Canadian Director Caught Up in Screen Australia Nationalism Storm

Larysa Kondracki - Getty - H 2016
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The Australian Directors Guild is angered that Larysa Kondracki has been employed, over Australian directors, on a TV reimagining of Peter Weir’s 1975 classic Australian film 'Picnic At Hanging Rock.'

The Australian Directors Guild has fired a broadside at FremantleMedia Australia and pay TV giant Foxtel over their decision to bring Canadian Larysa Kondracki on board to direct several episodes of their new high-end period drama, Picnic at Hanging Rock. The six-episode miniseries is based on Joan Lindsay’s novel and the classic 1975 Australian film of the same name that established Peter Weir as a director of note.

Kondracki, whose directing credits include episodes of The Walking Dead, The Americans and Better Call Saul as well as 2011 feature film The Whistleblower, is currently in Australia in preproduction on the  series. Aussie expat director Michael Rymer has also been engaged to direct several episodes.

With financing from Screen Australia, Picnic At Hanging Rock follows the mysterious disappearance of three schoolgirls and their governess on Valentine’s Day 1900 in rural Victoria and the far-reaching aftermath. Weir’s film starred a young Jacki Weaver.

ADG CEO Kingston Anderson said “Australian directors are amazed and astonished at the choice of a foreign director to work on a classic especially as it is not a co-production and is being fully financed in Australia. It saddens the ADG to see Screen Australia, Foxtel and FremantleMedia supporting Canadian television directors at the expense of Australians.”

Foxtel and FremantleMedia would not respond to the comments but it's understood that Australian directors currently working overseas were approached but weren’t available to work on the series. The ADG contends that "none of our highly talented female internationally-produced television directors currently working in Australia were approached.”

FMA CEO Ian Hogg said last month that it is "important for Australians to engage with their television peers around the world if our industry is to shift successfully into the global television environment that now exists."  

"In seeking to find the best directors for the project we sought to engage two individuals who have experience working on large-scale, ambitious productions for the international stage,” Hogg is quoted by Fairfax Media as saying.

The furor comes as Screen Australia and other agencies put millions of dollars into programs designed to bolster local female creative representation in film and TV projects.

“In light of the recent Screen Australia figures stating that only 17 percent of Australian feature films were directed by women and Screen NSW’s figure that only 22 percent of TV drama were being directed by Australian women this is a slap in the face to all the good work that is being done by the industry to redress the balance,” Anderson said.

He added that the ADG opposed the government providing the 420 working visa for the Canadian director as it did not meet the Net Employment Benefit Test set by the immigration department.

“The Net Employment Benefit test clearly states that to get a 420 Visa there needs to be a net employment benefit for the Australian industry. As this production was always going to be shot in Australia and is fully financed by Australian money including funds from Screen Australia and Foxtel it clearly does not have any net employment benefit for Australians as one of the major jobs on the production is being given to a Canadian,” Anderson said.