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Welcome to Revolution No 9. MUFF 2008 is here and it’s time to get down to some serious indie cinema viewing. This year I’m going to keep my statement short, sharp and – unlike most of my other statements – to the point.

So, here’s how it is:

Following the demise of the New York Underground Film Festival, our festival is now the second oldest underground fest in the world. MUFF is also setting the standard programming-wise in Australian film culture. We have the more established MIFF trying to copy us in various ways, with some of their new sections, as many have commented on, like Paul Harris and Paul Kalina. This year we have our best festival. Filmmakers want to be involved. We are having $1 million Australian features vying for MUFF screening positions. We have the world premieres of Gates Of Hell and The Devils Gateway, two great new Oz genre pics. Then there are screenings of Jon Hewitt’s Acolytes and Steven Kastrissios’ excellent The Horseman, two more brilliant local genre flicks. The Oz genre revolution, and the return of Ozploitation cinema, is happening, and it’s being spearhead – as it has been for nine years now – here at MUFF. We have been championing such a return to genre filmmaking since our 2000 inception. A history lesson for the ignorant and forgetful: We were the only Australian festival to play croc attack flick Blackwater in 2007. We supply a vital local forum for great films like this one – and others. Blackwater went on to sell to 40 territories worldwide, and become one of the most successful local features of 2007/8.

What’s more, MUFF is now a home to a film movement. What it shall be called, this movement, well, that is up to the film historians to decide. We have been discovering great talent over the years. MUFF has become something of a force of nature. For example, we played a short by Steven Kastrissios, three years before anyone at MIFF heard of The Horseman. We have discovered incredible talent here at MUFF. Incredible talent, I think, which marks the beginning of a New Wave in Australian filmmaking. From James Wan, Scott Ryan, Jon Hewitt, Shannon Young, Jason Turley, Anna Brownfield, Gregory Pakis, Matthew Clayfield, David Nerlich, Andrew Traucki, Kel Dolen – and, now, Steven Kastrissios – we have showcased a pool of local talent like no other. Cate Shortland, eat your heart out.

Add to this the outstanding fact that many of these filmmakers made their first films without any government funding at all – they’ve held onto their independence ferociously. You begin to see that, yes, there is an industry that exists beyond the oppressive government funding system that has become so intractable in Oz! When you consider the sales of films like Blackwater and Gabriel, you can see this alternative industry can even compete with the incompetent Oz main stream. But don’t get us wrong. We want government funding for these filmmakers and for these films. But we will not lay down and go away if we do not. MUFF of course was rejected again for funding from the AFC and Film Victoria in 2008. Hardly a surprise! Every international guest at MUFF has commented that, in any other country in the world, this festival would be showered with funding. Drowned in funding. Asphyxiated by it. A cutting edge underground film festival that is challenging even on the world stage – and still not a zac from the government’s various screen culture departments to support it! What do they do, exactly, then?

With Not Quite Hollywood’s universal praise, the stage for a massive Renaissance in Australian genre filmmaking is now set. Add to that the need to fund more interesting art and avant-garde works like that of Bill Mousoulis (currently touring Europe with cult vampire flick A Nocturne) and other daring filmmakers like Amiel Courtin Wilson, Ben Hackworth, Jean Luc Syndikas, Anna Kannava and many others. A real Australian avant-garde is itching to give us amazing world cinema that goes far, far beyond half-ass attempts at art cinema such as Somersault and The Black Balloon.

Additionally, we need to challenge the modes of thinking that are typical of those chardonnay Socialists who founded our current film system. Figures like industry doyen Phillip Adams, an outdated, unthinking old-school leftist who has made his living from failing to pose any sort of threat to the system he claims to criticise. Phillip Adams wouldn’t know artistic risk if it came up and pissed in his face. His time – and that of others like him – is done and dusted. They did some good work, once upon a time, but they didn’t embrace Ozploitation (from which most of the talent for their ‘quality cinema’ movement emerged) or maintain a healthy respect for the kind of commercial filmmaking people actually want to see. This one prejudice of Adams and Bob Ellis, et al., has practically ruined the local film industry. A time for new idols and ambassadors is desperately needed, and of course we must smash the old to do this. So death to Phillip Adams – or, at least, to his legacy!

So, to quote everyone’s favourite patron of the cinema, Lenin, what is to be done?

Here are twelve things that need to happen in the Oz film Industry:

1. An indy filmmaker fund which will provide between $500,000 and $1 million for filmmakers to make commercially-viable genre pictures.

2. More funding for daring avant-garde filmmakers, such as those mentioned above, and less for your Esther Blubergers, Black Balloons, Septembers, Danny Deckchairs, and so on.

3. We need more filmmakers who will embrace innovation on government boards. Robert Conolly’s appointment to Screen Australia bodes well with his excellent White paper set to be actioned.

4. We need funding for festivals like MUFF and SUFF and more funding for great events like Revelation and other cutting edge screen culture events.

5. MIFF needs a Director that will embrace these low budget films and the many growing local movements. Richard Moore has proved himself a populist clown only interested in raising the monetary intake at MIFF – and this after claiming he wanted to make MIFF more like MUFF!

6. We need to see these new genre films marketed as a new strain of Ozploitation by Screen Australia and promoted at world wide markets. We need, in other words, to make money. It’s a novel concept that, for some reason, the funding bodies just don’t seem to get.

7. We need to see success, creativity and
daring in the local industry rewarded as opposed to attacked. Filmmakers need to be awarded quickly with immediate grants that will allow them to produce new work within 12 months, so as an auteur’s body of work can develop. We can’t have filmmakers waiting four to eight years between projects. Generations of children grow up faster.

8. We need people to speak out publicly about the poor state of the local industry and demand change. This is a task for critics, the vast majority of whom are failing in their responsibilities. Filmgoers need to question some of the mainstream critics, especially as they turn film criticism into a lifestyle show – and tune into independent radio, start reading Indy blogs, and turn to alternative sources of media for fresh inspiration.

9. We need accountability for whoever has been funding and making decisions on so many crap films. Therefore we need to clean house at the funding bodies of the dead weight who have been there 20 years and fucking up the industry so royally.

10. We need an action-based steering committee to explore overseasmarkets and festivals to see what the world wants from us and to take immediate action to realise it. Much like Phillip Adams and Barry Jones mythical trip in the late 60s.

11. People in the industry need a thick skin to accept and give criticism and to get over petty industry squabbles. The local industry is not big enough to support these internecine cliques. Filmmakers should feel as comfortable at MUFF’s opening night as at MIFF’s.

12. A collaborative spirit is needed in the local industry to help fellow filmmaking practitioners, and a dedication to the local industry. Especially if you succeed overseas, you should come back here to Oz and help the local industry when you can with projects or your participation in festivals and education. Some of our top thespian talent is already doing this. But we need to give them good films to be in. As Antony I Ginnane said, “who wants to see Cate Blanchett as a heroin addict?”

There is more to do, but these are important key points. The most important 13th point, is of course, the old film call for ACTION!

You can see I have been following my own advice. I have a new feature The Beautiful and Damned playing and I have written a new manifesto dealing with Ontological cinema. So, all is good.

Enjoy the festival and be part of the Australian film Revolution!

Best Regards

Richard Wolstencroft

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