takes the place of sight.” In particular, the sound of rainfall in the park creates a totally different auditory picture of the surrounding landscape. The work is a wonder.

The project’s great quality lies in the sense of empathy provokes. Through the specific technological and artistic capabilities of VR, we are pulled a step closer to knowing the sensual predicament of sightlesssness. As such, the work offered something more immersive than a regular film screening, even a 3D one, and genuinely marked an extension of the original documentary, which is in itself quite miraculous and experimental. With form and content bonded, it actually needed the technology of VR to realise its aim of giving the audience some sense of the experience of incipient blindness.

Up until Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, my experiences with VR had felt most akin to those I’ve had with video games. This was especially the case with Björk Digital at Carriageworks in Vivid Sydney last month, which the artist admitted was not fully realised. The experience was marred by poor event management and overcrowding, but also possibly because the work was ill-conceived artistically. Staged inside Björk’s mouth with the audience situated on her tongue and with the back of her teeth visible, the work was interesting and worthy as an experiment, but I sense that VR is more suited to broad horizons, imaginable scales and tangible sets of spatial dimensions.

Perhaps VR is not so much a discrete discipline or a new branch of an existing artform as a platform and means of delivery; like television, its aesthetic application can vary depending on the project. Tellingly, all the works in Down the Rabbit Hole were put together by small-scale production teams, the kind that also produce short films, high-end commercials and video clips. This is not the arena for a solo artist, or even an artist with a production team behind them, as is usual with large-scale video works.

It’s exciting that a technology exists that allows for changes to the world of film and art far away from Hollywood. But until the content catches up with the form, VR will continue to be about experiments in form. Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness showed what might be possible in this emerging technology’s artistic future.

2016 Sydney Film Festival, Down the Rabbit Hole, Virtual Reality at the Hub, curator Mathieu Ravier, Sydney Town Hall, 9-19 June.

‘So complex, so real’: why Rake is one of the best shows on Australian TV

The Guardian Australia, May 2016

I was once arrogant enough to believe that Rake – the fourth season of which debuts on Thursday – was just another talky, smart-arse ABC drama replete with quirky characters, a courtroom setting and political commentary. Then I actually watched it. Properly. And dear Christ was I wrong.

From the start, critics have relished Richard Roxburgh’s performance as the chaotic, lovable Cleaver Greene. The character lets Roxburgh, who co-created the comedy/drama, be both a character actor and a leading man. Roxburgh’s Cleaver is endearing, infuriating and evilly funny, solidifying the actor’s place in the public eye after decades of smaller, great performances on screen and stage as well as his own directorial feature, Romulus, My Father.

Rake has also been praised for its behind-the-scenes dramatic pedigree. Co-writer Andrew Knight’s fingerprints are all over the show. He was a key writer on SeaChange, and Rake takes on a bit of that program’s melodrama and heightened dramatic tone. Rowan Woods of The Boys and Little Fish is a recurring director, as is Kate Dennis, who directed much of Love My Way – another Australian television classic.

It’s hard to miss the show’s rich, no-bullshit Australian vernacular, rare as that way of speaking is these days. It’s always “I reckon”, rather than “I guess”. Roxburgh himself told theFairfax Media that “it’s a homage to an older Australia when you hear Cleaver say ‘what the blue blazers’ or, ‘What the Dickens is going on here?’ I think there’s a strong attachment to that older, powerful Australian vernacular that existed in previous generations before the infiltration of MTV.”

And who can overlook the film’s politics. Rake uses its courtroom setting to do the impossible: skewer the usually deeply pleasureless subject of New South Wales state politics with wit and inventiveness. In a Chaser-free TV landscape, Rake has stepped in to provide reliable, weekly analysis of a dying political system that parodies itself.

All of that acclaim is true. But I’m surprised by how rarely reviewers note the emotional heart of Rake: the characterisation of a brilliant barrister who is also a brilliant dickhead; who feels the world in brilliant extremes. Though Cleaver longs to be a good man, he continues to self-sabotage: he has messed up his marriage to Wendy, sets a terrible example to his son, falls in love with his sex worker, carries on with the booze and the drugs, disappoints his sisters and betrays his heroic best mate Barney – the all-round good bloke Cleaver will never be – by sleeping with his wife.

The only thing Cleaver reliably continues to be good at is his job, which most often involves defending terrible people. Maybe the insane bastard’s greatest contradiction is that he really believes in his work and in the letter of the law: for all his rule-breaking and associating with organised criminals, he continues to defend the indefensible because of his very traditional, very conventional and very democratic belief that everyone – even the most heinous cannibal, the most corrupt pollie – deserves a proper defence. Rake is about how to be good – and, despite his notoriety, that’s what Cleaver longs to be.

