After two years in development, the groundbreaking new website australianscreen is now live, offering global access to a goldmine of historical and contemporary material from the Australian film and television industries. Containing over 1500 moving image clips from documentaries, short films, Indigenous cinema and even ads from the early 1900s, the site spans the breadth of our film and TV industry from the late 1800s through to current releases. The site had an extraordinary 21,000 hits and 200,000 page views in the week following its launch on 18 July. Lauren McCorquodale takes a look.
The australianscreen concept was originally formulated by the AFC's Industry and Cultural Development (ICD) Division. ICD Director Sabina Wynn regards the site as central to the AFC's mission of "ensuring the creation, preservation and availability of Australian film". Although the AFC has overseen the development of the site, several players have been key to the project. Clips have been sourced from the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives of Australia, the ABC, SBS and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, while AARNet (Australia's Academic Research and Education Network) will host the site. In addition, the Curriculum Corporation through the Le@rning Federation has played a significant role in planning.
The moving image clips were (and continue to be as the site is continually added to) selected by a team of highly experienced curators, each of whom specialise in a particular area: Paul Byrnes (features), Damien Parer (documentary), Adrienne Parr (National Archives of Australia and documentary), Janet Bell (television), Romaine Moreton (Indigenous), Lauren Williams and Elizabeth Taggart-Speers (National Film and Sound Archive), Annemaree O'Brien (children's TV) and Richard Kuipers (timeline editor).
"It probably sounds like a dream job," laughs Paul Byrnes (also Sydney Morning Herald film critic and former Sydney Film Festival director). "It's actually very hard work but it's very rewarding. In my work as a film critic, I am constantly working on new stuff and it becomes a grind - you rarely have time to look back. This whole exercise is about looking back at Australian film, which is fantastic."
australianscreen's growing database already contains clips from over 100 feature films, 220 documentaries, 95 TV programs, and a substantial number of shorts, newsreels, ads and other historical footage. Rare home movies shot by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies on a 1948 UK family holiday sit alongside home footage of the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy and the 1955 Maitland (NSW) floods. But the site is not limited to audiovisual clips - the Education Collection is a gateway to a range of searchable categories, from environment to film and media, from history to identity and culture, Indigenous Australia to science and technology and the arts. The site also contains an extensive range of other resources such as an interactive timeline, maps, glossaries and a detailed chronology of the Australian screen industry.
Despite the range of resources available now on the site, Byrnes is adamant that they are not even halfway there. "We have the capacity to just keep building; it will literally never be finished. It should be funded forever," he says. "There are always going to be kids who need to know what our audiovisual heritage is. I see it being a permanent site of ongoing development and expansion."
The collaboration with the educational partners in the project - the Curriculum Corporation through the Le@rning Federation and AARNet in particular - has been instrumental in making the site an invaluable tool for the classroom. The design of the site involved significant consultation with teachers. Given the age range of users, none of the clips could be rated higher than M. Byrnes admits to feeling slightly restricted by this limitation. "It was a difficult thing to work through," he says. "What we had to do was to come up with a way to label the clips very carefully. One thing we didn't do was edit or change the clips in any way. That was not our role."
Although cautious at first, Byrnes was surprised to find that teachers were keen to have some of the more confronting material available on the site. "Teachers actually told me not to be too conservative," Byrnes says. "Some of the most difficult material is the most useful. Say you have a film with a scene about abortion - the temptation with school kids is to avoid using it. The teachers said to me: 'We need to access this material so we can talk about it in the classroom.' So that was a lesson for me. The teachers were more adventurous in the beginning than I was!"
Hence the material chosen for the site is often challenging and thought-provoking, and steps beyond what might normally be shown in a classroom. Australian cinema's biggest hit in 2005, the horror film Wolf Creek, features on the site despite its R rating. In the study notes (which each film has), Byrnes describes the film as one of the most visually sophisticated and beautifully shot films of the last 10 years. It's also a fascinating character study - as John Jarratt's killer Mick Taylor is, as Byrnes puts it, the "evil inversion of [Paul] Hogan's tourism-building knockabout Northern Territory bloke".
"Obviously we couldn't show some of the most violent scenes, and we wouldn't want to," concedes Byrnes, "but it is an extraordinarily well made film which deals with significant issues to do with landscape in Australia, so it still has to be there. And some of these kids might want to grow up to make horror films, which is quite an honourable profession in my opinion."
Future plans for australianscreen include animation and interactive media programs, and of course the addition of more material across all areas of the site. Visit australianscreen.com.au