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Editorial: Meta-Crash

One of our most popular editions in 2003 was titled Book-ish. Here it is again as Meta-Crash, reviews of new books about the art-science nexus, artificial life (a-life), media ethics, censorship, youth culture, and sex and the media. We open with an essay from Anna Munster about one of the major issues of the moment, art’s new complicity with science and what’s in it for both. Greg Hooper reviews a backlash against the art of the 20th century that includes Stephen Pinker’s assertion, on genetic grounds, of the unnaturalness of avant garde art. Revealing more complexities in the science-art venture, Stuart Bunt, scientific head of Perth’s SymbioticA art-science project, reviews Mitchell Whitelaw’s new book, Metacreation, on artificial life forms created by artists. The other crashes we are constantly witness to, and which are the subject of books reviewed in Meta-Crash, cluster around the forces of government and corporate media as they hit sex and truth head on. KG

Meeting the documentary challenge

The Australian documentary scene appears healthy: locally-produced films screen regularly on SBS and ABC TV, the REAL:life festival attracts eager audiences, Tom Zubrycki’s Molly and Mobarak is enjoying a theatrical release and documentaries like Scott Millwood’s AFI Award-winning Wildness are superior to many recent local dramas. Nevertheless Zubrycki and fellow documentarist Carmela Baranowska, reporting from the Australian International Documentary Conference in Fremantle, paint a grim picture in the pages of OnScreen. They argue that a chronic shortage of funds has bred an increasingly conservative funding culture. A resolute market focus at this year’s AIDC reinforces this.

I heard grimly humorous tales from Scott Millwood (p17) about his efforts to raise funds for a Chris Marker-inspired essayistic film several years ago. Broadcasters and funding bodies were not only horrified by the thought of experimentation, Millwood claims they often didn’t understand what he was talking about.

The political control and financial strangulation of cultural institutions is only part of the Howard government’s ongoing war on culture. The recent refusal to screen Tom Zubrycki’s Molly and Mobarak in the National Parliament illustrates the pressures faced by directors who manage to actually get a film made. In her new book, Snatched (reviewed, p11), Helen Vnuk shows how the manipulation of Australia’s deeply flawed classification system has allowed a wave of censorship in recent years to go largely unnoticed by the Australian public.

OnScreen’s documentary feature depicts a sector under financial, commercial and governmental pressure. It also reveals a community of filmmakers fighting to have their voices heard. What needs to be done? Improved funding would assist, not least to cover the costs of blowing up film for theatrical release, but more important is the need for a serious review of funding criteria and processes (cf Peter Sainsbury on feature film funding, RT53-54) and a detailed strategic report on market possibilities for documentaries on free-to-air TV, cable, the internet, in cinemas and documentary markets. Tom Zubrycki cites European models that are worth looking at. Not least, the AIDC should commit itself to discussion of form and vision as an integral part of its market forum. DE

ABC: the pressure’s on

Pressure on the ABC to justify its arts policies is building with a number of public forums being held in Sydney and Melbourne in April and beyond. Contradictions between charter obligations and programming practice must be addressed. The recent changes to ABC radio and Classic FM radio must be challenged. The calibre of new entertainments hosted by comedians on ABC TV must be queried. One of the first forums is Art by Stealth? The ABC and the Arts, a half day seminar presented by UTS’ Transforming Cultures Centre and Currency House. Speakers included Liz Jacka, Professor Communications Studies, UTS, who has prepared a report on the issues for the ABC staff union; Tamara Winikoff, Executive Director, NAVA; Terry Cutler, Principal, Cutler & Company, Jonathan Mills; ex-Director, Melbourne International Arts Festival; and RealTime’s Keith Gallasch. ABC executives overseeing arts and entertainment will also speak. Currency House, rear 201 Cleveland St, Redfern, Sydney, 2-6pm April 4.

To put the ABC crisis in a larger perspective, we suggest you visit Artshub and read Senator John Faulkner’s “From Blue Poles to Red Fans” (March 22), the 2004 Whitlam Oration. Faulkner details the Federal Government’s systematic attack on arts institutions and corrects the notion that Howard is not interested in art and culture, but to what end? KG

RealTime issue #60 April-May 2004 pg. 3

© Keith Gallasch & Daniel Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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