Ruth Harley named head of Screen Australia

Five-year term at film agency begins in November

SYDNEY -- In a move some are calling a surprise, New Zealand Film Commission CEO Ruth Harley has been handed the reins of Australia's fledgling national film superagency, Screen Australia.

Harley will steer the new body -- formed last month by the merger of the Film Finance Corp. the Australian Film Commission and documentary agency Film Australia -- for a five-year term beginning Nov. 15, Australian arts minister Peter Garrett said Friday.

Garret said Harley, who will oversee a staff of more than 150, was chosen for "her experience and commitment to the development of a successful and sustainable local film industry."

New Zealand's profile as a destination for offshore production, along with a burgeoning domestic sector fueled by the success of such filmmakers as Peter Jackson and Andrew Adamson, has been the envy of many in the Australian sector in recent years.

Earlier this year, director George Miller heralded New Zealand's ability to attract big-budget projects. "New Zealand built up their franchises through 'Hercules' and 'Xena' into 'Lord of the Rings,' " he said. "Now they're doing three 'Tintin' films, two more 'Hobbit' films and 'Halo.' They've got work for 15 years in that country."

Harley is a veteran of the New Zealand sector, having been CEO of funding and culture agency the NZFC for the last decade as well as executive director of New Zealand On Air, commissioning editor at Television New Zealand and the National Media Director of Saatchi and Saatchi.

Nevertheless, peak industry body the Screen Producers Association of Australia dubbed the appointment a "surprise."

"However, SPAA has had good dealings with Ruth in recent years and we look forward to working with her," the organization said in a statement.