“I’m gonna be good now, I swear. No more women, no more wine, no more marching powder. I’m a changed man,” Cleaver tells Wendy, in the first episode of season four. “Do you believe me? You have to believe me!”

It’s this pleading – this urgent desire not just to change but to know that the people he’s loved and deceived know he’s changed – that makes Cleaver so complex and so real. For all the show’s antics and courtroom games, Rake is a compassionate, complicated, humane show about an extreme personality trying to check his most self-destructive tendencies. After previewing the first two episodes, season four promises to deepen its anti-hero’s dilemma.

Cheat sheet

Who are the brains behind the show?
Richard Roxburgh, Peter Duncan, Andrew Knight and the producer Ian Collie got together to make a series inspired by the Sydney barrister and known loose unit Charles Waterstreet. From that basis, the show asks the question, “Can a person ever change or is your essential nature fixed forever?”

What’s the rundown so far?
There’s been cheating, lying, scandal and shenanigans. Season three ended with Cleaver and Barney reuniting in friendship, Barney’s ex-wife, Scarlet, starting a new relationship with the NSW Labor hack David Potter, and the beautiful Missy jetting off to the US for a fresh start. They’re all trying to throw their pasts away or reboot themselves in some way.

Where’s it set?
Sydney locals will recognise Taylor Square, Martin Place and the Courthouse Hotel in the first couple of episodes of season four. There’s something wonderful about seeing places you know and love on screen – the bus stops you’ve waited at, the anonymous corners you’ve passed: all the tiny spaces that let us know Cleaver’s Sydney is a real place.

Where does Richard Roxburgh stop and Cleaver Greene start?
Who bloody knows. By this point, the actor is cleary so comfortable in his character, he makes his performance look easy. Of course, it’s not – Cleave is deeply narcissistic and borderline insane. But Rox’s performance is what makes us as audience members buy into the complexities of the character. And what a joy it is to watch an actor having so much fun on screen.

What’s Rake’s take on NSW state politics?
Simon Burke’s boof-headed cop sums it up best: “This state is rancid, it’s poison at every level.”

Who are the legitimately awesome guest stars?
Previous seasons of Rake have featured such acting greats as Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette. This season’s cameos involve the wonderful Miriam Margolyes, Julia Blake in a lovely recurring performance, and the legendary Indigenous actor Jack Charles. And Offspring’s John Waters is glorious as Cleaver’s latest nemesis.

Who is Cleave’s great love?
That’s a tough one. Cleave is that person who still loves everyone he’s ever loved. For a while it seemed as though Rake was following in the footsteps of The Office – a satire that was really a trojan horse for a two-season love story between dorky, sweet Dawn and Tim – by setting up a long-winding and inevitable romance between Cleave and Missy.

But Cleave’s new love, Felicity (Jane Allsop of House Husbands), seems legit. She’s a strong, smart, switched-on woman with no tolerance for Cleave’s bullshit, and that zero-tolerance thing seems to be what’s tying them together: Cleave hasn’t freaked out yet but his capacity to not mess it up will be critical to the development of his character.

Excerpt: Fatal Mountain, Sacred Mountain.

The Lifted Brow, June 2016

Cinema is full of representations of the landscape that inspire terror. The land is a scary place—it is to be feared or conquered. Mount Everest is that most perilous and conquerable landform, inspiring its own canon of mountaineering films. Jennifer Peedom’s Sherpa is the most recent of that canon: it is a climbing film, an Australian film and a documentary about the deadliest day in Everest’s history.

Sherpa is not the film Peedom set out to make. In 2014, Peedom initially followed Phurba Tashi, adventure travel company Himalayan Experience’s main climbing Sirdar (head Sherpa), who was approaching the peak for his twenty-second time, attempting to break a world record in the process. His ascent was marred by a colossal avalanche on the Khumbu Icefall—a passage of slow-moving, broken-up glaciers that Sherpa had forewarned their employers about for a long time. Sixteen Sherpa were crushed. The remaining Sherpa were done: they went on strike, demanding better conditions and pay, and asking for the climbing season to be temporarily suspended in honour of the dead.

Peedom’s focus is not on the mountain but on the people doing the invisible groundwork for Western tourists, who pay up to $75,000 for the privilege to climb it. Their cultural ignorance is striking: it is of little consequence to them that the Nepalese Sherpa are an indigenous ethnic minority who migrated from the eastern Tibetan province of Kham in the 1500s. The Khumbu Sherpa worship Chomolungma—what Westerners renamed Everest—as their mother god. They follow a goddess-based religion, whose images and maternalistic-environmental values are shared by almost every pre-historic society from Oceania, Eurasia, America and Africa. It seems the greatest tragedy of the mountaineering industry is not material but spiritual. Since the establishment of tourism in the early fifties, the Sherpa have been compelled to step on their ‘Goddess Mother of the Universe’. “You must respect her as a sanctity,” Pem Pem Tshering—daughter of the first Sherpa to scale the mountain (ahead of Sir Edmund Hillary)—tells us in Peedom’s film.

