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DAF urges Oz gov’t to protect feature docs

AIDC NEWS: The Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF) is mobilising a campaign on behalf of the factual sector to persuade the country’s government to scrap two key changes to the Producer Offset incentives that it says will devastate feature docs.

Mitzi Goldman

The not-for-profit organisation, which has supported more than 500 documentary films and social impact campaigns since 2008, is gathering signatures on an open letter.

The letter calls for maintaining the current A$500,000 (US$391,000) minimum qualifying Australian production expenditure (QAPE) for feature-length content and urges the government to retain the Gallipoli clause, which allows some production costs incurred in other countries to be claimed as QAPE.

As part of major media reforms announced last September, the government proposed doubling the minimum (QAPE) threshold to A$1m (US$772,000) and removing the Gallipoli clause from July 1.

The letter began circulating this week as speakers at the Australian International Documentary Conference warned about the impact of the changes while welcoming the increase of the TV Producer Offset from 20% to 30%.

“It’s hard to understand the government’s reasons for these changes, which will have a devastating impact on a sector that punches above its weight,” DAF CEO Mitzi Goldman told C21.

“We are asking for the status quo: keep the A$500,000 QAPE and the Gallipoli clause, which are easy things for the government to do.”

Already 173 people representing a broad range of filmmakers, producers and distributors have signed the letter and Goldman is confident of gathering a lot more before she seeks a meeting next week with communications minister Paul Fletcher and his advisors.

The letter claims that 42% of the feature docs funded by Screen Australia (SA) in the past three years had budgets of more than A$1m, compared with 97% of the 51 SA-funded drama features.

Wayne Blair and Nell Minchin’s doc Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra

“There is a significant risk that the 58% of documentaries being made with budgets less than A$1m will not be made at all if these proposed changes are brought in,” it says.

With DAF’s research showing the average cost per hour of single documentaries, including features, was A$618,000, films such as Backtrack Boys, Gurrumul and In My Blood It Runs could no longer be made.

In arguing for the retention of the Gallipoli clause, the letter states: “The best and most internationally acclaimed documentaries are those that deal with international stories – these need to be shot overseas for their veracity.”

Internationally recognised documentaries such as Nel Minchin and Wayne Blair’s Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra and Madeleine Hetherton’s The Surgery Ship were able to employ Australian crews on their international shoots because of that incentive.

If the clause is scrapped, producers are more likely to employ cheaper foreign crews and it would be difficult to include international elements in Australian documentaries. That, in turn, would discourage international funding and coproduction partners from coming on board.

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