Oz film agency gets July 1 start

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SYDNEY -- Australia's new film mega-agency will begin operations July 1, after being ratified by the country's parliament.

Screen Australia will merge the functions of the existing Australian Film Commission, the Film Finance Corp. and documentary production agency Film Australia into a single statutory agency, responsible for film and TV industry financing and cultural development. The National Film and Sound Archive will be spun off as a separate government agency.

Arts minister Peter Garrett said Screen Australia will start business at an "exciting and a challenging time for the Australian film and television industry."

The new agency "will help restore investor confidence and put the industry on a new growth path. It will ensure a strong Australian voice across film, television, documentary and children's programs," he said, following the agency's ratification Thursday.

Screen Australia will administer new financing incentives put in place last year, including a 40% tax offset available to producers of qualifying Australian films, a 15% locations offset and a 12.5% tax offset for postproduction.

"This will (be) a one-stop shop for obtaining funding for all aspects of filmmaking together with simpler processes and guidelines and greater flexibility," parliamentary Secretary for the Arts Ursula Stephens said Thursday.

"It's the government's hope that this package will lead to an increase in the number of stories that can engage Australian and international audiences and enable the development of a more prosperous and sustainable film industry in Australia," she said.

A board and the new management of Screen Australia have yet to be appointed.
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