Kath Shelper President of Metro Screen: Speech 11/11/15

By November 11, 2015 Blog
kath-shelper-darken

Thanks for coming this evening – it’s great to bring the Metro Screen family together one last time.

As many of you might know Lester Bostock is Metro Screen’s patron. Amongst his many accomplishments, Lester is a pioneer in Indigenous screen media and has had a profound influence on this organisation, especially with reference to our Lester Bostock filmmaking Scheme. Lester is unable to be with us tonight, but he sends his very best wishes.

I’d like to ask Tom Avery, Aboriginal Elder from the Gamilaroi Nation, who has made films through the Lester Bostock Scheme, to do the Welcome To Country.

Spirit

It’s been said that Metro Screen was conceived at the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin in 1973 – where activists came together to talk about sharing more diverse stories on screen.

We are very proud of our hippy roots – we’ve remained true to the principles of equal opportunity, access and diversity. These principles generate great stories.

Speaking of great stories – it’s ironic that we meet tonight on the 40th anniversary of The Dismissal, and the death of Ned Kelly on this day in 1880. The Kelly’s were a poor family who saw themselves as downtrodden and persecuted by the elite.

Although much appears to have changed since we opened our doors, for example a proliferation of screens, crowd-funding and cat videos – much stays the same: debate about the mix of faces on our screens, opportunities for women and First Nation people, finding new voices often in unexpected places. And in some cases these challenges are even more difficult, and this is especially the case when forging a career in screen. Forty years ago when the modern screen industry was essentially founded, a promising emerging filmmaker was offered feature film funding. Those days are long gone.

Singing the praises of emerging talent

Metro Screen has always been about telling stories. We have been privileged to work with so many generations of storytellers … and you have done us proud. From our founding mothers and fathers who had a burning desire to see the real Australia on screen through to our recent graduates working in transmedia – our alumni now reach into all corners of the screen industry with the vast majority wanting to make a difference through stories.

Metro Screen support

We hope you agree that at every stage Metro Screen has worked hard to provide opportunities for you to develop your skills and careers – that we have had a deep understanding of the emerging practitioner’s journey. Using this understanding we have designed programs like our Breaks funded productions, our networking events, production subsidies, internships, access to gear and studio space, and our courses.

And we have kept accessibility at the forefront of our thinking – ensuring that those with good stories are not left behind only because they don’t have the cash or the contacts.

We believe we have been nimble and opportunistic with our program – always with your best interests in mind. If it served emerging filmmakers then we tried to make it happen.

Metro Screen Closure

So here we find ourselves bidding farewell to this wonderful organisation. As you would know, Metro Screen and the other state based screen resource organisations, have had their funding cut by Screen Australia, a flow on from the 2014 federal budget.

Until this decision, funding of the screen resource organisations and the emerging sector had been a shared responsibility between the feds and the states for decades.

Screen Australia now believes “it is the responsibility of the tertiary sector and the States to develop the next generation” and that “there is a myriad of other places and people that fund capability building.” And that they will be “sticking to the knitting” and funding content creation almost exclusively.

We believe Screen Australia has got this wrong – we believe the Federal Agency has a responsibility for talent regeneration.

The talent ecosystem in the screen industry is now under serious threat – especially with the demise of three of the six screen resource organisations. Is that really worth the annual $1.2 million in savings?

In respect of the education sector, as with any industry, it does not produce graduates who are fully job ready – a lawyer, for example, goes into a firm and is required to do articles, and then spend time under supervision before gaining a practising certificate.  Similarly for engineers, accountants, architects, geologists, the list goes on… screen resource organisations provide this pathway. So where to for graduates now?  Why should the tertiary sector adopt a role in our sector that it does in no other sector?

On what basis was the decision made?  There was no indication from the States that they would increase support, or were even able to increase support, with additional core funding. There was no indication that the tertiary sector would alter its modus operandi.  So, the decision made was based on opinion, with no evidence sought to understand the impact, and with no plan for an alternative other than to say “it’s not our responsibility”.

As a result Metro Screen was faced with the dilemma of finding replacement funds or significantly downsizing.

