During the controversy surrounding “Struggle Street”, the documentary series recently screened on SBS, we had a number of those connected to the production wheeled out to answer public criticism. Producers, the Orwellianly named “chief content officer” from SBS and even the hapless voice over man went in to bat for the programme. I couldn’t help but notice that there was one voice entirely absent - the director.
The reason for this can probably be put down to the likelihood that there was no director as such. Over the last few years we have experienced the quiet assumption of an English production mode here. “Field Directors” shoot the rushes and walk away, leaving postproduction and creative input to the producer and network commissioning editor. The filmic version of battery farming has arrived.
Whilst documentaries using this model have experienced cost overruns, and broadcasts being pulled at the last minute (Once Upon A Time In Punchbowl) the model is becoming dominant in our documentary sector. Director’s have been quietly shown the door. With documentary production increasingly corporatized in large taxpayer funded conglomerates, often foreign owned, I wonder whether we’ve seen the end of director driven vision in this country. It’s a vision that’s served us well, produced quality films and real insight to our culture. It’s a shame, and unless we get ourselves some pitchforks and flaming torches I fear for the future of Australian documentary.