Three respected industry figures have been appointed to the board of the Australian Film Institute/Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts, a timely boost for the organisation as it strives to attract more funding.
The new directors are Geoff Brown, who recently retired after 16 years as the executive director of the Screen Producers Association of Australia; Alaric McAusland, managing director of Deluxe Australia and a former chair of Ausfilm; and Russel Howcroft, executive general manager at Network Ten, a Gruen Transfer panellist and formerly CEO of advertising agency George Patterson Y&R.
They join Ian Sutherland, the general manager, alternate content at Amalgamated Holdings, which owns Event Cinemas, who was appointed at the February board meeting, replacing producer Amanda Higgs who stepped down after six years.
AFI/AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella tells SBS Movies the injection of talent to the board is an endorsement of the Academy's development since it was launched 20 months ago.
In recent years the AFI board had seven directors but the board has exercised its discretion to increase that to nine. Publisher Morry Schwartz's decision to retire from the board after seven years, including five as chairman, created another vacancy.
The new directors join Mike Baard, Jennifer Huby, Robert Sessions, Sigrid Thornton and Chairman Alan Finney. The board is next due to meet in late April or May.
McAusland said, “I look forward to contributing to the AFI Board during a critical time in the institute's lifespan. We will reflect on recent challenges, and reach out to our membership and the broader industry to ensure they have a voice in helping us continue to shape and strengthen the activities of this critically important organisation both locally and globally, and for the benefit of all Australians.”
Trewhella has been meeting with industry guilds to get their input on rationalising the number of awards from the 41 presented this year.
“There are not the resources right now to continue with all those categories,” he says. “We need to lower the number and we are keen to involve the guilds in those discussions.”
The CEO describes the quest to raise more money from the non-screen sector and to increase Screen Australia's annual funding from $360,000 as a “work-in-progress”.
He identifies as the major challenge the need to raise sufficient funds to continue to have the awards broadcast on a TV network, which is vital to attract commercial sponsors. He says the cost of the awards night and the awards lunch is $3 million, a major chunk of the AFI's $5.2 million budget.
He says discussions are ongoing with Network Ten to continue as the broadcast partner, noting, “They were very happy with this year's telecast”. Although the ABC may seem to be the natural home for the awards, Trewhella ruled out a switch to the public broadcaster because the awards' sponsors need the exposure provided by a commercial network.
He says the organisation needs to develop a three-five year business plan.