Film co-productions between Australia and India received a significant double boost this week with the ratification of a treaty that was proposed last year and the Indian government’s major enhancement of filming incentives.
An Australian delegation is attending the ongoing International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa and the concurrent film market, Film Bazaar. Australian producer Helen Leake (“Carnifex,” “Wolfe Creek 2”) is on the IFFI international competition jury and documentary “Brand Bollywood Downunder” by Indian origin Australian filmmaker Anupam Sharma, who also serves as director of the Australia India Film Council, is playing at the festival.
“Screen Australia is delighted that the Australian-Indian treaty is now in force. The treaty provides a framework and opportunity for greater creative collaboration between Australia and India. It will allow producers from both countries to share resources and the risk of financing a film and will provide access to new markets and audiences,” a spokesperson from Screen Australia told Variety.
The highest profile Australian co-production shot in India is BAFTA-winner “Lion,” starring Dev Patel. Several Indian films featuring top talent have shot in Australia, including “Indian” with Kamal Haasan, “Salaam Namaste,” starring Saif Ali Khan, “Dil Chahta Hai,” with Aamir Khan, “Chak De India,” featuring Shah Rukh Khan and “Heyy Babyy” and “Singh Is Kinng,” starring Akshay Kumar.
“As a practitioner, one of the most important things which will happen is that I will have more choices to hire more creative talent out of India, without losing my significant Australian content benefit. Any film I make, as an Australian, I am eligible for 40% producer offset, but I have to qualify for that offset with a significant Australian content test, which means if I hire very many creative heads from a country that we don’t have a co-production [treaty] with, I lose that benefit,” Sharma told Variety.
“Unfortunately, in spite of the push of diversity in Australia, we still lack in terms of Indian talent, but because there was no co-production treaty, I was forced to hire people based on their race and gender, not on their talent,” Sharma said.
Sharma estimates that the current set of films that are being developed between Australia and India have a combined budget of A$65 million ($42.5 million). These include S. Shakthidharan’s “The Laugh of Lakshmi,” Bill Bennett’s “Defiant,” Ali Sayed’s “Hindi-Vindi,” Kathy Rhoda and Lisa Duff’s “Honor” and the fiction feature version of documentary “The Indian Cowboy: One in a Billion,” which will follow Indian country music singer Bobby Cash’s rise to fame when he is invited to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, New South Wales, Australia.
Australian film festivals and funds are also keen on exploring the benefits of the treaty and the fund. “Sahela,” an Australian film revolving around an Indian couple in Sydney, premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival. In addition, the Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund disburses A$1 million ($650,000) annually. Mathew Kesting, CEO and creative director of the festival, told Variety, “The purpose of the fund or the criteria really has been cultural, economic, or creative return to South Australia, that is South Australian taxpayer money. But over the last couple of years, we’ve dabbled in co-productions with a number of countries. So, the announcement about the Australia-India co-production treaty is extremely exciting for us. We were really thrilled to present the world premiere of ‘Sahela’ and see those stories as being really exciting. The stories that really delve into the diaspora and the connectivity and how the cultures intersect.”
Sheree Ramage, awards manager at Australia-based Asia Pacific Screen Academy, which conducts the annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards, said, “At the Asia Pacific screen Academy, we’ve always believed in the strength of Indian stories and also bringing India and Australia together. This to me feels like a homecoming, things that are just naturally meant to be together becoming more official. We look forward to seeing more stories from both ways, becoming important and and recognized, especially by the Australian Government.”
Sharma added: “Australia is the most professional film industry in the world and India is of course, by far the most prolific film industry. And the marriage between the two is a win win for both.”
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