A new national Film and TV Academy may restore the pre-eminence of the 53-year-old AFI. 
6 Jun 2011 - 10:00 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 3:30 AM

The Australian Film Institute may well cement its future by reinventing itself as an Australian Academy which expands and gives greater clout to its annual film and TV awards.

Although the industry has broadly welcomed the AFI's proposals, some believe the new structure will work only if the AFI merges its awards with the rival IF Awards.

And others argue the AFI's scope has been so gutted by years of cutbacks in government assistance that only a substantial injection of funds can restore the organisation's pre-eminence.

“The announcement is a tacit admission that the AFI's only remaining real purpose has devolved down into managing and presenting its annual awards. Its claim to be Australia's foremost screen culture organisation no longer has any validity and the announcement regarding the establishment of an Academy simply recognises this fact,” asserts cinephile Geoff Gardner in his blog.

“For most of the last couple of decades the AFI has been slowly gutted and shredded of any of the duties undertaken by other national film institutes. Government funding for these activities has over time been callously, ruthlessly and in some cases ridiculously withdrawn,” says Gardner, a former distributor (he co-founded Ronin Films with Andrew Pike) and director of the Melbourne Film Festival.

“If it is to achieve anything in the future it will be by massively expanding the profile and prestige of a national awards system whose voting is respected by the public and whose activity (sole) is the source of national interest.”

Producer Tony Buckley laments the AFI's attrition but says, referring to previous regimes, “It gutted itself by its own ineptitude, arrogance and self aggrandising.”

Buckley, who served on the board of the Film Finance Corp, Screen Australia's predecessor, contends, “The only way for the AFI to work is to break up Screen Australia and give Culture back to the AFI, then the Government would look at funding the Academy seriously.”

Producer Sue Milliken, a former member of the Australian Film Commission's board, says, “As one of the people who tried and failed to get the AFI to get its act together when I was on the AFC, I can only say in regard to the Academy plan, about time. However, instead of perpetrating the parochialism of two awards systems competing with each other over a diminishing number of quality Australian films, wouldn't it make sense for AFI and IF to talk and combine resources into one super, prestigious AFI/IF (or IF/AFI) Australian Film Awards under the academy system? That way they would get the support of the industry and possibly, even the government.”

To be fair, those criticisms of the AFI can't be levelled at the chair, the respected Alan Finney, who was appointed last December, or its chief executive Damian Trewhella, and the AFI has flagged a lengthy consultation process with the industry.

The AFI also signalled a desire to work with the Australian screen industry to raise its profile and promote its productions to the Australian public and internationally, and to foster awareness of the industry's history and presence.

Veteran exhibitor/distributor Natalie Miller comments, “I think the AFI was an amazing organisation in its early days and a great inspiration and support for our burgeoning film industry. As Geoff said (there has been) a loss of Government funding and its activities now being realised in other institutions including the wonderful ACMI. It's good to see proposed renewal as an Academy and a new chapter in its proud history.”

Paramount Pictures Australia/New Zealand managing director Mike Selwyn probably reflects the level of industry goodwill for the AFI when he says, “I'm pleased that the AFI is moving to create a proper representative body based on contribution to the film and television industries. The IF Awards are a fun night and are deliberately angled more towards public participation. I think that they can co-exist if necessary. For me, the interesting question is to see what 'Academy Oz' can do for the industry other than the awards night.”