Film, News & Commentary, Screen

Rachel Ward asks ‘Aren’t we good enough?’

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The decision to import a foreigner to direct the television adaptation of a novel famously adapted for film in the iconic 1975 Australian film Picnic at Hanging Rock has been described as a “very bitter pill to swallow” by Rachel Ward.

The British-born film director and actor who has been an Australian citizen for 30 years said the decision by the series’ producers, (Fremantle Media, Foxtel and Screen Australia), made a farce of our taxpayer-funded film and drama schools and “all those young girls studying drama at school with their fragile hopes and dreams of one day contributing to the Australian narrative and voice”.

“Apparently Australian directors are not thought highly enough by international casts to lure them to work in our country on Australian stories for Australian audiences. Particularly female ones,” she told Daily Review.

Its producers have hired the Canadian Larysa Kondracki to direct the TV adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel about three school girls who go missing at Hanging Rock outside Melbourne on St. Valentine’s Day in 1900. The six-part series of one hour episodes will be filmed in Melbourne and regional Victoria from February to April. Casting should have been announced by now, leading to speculation that there is disagreement among its lead producers, Fremantle and Foxtel.

Ward said that the appointment of a foreigner as its director is more evidence that if Australian directors are to succeed here, they must first succeed overseas.

“Tto be valued in our homeland we must first leave Australia. Our home grown skills, our loyalty to this country is not good enough to be rewarded with work here,” she said.

Recent Screen Australia figures revealed that only 17% of Australian feature films were directed by women and Screen NSW figures show  that only 22% of TV drama were being directed by Australian women.

“This is a slap in the face to all the good work that is being done by the industry to redress the balance,” said Kingston Anderson, the CEO of the Directors’ Guild of Australia (DGA).

“Australian directors are amazed and astonished at the choice of a foreign director to work on a classic especially as it is not a co-production and is being fully financed in Australia,” he said, adding that he understood a number of Australian directors working overseas were approached to helm Picnic at Hanging Rock but that no “highly talented female internationally-produced television directors currently working in Australia were approached”.

“Australian directors are amazed and astonished at the choice of a foreign director to work on a classic especially as it is not a co-production and is being fully financed in Australia,” he said. “It saddens the ADG to see Screen Australia, Foxtel and Fremantle Media supporting Canadian television directors at the expense of Australians.”

Anderson said the ADG had opposed the Canadian’s 420 Visa as is it did not meet the ‘Net Employment Benefit Test’ set by the immigration department for a 420 Visa.

“The Net Employment Benefit test clearly states that to get a 420 Visa there needs to be a net employment benefit for the Australian industry. As this production was always going to be shot in Australia and is fully financed by Australian money including funds from Screen Australia and Foxtel it clearly does not have any net employment benefit for Australians as one of the major jobs on the production is being given to a Canadian,” Anderson said.

Ward added: “It’s ultimately just sad that those of us who have committed so many years as Australian filmmakers are thought so little of by some production teams and broadcasters here that we must import someone to do the job for us.”

Daily Review approached Fremantle Media for comment but no response was received by time of publication.

[box]Main image: a scene from the 1975 film that starred Anne Louise Lambert, Helen Morse and Jackie Weaver.[/box]


17 responses to “Rachel Ward asks ‘Aren’t we good enough?’

  1. Totally agree with Rachel’s comments on the absurdity of importing a director for this very Australian story when there are so many talented directors right here. I’m sure Rachel and the DGA would also share Actors Equity’s frustration when the same thing happens so often with lead actors.

    1. The “imported actor” impetus is both more understandable, and excusable, I reckon.

      Success in the US market appears to be helped by using Seppo leads—I recently saw ‘The Hunter’ on FTA TV, and thought Willem Dafoe was OK, but not essential to the story. He also seemed rather too old for the not-quite-developed romance between him and the character played by Frances O’Connor—though their age gap is a mere 11 years, a change from some cradle-snatching pairings! Dafoe is quite lined given his age.

      I wonder if the selection of Kondracki is somehow ‘personal’.

  2. Of course one might also feel compelled to ask why (rapidly decreasing) taxpayer dollars are going to an unnecessary remake of a story already told brilliantly in the first place.

    Investing in previously untold Australian stories by Australian writers starring Australian actors and helmed by Australian directors … now that is fantasy.

    But then agility and innovation were NEVER anything more than fake news in this country.

    1. Good plan BUT it should still be changed to an Australian production – wholly. It was successful then anything less will be down to the stupidity of present decision makers. We value our Australian film makers and actors – get with the program and show some pride in the great talents we have here in Australia. Stop this cultural cringe – its totally out of date and unnecessary.