This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #30. Get your copy now.


Ozflix: Every Australian film ever?

Metro #187,  summer 2016

It seems that film-streaming services are about as abundant as film festivals at present. The latest VOD platform to enter the market is Ozflix <>, set to launch this year; its mandate is solely the provision of Australian screen works. Most Australian titles are entirely absent from digital shelves, a problem that has been compounded by the closure of DVD stores and remained mostly unacknowledged in media discussions of Australian cinema’s predicament and popularity. It is difficult enough being able to find new Australian films after they’ve finished their theatrical runs; older Australian films are even harder to access. The issue, then, is much bigger than the announcement of a new streaming channel. Underlying the Ozflix initiative is the larger question: how can we support Australian storytelling in the digital age? How can intelligent and artistic films get the audiences they deserve via the right kind of marketing and distribution support?

What we know at present is this: upon its launch, Ozflix will include only feature films, with a long-term plan to eventually include documentaries, television series and short films. Ozflix CEO and co-founder Ron Brown tells me that Ozflix will create two of its own programs, including At the Flicks, a fifteen-minute Margaret-and-David-style film-review show. Each week, At the Flicks will discuss a bundle of five curated films to be featured on the site – for instance, five films from a particular era, or five Nicole Kidman films. In this way, a degree of specialist curation, packaging and recommendation will structure and market the catalogue. There will be no advertising, except for on the Ozflix-created content.

An ambitious directive, to say the least – ‘every Aussie movie ever’, Brown puts it. Is this possible? Brown told me that Ozflix is in negotiations with all the major and independent film distributors, saying there is ‘no difficulty in accessing titles’. Further, Brown says Ozflix is working with the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia as well as federal and state film-policy bodies to access and digitise relevant titles, despite what he describes as a ‘lukewarm response’ from policymakers during the project’s early stages. The issue of film policy should come into play here: digitising the back catalogue of Australian films is surely a public project, something that is in the national interest and worthy of taxpayer expenditure. So far, the task of enabling the digitisation and online distribution of Australian cinema has been left to the market, and the results have been dreadful. Further, the process of digitising and building a library is curatorial – Brown says this process is about ‘making sure we’ve got the right mix’ of titles and genres for the site.

What about the proposed business model? In the all-you-can-eat Netflix era, is a pay-per-view streaming site – which Ozflix promises to be – the best way to provide content to viewers? Issues of access, convenience and cheap digital distribution are crucial to ensuring Australian films can reach audiences in a diffuse and expansive media landscape. Many viewers have already established the expectation that paying to stream individual films is clunky and costly compared to paying a monthly price to choose from a huge library of films. Brown says that, although the pricepoint of the films is still confidential, the company’s market research found ‘an overwhelming response from audiences that twice as many people in the survey wanted to access Australian films online from a pay-per-view model’ rather than a buffet-style approach.

Is adding a new service to an already scattered and hyper-competitive film-distribution market the way to go? The market’s tendency is towards big monopolies amid a sea of smaller services that easily get lost. The iTunes and Netflix brands are already established, and their platforms, already installed on the laptops, televisions and phones of millions of users everywhere. Central to the success of Ozflix will be whether it can delineate a clear ground for itself to stop good films from sinking in the online swamp. Brown makes clear that the business model is to pursue the long tail of a neglected boutique market:

“We don’t have to be a giant; we have to be a well-run niche. We don’t have the agenda of iTunes or Netflix. Copyright owners [of Australian films] would be happy to see the films out there and available. Our business model and the desires of our audience align.”

In this sense, having all Australian films in one place actually demands a new platform: the existing players have no desire to embark on such a project. In terms of the bigger context, it’s still unclear whether VOD has helped or hindered Australian cinema so far. Ozflix could be a game-changer in this regard: a project that puts the question of access at the heart of Australian film distribution. The difficulty of just trying to find an Australian film in such a splintered VOD media-scape is a major problem to overcome. Say you want to watch Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne (2006); you can get it on iTunes and Stan but not Netflix or Presto. The same director’s debut, Bliss (1985), is nowhere to be found online, and must be ordered directly on DVD from its distributor, Umbrella. And say you’ve been inspired by George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) to revisit the rest of his dystopian series. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (co-directed by George Ogilvie, 1985) is on Google Play, PlayStation and Xbox; Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) is on the same platforms as well as iTunes, while the original 1979 instalment is only on Google Play and PlayStation. None of the earlier three Mad Max films are on Netflix – a rather shocking oversight. Even something like Two Hands (Gregor Jordan, 1999), a popular film in the Australian canon, is totally offline. Brown says there are ‘hundreds more of films in this category – entertaining, worthy films that have faded because of time, disappeared without a trace’.

