Vale Metro Screen: To the bitter end

Maciej Radny sends his deepest condolences to the supporters of the dearly departed Metro Screen, however, he felt that an opportunity to discuss the future of our local film industry was lost in the lamentations.

I feel like I have to begin this piece with a disclaimer. Until this moment, Metro Screen has existed (like many of our film-related institutions) as an entity oft mentioned in conversation, but seldom utilised.

It was only at its bitter end, cut off from resources and starving in the public eye, that I’d decided to peek into this support system for emergent voices in the film industry. No argument can be made that Metro Screen was not supportive of diverse talent, nor that it had, in its time, failed to provide the services it offered.

Its death leaves behind a void that will struggle to be filled in the coming years, however, it is this very struggle that is the future. For an organisation focused very much on the next generation, its funereal farewell bash seemed less like the passing of a proverbial torch and more like watching the flame burn out.

Perhaps my emotional distance to the situation meant that the general buzz amongst the clusters of people pouring onto the increasingly creaky second floor of the Chauvel Cinema was one of optimism.

An atmosphere perpetuated by the positive attitude of my only acquaintance of the night, a semi-professional extra who had flown in from France a week earlier, eager to forge a career as a filmmaker in the local industry.

Further questioning revealed that the exact nature of the event was mysterious to him, but positive that the much-touted research on emergent talent that was to be revealed that night would yield opportunity.

He pushed on into Cinema 1 with me in tow.

Once the proceedings began, it quickly became apparent that the energy of the crowd was less one of optimism and more that of simmering anger and bitterness. Metro Screen President Kath Shelper’s opening eulogy had as many earnest thank you’s and praises as it did not-so-subtle jabs at the Australian Government and parent company Screen Australia.

An early comparison of Metro Screen’s plight to that of oppressed folk hero Ned Kelly kicked off an uncomfortable tone of martyrdom and self-pity, one that remained the dominant theme of the night.

It’s tough losing 250,000 dollars in funding and even tougher deciding to cut the umbilical and dissolve what was, from its inception, a community effort to support an infamously unsupported (in this country) art form.

So the outrage and the need to vent was entirely justified, however, once the pathos-heavy speeches gave way to the presentation of Metro Screen’s research on the industry, misleadingly dubbed “Emerging Visions”, an opportunity to shift gears and focus on the next step was squandered and instead remained an apocalyptic forecast of the industry’s state. Instead of using the research as a platform, it was an epitaph designed to exacerbate the grief felt by the loss of Metro Screen.

It was sometime during this dire prophesising that my French acquaintance left, perhaps shaken or simply disappointed by the relentless pessimism of the presentation. Sticking around wouldn’t have helped; the concluding session of Q&A was again frustratingly unfocused and any attempts at a discussion of a possible future fizzled out in favour of indignation.

Emerging platforms for content such as online crowdfunding, YouTube (an incredibly dated reference considering the multitude of filmmaker-friendly hosting sites on the Internet right now) and digital cinema were met with dismissal or derision, which hinted at perhaps a dated sensibility and a deeper failure of the organisation to support what will inevitably be the future of the industry.

A final question regarding the possibility of the group existing as an online forum or community was met with a disappointing “no” and responsibility was shifted to the audience to keep it alive, confirming that Metro Screen was all too keen to suffer a “noble” death, rather than limp on and provide some semblance of a support if it meant giving up their status as an institution.

The loss of Metro Screen is definitely indicative of a larger, worrying trend in the support of the Australian film industry, but by lamenting that loss and pointing the finger elsewhere, we lose the opportunity to identify potential issues within the industry itself and its mentality.

In its final hurrah, it seemed that Metro Screen enjoyed playing the victim a little too much, and in doing so lost sight of its primary goal: to nurture and encourage the next generation of filmmakers. It’s precisely this element that will be sorely missed in the coming years.

My deepest condolences.

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