|This article does not cite any references or sources. (February 2007)|
Filmnews was a monthly newspaper dealing with independent film production, distribution and exhibition in Australia and the federal and state government policies and practices which supported them. It was produced in Sydney but distributed Australia-wide, containing news, reviews, interviews, articles and some gossip on the local film community. It ran from the early 1970s to mid-1994.
Filmnews was born from the irregular roneoed newsletter of a group of filmmakers struggling to distribute their films at a time when film was still a very marginalised activity; it developed through the life of the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op from a paper mainly concerned with screening information and members' news to a journal that took a vital interest in and a strong position on all the issues that concerned the filmmaker/worker community around the Co-op; and after the demise of the Co-op it further broadened its base to encompass the wide range of cultural and industrial concerns that affect the film, media and communications sector.
Over the nearly twenty years of its existence Filmnews followed the many issues that have contributed to the development of film and media policy, theory, and practice, surveyed the development of individual filmmakers and videographers, of filmmaking practice in all its formats, and of the film community itself. In fact, it charted the change from a struggling, marginalised group of determined individuals to a strong and healthy industry. As the various film and video organisations around Australia came into being, they provided operational bases for a film and video community of plurality, diversity and innovation, and Filmnews documented their histories, recorded their activities and shared their commitment to screen culture. Filmnews gradually developed into a journal that provided an independent, critical perspective on all those issues that affected the production, distribution and exhibition of film and video in Australia, and aimed to supply both information and analysis to a readership that ranged from film practitioners to those working in screen education and film studies, to both teachers and students. And Filmnews was vigilant in continually questioning the practices of the industry, of government in relation to film and funding policies, of the funding bodies, and of screen education and training providers.
The content of Filmnews ranged from major articles and extensive interviews to great photos and other illustrations, and was enlivened by cartoons, poems and other short pieces, and even comic strips, while the news and gossip page, Who’s Doing What, was essential reading. Our reviews, of films, related books, the occasional TV program, ranged from short and snappy to very extensive, and the obituaries of important local and overseas film people became a feature. FilmNews’ coverage of specific subjects or themes - such as government assistance, women's filmmaking, public and community broadcasting, censorship, copyright, new technologies, the various institutions within the film landscape (Film Australia, the AFI, SBS, AFTRS, the state funding bodies, and of course the AFC itself) and changes in documentary practice – featured solid reporting and informed commentary. And although there were some spirited and very lively stoushes over coverage of some of these issues, they never caused real damage. It was probably both the range and diversity of its content and the unusual juxtapositions of issues, events and people that made filmnews so unique, and made its readers so attached to it. And it was a matter of absolute conviction to all involved with producing Filmnews that production, distribution, exhibition and the audience are inseparable, and all are part of an overarching screen culture.
A readership survey in 1986 discovered that the typical reader was involved in film or video production, was male and in his twenties, was relatively poor, and loved the writing of Adrian Martin. He went to the movies at least once a week, bought several other film journals, regularly attended conferences, and spent up to $10,000 a year on film or video production services. Readers loved Filmnews, the only changes they wanted was more of what they were already getting – although one respondent did argue for `more criticism of local independent film and video, but better argued and less righteous.’ And another argued for more obituaries.
For ten years Filmnews was part of the C-op – often, and for most people, the most visible part. Filmnews was involved in all the fights, the campaigns, the lobbying, the victories and the conflicts that were so much part of Co-op life. Filmnews explained and analysed Co-op changes in policy, argued for more attention and funding to be given to the production of independent film and video, and to independent distribution and exhibition. Women’s films and women filmmakers became a strong and important element in Filmnews, including campaigns for training and workshops for women; the theory and the practice, the setting up of and the progress of the Women’s Film Fund and the Women’s film units became a continuing theme. Indigenous film making, films on black Australia, and the need for an Indigenous film unit was another strong campaign.
Then, almost overnight, the Co-op was gone. The cinema had closed down in 1981, when the AFC decided not to fund it any longer; but the AFC supported the Co-op’s move to new premises in Pyrmont, and encouraged more aggressive marketing and distribution policies. But these policies stretched the Co-op’s resources, and the AFC decided that only one government-funded distribution body was to be supported and that was the AFI; the Co-op had to close its doors. After a brief and badly thought out relationship with a commercial proprietor (Encore) selected by the AFC, FilmNews was allowed to become its own entity. Given a home for several years by Metro TV (now Metro Screen) in the Paddington Town Hall complex, and then by UTS, proved fruitful in both cases. New writers, new topics, new ways of looking at issues came out of both relationships, and Filmnews continued and improved its coverage of a growing, developing community that encompassed film and television production, film and media policies, and the institutions and organisations that covered and represented all sorts of different aspects of an increasingly diverse and complex area.
Filmnews was always funded by the AFC. Small and spasmodic amounts of funding came from the various state bodies, a regular and reasonable advertising revenue was earned, a respectable number of subscriptions sold, both locally and overseas, but the AFC was the major support. They continually tried to have a cover price applied, despite a regular and well argued responses that proved (to our eyes at least) that a free distribution was a far more effective way of getting to the audience, and that trying to compete with other publications in newsagents would probably kill Filmnews off. But they kept the funding at a static level for a number of years, and although they did fund me to go on a research mission to the other states to talk about increasing state input and funding (which looked promising), they suddenly pulled the plug on FilmNews in 1994. There was a brief effort to restart FilmNews in 1995, with a new editor (Paul Kalina), but with all the original support systems cancelled, it was just too hard to reinvigorate publication without the time, money, and resources the AFC was unwilling to provide. So the AFC put their film publication money into RealTime and a little more to Metro, while IF and FILMINK magazines got going.