Documentary is powerful: it can evoke great emotions, build our sense of community, and encourage social change. Australian documentary creators continue to create works which engage and move audiences here and abroad.
Our sector, however, has fundamentally changed. Primarily, people are consuming content differently. Australians watch what they want, whenever they want, on whichever screen they want. Digital technology has empowered audiences, opened new frontiers for documentaries, and disrupted business models that supported the creation of Australian screen stories. Content creators are adapting but need to continue to do so: few screen businesses operate as they did 10 years ago. Commissioners are commissioning differently, responding to changing audience tastes and intense competition for viewers on multiple fronts. These changes affect us all, bringing new opportunities, but also challenging businesses, livelihoods, and the stories that are told.
Amidst this Australian stories have influenced important conversations, achieved strong box office, screened to large TV and online audiences at home and abroad, and been selected for the world’s leading markets and festivals. Some have called this era of audience choice a golden age for documentary: and Australia has the talent and the stories to take advantage of it. But audience power has powerful implications: while a story’s potential audience may be everyone, it has to cut through all the content in the world to an audience accustomed to choice and quality.
It is clear to Screen Australia that the globalisation of industry and audience has created greater requirements for documentary creators. The bar for projects is higher at every step, and a growing number of people and businesses are competing for audiences and a finite amount of industry, private and public finance. It is inevitable that some will miss out.
Screen Australia has a vital role in the industry, but in an environment of higher demand and reduced public funding, and fundamental changes to distribution and consumption, we cannot provide solutions for every issue. We have considered the conversations had to date, reviewed the funding we have available, and analysed relevant data. This paper explains our proposals: a linked package of changes that makes the best use of our funding to engage, where we can, with the challenges and opportunities that await the entire sector.