Just to be clear we lost $240,000 in annual core funding, which helped cover our operational costs. If we had to find only $240,000 in new money we would have been fine – but this new income would most likely be project based and leave only a little bit after the project costs to cover essential running costs.

But we were optimistic. Our experience has been that when you get passionate people together, working on a common goal, you find a way through, you find a solution. We are here tonight, marking the passing of Metro Screen, knowing that we tried everything.

We applied for every grant we could, we lobbied federal politicians and met with the State Minister’s advisors, we looked at radically changing our programs and significantly downsizing, we spoke with philanthropists and corporate sponsors, we met with everyone who sounded promising, we looked under every rock until there were no more rocks. The Board is firmly of the opinion that crowd-funding and philanthropic support would not plug the gaping hole.

Metro Screen has always been a fragile, incredibly lean operation, and is a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Our structures and programs have been created over time for maximum efficiency so when you attempt to pull the individual programs apart to model new ways the efficiencies are lost. Metro Screen, without core funding, is just not possible.

So after giving it our best shot, there was no decision to make – it was clear that we couldn’t find a financial model to survive another year. It would have been irresponsible of the Board to continue into another year.

One week after we announced our closure we had a new PM and then a new Arts Minister. Although there may be movement on future funding under this new regime, there is no basis for optimism anytime soon if you have been watching the pace of decision making around the Australia Council de-funding which has attracted a huge community backlash. It’s important to note the absence of an industry backlash when Screen Australia announced the de-funding of the screen resource organisations. Our central challenge is that Screen Australia, our own industry agency, is saying publicly that “there is a myriad of other places and people that fund capability building.” It’s impossible for Metro Screen, and our supporters who have come forward, to fight the battle on all fronts.

Legacy

Metro Screen will live on in so many ways, through the thousands of films we have supported, through the amazing people who have got their first start with us. We’ve championed the new and different, the brave and the bold and we strongly believe that emerging talent is the key to a healthy screen future. This can seem too intangible or lofty for those wanting quick success, and it has fallen out of favour with some decision-makers, but it doesn’t mean that this concept is gone for good, that people don’t know that the future really is in the hands of the next generation.

So from our intangible legacy grows a more tangible resource, which we want to leave you with tonight.

Research

When the defunding was announced last year, Metro Screen undertook to do the research that we had asked Screen Australia to do. And this is what we want to share with you soon.

The research reflects the importance of the emerging space and the need for strategy and policy frameworks. As far as we are aware, there has been very little work done in this area so we hope the research provides a framework for exploring this challenge into future and we are proud to leave it as part of our legacy. We can’t lead this discussion after this year so it’s now in the hands of the screen community.

Our expectation is that an organisation very like Metro Screen will be created in the next few years when our loss is truly felt. I’ll introduce CEO Christina Alvarez to take us through the research shortly.

Space / Gear

We’ve had questions about the space and the gear. A number of cultural organisations have been asking about what will happen to the Metro Screen offices when we move out. This space is part of the City of Sydney’s Accommodation Grants Program and at this stage the process is that it will go out to application for a new tenant in the future. Interested parties should sign up to the City’s Creative Spaces newsletter to be notified of opportunities.

The Team

And finally – to all the many board directors and staff members that have guided Metro Screen over the past 34 years – thank you so much for your commitment, hard work and expertise. We know how invested you have been in the life of this organisation and we know you come along tonight with great regret.

I would like to make special mention of our current Board. They are all volunteers and have put in many hard hours, especially this past year, to dedicate themselves to emerging talent and the health of Metro Screen. They are: Vice President Jarod Green, Treasurer Gary Williams, Stephen Boyle, Cassie Jackson, Claire Morgan, Cate Smith and Malinda Wink.

CEO Christina Alvarez has been leading the organisation for the past 10 years with skill, grace and good humour. Enormous thanks to her and her fabulous staff – who between them have such a large body of knowledge that will sadly be dispersed in a couple of weeks.

Thanks also to Screen NSW and the City of Sydney for your amazing support through difficult times. As they say, you know who your friends are when the chips are down.

And finally, thanks to the emerging screen community – we have been honoured to be a part of your screen story.