Is it time to make low-budget Australian movies cheaper at the cinema?


“I dont think cheaper tickets will encourage people to see films,” says Alice Foulcher, co-writer and star of Thats Not Me. “But I do think they should cap the prices because theyre getting ridiculous.”

Independent exhibitor Eddie Tamir (owner of Melbournes Classic, Cameo and Lido cinemas) thinks a cut-price for cut-price films undermines the broader offering of the cinema experience. Besides, he says, “theres something about it that feels a bit patronising, like making Australian film a charity case – it could be a bit of a slippery slope.”

Warwick Thornton's Sweet Country.

Photo: Mark Rogers

Actress Sigrid Thornton, though, can see some value in at least considering “some lateral solutions to what is obviously an ongoing and contentious problem for the industry”.

That problem, she says, can be boiled down to one simple factor: “We are a small, English-speaking country with a very small cottage industry … [and] we are in competition – hopeless competition, really – with the other English-speaking countries, and in serious danger of being swamped.”

Thornton – who is one of the signatories of the Keep It Australian campaign, which is urging stronger support for local film and television production amid fears the federal government may be persuaded to abandon it at the next budget – suggests that we might learn from France, where foreign titles at the cinema are taxed in order to support local production. Foulcher and Tamir both suggest that might be an idea worth considering too.

Village Cinemas general manager Gino Munari can see some merit in the idea of tiered pricing. “I like putting them in categories,” he says. “Its like a soccer tournament where you might have the best player under 22, whos never going to be the best player when up against a Cristiano Ronaldo. You segment and assess so youre competing with like films rather than competing against blockbusters.”

Emma Booth and Stephen Curry in Hounds of Love.

Photo: Supplied

That said, he doesnt think ticket price is ultimately what deters people from seeing Australian movies. “There are a lot of other factors at play,” Munari says. “People will still need to want to see the film – thats driven by the hook, what promotion is being done, it might be review-led.”

Over at rival exhibitor Hoyts, the recently launched Homegrown campaign aims to turn Australianness into a virtue, even if the notion of Australianness is a rather broad one.

“It could be that the movie was filmed in Australia … feature[s] Australian actors, production teams, editing”. The aim is to highlight “everything you want to know about Australia's involvement in movies”.

While encouraging people to see Thor Ragnarok (filmed on the Gold Coast and starring Chris Hemsworth) might not directly drive people to take a punt on Hounds of Love or Sweet Country, fostering an awareness and appreciation of the full breadth of our industry cant hurt.

And if that does encourage someone to choose a low-budget picture such as Pawno over the latest Marvel blockbuster – or even alongside it – well, says Eddie Tamir, so much the better.

“I think theres something miraculous to the story of underdog, low-budget films getting up against the $200 million blockbuster,” he says. “Thats part of the romance of this business.”

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Karl Quinn

Karl has been a journalist at Fairfax Media since 1999, in a variety of writing and editing roles. Karl writes about popular culture with a particular focus on film and television.

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