The reality of even just searching for Australian films to watch online is messy and difficult. If Ozflix can centralise local titles and offer them in the one place, and audiences can be assured that what they want can always be found there, it might have a chance of succeeding. Digitising and distributing every Australian film ever through a single platform will prove difficult – but it’s necessary for Australian film culture to thrive.

Screen Australia’s gender strategy a good step forward, but doesn’t go far enough. Guardian Au`

Guardian Australia, March 2016

Screen Australia’s $5m Gender Matters plan, announced in December, has been heralded as an important moment in the Australian industry, and one which should have come sooner. The policy, which closed for the first round of applications just last week, directs funds to film projects with female-driven creative teams and female protagonists. It also aims to support storytelling by women, and the professional development of women in the industry – particularly writers and directors.

The aim of Gender Matters is to remedy what Screen Australia’s figures from 2014 show to be entrenched sexism in the film industry, which has been preventing women from working in key creative roles. In feature film-making, women account for 32% of producers, 16% of directors and 23% of writers. The world of documentary film-making is slightly kinder to women, but still off-kilter: women account for 46% of producers, 34% of directors and 38% of writers. All these statistics point to what seems to be a de facto bias operating in men’s favour.

Screen Australia’s initiative seemed like a crucial step towards parity for theAustralian film industry, but it’s worth asking: does Gender Matters go far enough?

This month, Canada’s National Film Board announced its gender policy: over the course of the next three years, half its production funding would be allocated to female film-makers. The board has not created a separate funding stream for female film-makers; instead, it has made a full commitment to gender parity among directors in funding requirements.

It’s a very simple course of action, and it hugely one-ups Screen Australia’s initiative.

The aim of a gender policy should not be to vaguely “address the gender imbalance”, but to correct the discrimination that women face right now. If we are not aiming for parity, then what is the point? We’re just playing, tinkering around the edges, paying lip service to a feel-good idea, but not seriously tackling it.

In October 2015, the Australian Directors Guild called for a 50% gender equality quota.

“The screen industry has been funded by the federal government for more than four decades for reasons of cultural representation, economic stimulus, and professional development and innovation,” said the guild president, Ray Argall.

“Across all these criteria the current funding is not being shared in a representative way. The [guild] is concerned with diversity of all types, but is particularly concerned with the dramatic lack of equity in the funding of women and, in particular, female directors.”

Parity is not about sweet, admirable sentiments: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have more women in film!” It is about ending workplace discrimination. It’s about fixing the structural and material elements of entrenched sexism that have shut women out of the film industry for so long, holding us back from the jobs and opportunities that are more accessible to men, and effectively preventing our stories from being told.

Gender parity among key creative roles of government funded films is not a utopian dream. It is entirely possible, and growing precedents suggest it may become the new policy norm: Sweden accomplished it in 2014, within two and a half years of aiming for it, and Canada is on its way. Screen NSW has set an aim for gender parity, but its target year of 2020 is too far away. If we are serious about rectifying the gender divide, we need measurable action, now. We needmandatory quotas, not optional targets, to ensure that male-dominated projects do not automatically receive the majority of public funding.

The absence of a gender parity aim is not the only problem with Gender Matters. Craters have emerged in the policy’s “three-tick” test, which states that projects will benefit from the policy only if three out of four creative positions are occupied by women: director, producer, writer and protagonist.

As an industry analyst and scholar, Deb Verhoeven, has pointed out, most female directors already work with female producers. It is not women film professionals who need to change for the better, but the male-dominated culture within the film industry, with its structural and insidious prejudices. Supporting the careers of individual female film-makers is important, but so is having integrated creative teams, where men and women work together and learn from each other.

The Australian film industry is government subsidised. That means policy can be enacted right now to correct gender discrimination – and it is fully within the remit of Screen Australia to only fund projects that employ women in key creative positions equally. In fact, if it doesn’t move towards parity, we are wilfully directing public funds to a sector of the industry that is discriminating on the basis of gender. For an industry that’s in the business of telling stories, seeing most of them through a male lens has far-reaching cultural consequences.

The only antidote to gender inequality is full equality: parity for women in key creative positions in all government-subsidised films. If we don’t explicitly aim for parity, we won’t reach it – and if we don’t reach it, we continue eroding the democratic ideals of the publicly funded film policy that Australia has pursued since the 1970s.

For the next rewrite of Gender Matters, why aim for anything less?