Screen Australia seems unwilling to increase funding for the financially-strapped awards body.
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1 Mar 2013 - 12:17 PM  UPDATED 27 Feb 2014 - 12:40 PM

Exhibitor/producer Ian Sutherland was elected to the board of the Australian Film Institute at its AGM last night, replacing producer Amanda Higgs who stepped down after serving for six years.

Sutherland (pictured), the general manager, alternate content at Amalgamated Holdings, which owns Event Cinemas, tells SBS Movies he's looking forward to addressing the “challenges facing a great organisation which has a wonderful history”.

The primary challenge confronting the AFI is finding a way to fund the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts' annual awards. Approximately 10 percent of the AFI's annual budget of $5.1 million comes from the screen sector, including an annual grant of $360,000 from Screen Australia.

AFI/AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella says for the awards to be viable, the AFI needs to lift support from the screen industry to 20-25 percent of its budget. This week SBS Movies asked Screen Australia head of marketing Kathleen Drumm two questions:

1. Will the agency considering increasing its support, given the AFI's parlous financial situation?

2. If not, is Screen Australia prepared to see the AFI/AACTA continue to struggle and even, perhaps, disappear?

Today she replied: “Screen Australia and its former agency, the AFC, has a long history of supporting the AFI's Awards event and is committed to its future success. Based on the budget that the AFI provided to us in December 2012, Screen Australia's contribution amounts to over 26 percent of the 2013 Awards' direct costs.

“As with all our funding to screen organisations, we strongly support the development of sustainable business plans to ensure ongoing activity. We're looking forward to hearing from the AFI about their plans for the long-term viability of the organisation and the Awards.”

With respect, Kathleen, that doesn't answer either question.

At last night's AGM, AFI/AACTA chairman Alan Finney updated the board on the recent restructuring which saw four staff retrenched, leaving a workforce of seven. He spoke about an ongoing review of the number of awards to be presented in 2014 after Trewhella signalled the AFI cannot afford to maintain the present level of 41 awards without a substantial boost in funding. Finney also spoke about exploring funding opportunities but acknowledged it's very tough to raise money from the private sector in the current economic climate.

Finney welcomed Sutherland's election, noting his involvement in digital cinema at AHL and his plans to co-produce Australian films with expat director Robert Luketic, starting with Reclaim, a thriller to be directed by Erskineville Kings director Alan White, who is based in Los Angeles.

Sutherland tells SBS Movies, “I am humbled to be elected to the AFI board, especially considering the calibre of the other candidates,” who were director Rowan Woods, producer Robyn Kershaw, producer/distributor John L. Simpson, writer/producer Kris Wyld and DOP David Wakeley.

On the board, Sutherland joins fellow directors Sigrid Thornton, lawyer Jennifer Huby, publishers Morry Schwartz and Robert Sessions and Universal Pictures International Australasia M.D. Mike Baard.