Chris Hemsworth, Margot Robbie, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Isla Fisher, Ryan Kwanten… Hollywood loves our Aussie actors and so do we. The thing is we seem to love watching them in American films but pay little attention to them in our own; unless of course it’s a flashy Hollywood-financed spectacle such as Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby.
According to 2011 analysis by Screen Australia, only nine per cent of all viewings of Australian films occur at the box office. The other 91 per cent are spread across TV and DVD (Roach 2014). It is a curious dilemma as to why Australians are so against watching Australian movies at the cinema when from DVD sales it is apparent they do actually want to watch them.
Out of 100 Australian feature films released between 2007 and 2009 a total audience was reached of 101 million viewings (Goves 2012). When worded as such this statistic doesn’t seem too bad but when you consider the fact that more than 50 million of those viewings were for just four titles: Australia, Mao’s Last Dancer, Bran Nue Dae and Knowing it gets a little underwhelming. Looking further down the spectrum we discover the top 20 films accounted for 76 million views, which brings forth the question who watched the bottom 80?
My thoughts… NOT MANY IF ANY!
So what is it exactly about Australian film that stops us from flocking to the Cinema? Many like to pass the blame on Piracy, that darn unstoppable force of evil.
But this belief operates under the assumption that if torrenting didn’t exist people would undoubtedly go and see these films. I believe piracy, although a factor, is more of a result than a cause. Why is it that Australians will go and see an American movie but wait to download an Australian one? There are others who claim the reason is availability as many Australian films are limited to CBD locations and are only run for short periods of time. Again I believe this to be a result rather than a cause. The reason why the screening is limited is simply because the movies aren’t popular enough. Cinemas cut the screening because they are actually loosing money.
After investigating this issue on my own by asking people around me and by hitting up the World Wide Inter Web, I have come to the hypothesis that the reason for our lack of interest is the result of instrumental conditioning. Being exposed to the same style of film over and over again has shaped our perception of the Australian film industry as a whole; stigmatising it if you will. Film critique Luke Buckmaster sums it up perfectly when he writes…
“Australian producers have long battled public sentiment that locally produced features are one of two things. The first, that they are morose hard-hitting dramas that explore the “human condition.” The sort of stories that follow characters who battle drug addictions, grieve over deceased family members and live dreadfully unhappy lives….The other perception is that when it’s not busy depressing us with films about cancer Australian films are cringe-inducing “g’day mate” comedies. The sort of face-palm productions geared towards jokes featuring things as stereotypically nationalistic as shrimps on a barbie.” (2014)
Writer for The Monthly,
“The general consensus was that Australian films were grim… While Hollywood epitomises illusion and dreams, we are suspicious of ornate language, wit and the visually extravagant. Our humour is daggy and safe. We extol the ordinary over the extraordinary. Many of the films this year have gloried in downbeat naturalism, as if somehow great truths were being revealed.”(2009)
Now I’m not saying deep and thought provoking Australian dramas aren’t good, I think a lot are great and sometimes a cheesy bogan comedy is just what the doctor ordered, but the truth of the matter is these types of films are not the kind you rush to the cinema for or even consider paying to see. To me they are the type of movies you watch at home because they are on and are surprisingly taken aback by how good they are. Let’s face it no one wants to go out and watch depressing movies with their friends.
Think about Australian film in the 90’s Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert , Babe and now take a look at Australian film in the 00’s Rabbit-Proof Fence (indigenous inequality), Japanese Story (romantic tragedy), Look Both Ways (confronting cancer), Romulus My Father (immigrant family battles adversity), The Black Balloon (family with autistic son)… the intense drama goes on and on.
So, if these films, while great, have proven to be unsuccessful at the box office, why does Australia keep heading down the same path. Once again Luke Buckmaster explains it perfectly for me.
“It is the result of decisions made by baby boomers at government-funded film bodies who, threw their weight behind serious and/or distinctively Australian films.
That’s just the way it is, at some point somewhere down the line, someone with power decided that the only films worth funding were those that were “Serious and/or distinctively Australian” and in the Film industry he who has the funding has the final say.
There needs to be more research conducted into why Australians are not attending the Cinema when it comes to Australian films. We need to look deeper into what it is that demotivates them so as well as get an insight into what things the Australian public is looking for in a film. If we cannot find a way to alleviate this preconceived melancholic association that is constricting the Australian Film Industry’s success we may very well be stuck watching nothing but Hollywood for eternity.
Buckmaster, L 2014, Australian Cinema is Still Big, it’s the Audience that Got Small, Daily Review, weblog post, 2 September, viewed 26 September 2014, <http://dailyreview.crikey.com.au/australian-cinema-is-still-big-its-the-audience-that-got-small/11426>.
Groves, D 2011, Who’s Watching Aussie Films?, SBS, viewed 26 September 2014, <http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/blog/2011/05/09/who-s-watching-aussie-films>.
McLeod, S 2007, B.F Skinner -Operant Conditioning, Simply Psychology, viewed 26 September 2014, <http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html>.
Nowra, L 2009, ‘Nowhere Near Hollywood’, The Monthly, 22 February, viewed 26 September 2014, <http://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-louis-nowra-nowhere-near-hollywood-australian-film-2177>.
Roach, V 2014, ‘Local Audiences Snub Australian Filmmakers Yet Hollywood Loves Them’, News.Com, 14 September, viewed 26 September, <http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/local-audiences-snub-australian-filmmakers-yet-hollywood-loves-them/story-fnk853hr-1227057559133>.
Screen Australia 2009, Australian films in the marketplace: Analysis of Release Strategies and Box Office Performance, Screen Australia, viewed 26 September 2014, <http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/cmspages/handler404.aspx?404;https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au:443/getmedia/f78eb112-340e-4760-96c0-ad4d436f8a8e/Release_boxoffice_20Nov09.pdf>>.