  3. Wholeheartedly agree with Rachel Ward. Why don’t they appoint her as director – she was born overseas, so may placate those who think our homegrown talent lacking in gravitas. As the parent of a struggling actor, I have seen the disappointment time and again when roles go to an overseas talent, with only minor roles being offered to locals. Tell us what we can do to voice our opposition to the current decision for the PAHR remake (although I agree it should stand as it is without being superseded – an amazing and iconic piece of Australian cinema)

  4. It’s a little ironic that on the same page is the lead story of an Australian actor playing Obama in a US TV series. I’m sure Americans must be frustrated too.

  5. Such a classic Australian film needs a director who IS Australian, who has a feel for the Australian connection to our environment and our history and particularly our love for this book and film. It is frustrating when well made classics are ‘reimagined’ – never as well as the original. I for one, will not watch this adaptation.

  6. It’s a problem that has existed for as long as I have lived and worked in the industry of entertainment in Australia. Overseas producers directors of musical theatre have often said Australian casts are the best in the world. Australian performers are hungry and it’s no surprise as we have been starved. The Australian population is partly responsible. Aussie talent is often only considered a great talent when they “make it ” overseas. We don’t honour our own until they succeed out of Australia.

  7. It’s the nature of the beast, alas. Toni Collette played a Pom in About A Boy, Miss You Already etc. Kate Winslet plays Aussies. It’s what we do. Give and take. Not watching it will not do anything! But advocating is important and good.

  8. This is so very disappointing – yet unsurprising, sadly. I’m so sick of seeing Aussie actors having to fake an American accent in American things because they can’t get work here. Today, Australia outsources everything – and then the people lose money and quality of life.

    At this time when every Australian cultural institution is being gutted, we need loyalty now, more than ever.

    Did Kondracki watch and read the story as she grew up, were her formative years somehow imbued with Picnic at Hanging Rock’s feeling. Does the soundtrack make her heart do sudden turns? Did she grow up aware of the true essense of Australian society and culture.

  9. About time this has been brought up again….when I watched “The Dress Maker” I was bewildered wondering why Jacq Mackenzie was not cast in the role.
    She would have owned it as a real Aussie.

  10. It’s great that you are finally following this story but surprising that its been happening for the last six or seven years and nobody from the screen practitioners industry has cared or blinked an eye? Currently anyone in the various screen industries can be brought in on a 457 visa for jobs funded by the taxpayer and made by internationally owned companies – writers, directors, producers, editors… the MEAA and the Screen Australia, SPA and the ADG haven’t complained until now… is all about funding.

    Hundreds of foreign ‘producers’ and ‘directors’ are currently working in TV produced by companies like Fremantle and Shine for Australian TV while our local crews are overlooked and nobody bats an eyelid. Why aren’t we investing in our own people? training them? supporting them?

    Here are the current film and TV occupations where Canadian, English, American or even South African crew can be brought in to fill positions over our local crew because apparently we are ‘too expensive”;

    and under the previous Labor Govt the loophole has been exploited by these companies and even Australian networks:

    A country with such a small population and such a small industry should be training and promoting our own industry people before we look abroad and why the hell are we funding foreign companies to make programs here – why aren’t we funding our own programs made by our own crews? This excuse that Aussie’s go overseas for job is a redundant argument – there is a bigger market in the US and UK – The U.S. is the third largest film market in the world – comparing apples and oranges with the local industry how naive, the USA makes 700 films a year a Australia makes about 30? not really a fair fight Fremantle?

  11. This decision “shits me to tears” (an expression Kondracki probably hasn’t heard before but may become familiar with in the coming months).

    Rumour has it that Kondracki’s fee for this will be quite generous. Most directors I know would use that money to (at least partially) bankroll the development of their next project – ie write another draft or two (since nobody wants to properly fund development in this country – the fundamental problem of our “industry”).

    Once this large wad of cash leaves our (very fragile) creative ecosystem, it will never come back. I hope Kondracki isn’t expecting an enthusiastic welcome from the local practicioners who are mostly on the bones of their arse financially – not to mention the Aussie taxpayers who might reasonably question why we’re giving the Canadian film industry a shot in the arm of this magnitude.

  12. I was in drag as Miranda on a very home-made Sydney Mardi Gras float in the early 90s. It was the first year that the ABC televised the parade, maybe ’93..? We were right behind the Lazy Lesbians who just sat on a couch in the back of a ute, watching the parade on a telly. The ABC passed over our Picnic at Hanging Rock float. If anyone has photos I’d love to see them as we were too stoned to work out a routine to the pan-pipe soundtrack, let alone document anything. I didn’t think to bring a big knife, so had to cut the St Valentine’s cake with my gloved hand. But the point is, we were enthralled and inspired by how ridiculously camp the film appeared in our young adulthood, without entirely losing the spookiness it had for us as children… Years later, I didn’t finish reading the novel as I couldn’t surrender to the similarly wistful nostalgia it seemed to hold for the mystery of a bygone era. I just wonder if there’s any impetus to this impending remake beyond riding on the success of a ‘classic’. I think I’d prefer to watch a fictionalized ‘making of’ Picnic at Hanging Rock, set in the 70s…

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