Actor and producer Bryan delivered a speech to the National Press Club today, sharing stories of his work in film and television, with particular emphasis on the 1970s Australian film renaissance.
Among his memories was the power of the 80s A city like Alice miniseries that takes him to the White House to meet Nancy Reagan and powerful US politicians.
For Brown, Australian cinema and television travel the world, but are often taken for granted at home.
“My early years at the National Theater taught me how important and what a huge role the arts play in the sophisticated cultural life of Britain. In many ways the arts define Britain. It is for its cultural life that so many tourists visit. Take the big arts institutions like the Royal Museum, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Gallery, the Royal Opera out of the UK, close the London theaters and the Provincial Theater and it becomes a desolate old place,” she said.
“Why do we know so much about other countries? Why is London so familiar to those who have never been there, or New York or Paris or Rome? Why are our kids now saying “butt” and not wearing side-turned baseball caps?
“The answer is obvious. Television and cinema.
“His power is so great. We know how the mobsters talk, dress and where they live. The American Wild West is better known to us than our hinterland. Powerful movie. And that power has been of huge benefit to Australian touring when the shoe was on the other foot and Dundee crocodile hit the States. Dundee crocodile it was a phenomenon – it doesn’t happen often. But before and after came television and cinema which kept people around the world aware of Australia, interested and curious about its people, what we do and who we are,” he continued.
“I believe that what cinema, television and literature do is introduce us to the spirit of a people. Dundee crocodile AND Muriel’s wedding AND Destroyer Morant and Tim Winton Dirty musicthe wonderful novels of Tom Keneally and Kate Grenville and our music Midnight Oil and Yothu Yindi, have presented to the world the spirit of an exotic people different from other peoples.
“And our spirit is different. And it’s a spirit that continues in our current Australian players on the world stage. Sarah Snook, Liam and Chris Hemsworth and Margot Robbie. All who started through the local industry. It’s different because our journey is different: from convict ships, to exploring a vast continent with millions of inhospitable square kilometers, to going to strange wars in distant places to support allies, to whipping the asses of the biggest nations for sports. In colonizing a culture that had taken 65,000 years of work. The struggles it brings. So different and so much to explore. We’ve still only touched the surface.”
But Brown has also called for serious reinvestment in Australian stories from international streaming platforms.
“There is a new game on the block for our industry. Streaming. Australian audiences love streamers and we pass a few billion dollars in revenue to streaming companies every year,” she said.
“We need a portion of that revenue returned to Australian stories. And I mean Australian stories. Not stories shot in Australia with American accents. This is cultural death. We’ve been there.
“Canada and France have legislated that revenue taken from their countries must go into local production. In France it is over 25%.
“A 20% reinvestment requirement in Australia, complemented by strong and robust intellectual property deals, will help secure the future of our industry and keep it vibrant.
“Streaming companies are going to fight as hard not to legislate, they are a business and we have to fight just as hard, because this is for our culture,” Brown said.
“I am sure that once again we will all find an answer and then we will move forward. We owe it to the Australians. Indigenous, old and new migrants to continue telling our stories. Our Australian Stories.
“And what a story Australian history is. The oldest living culture colonized by one of the world’s most powerful empires has been seen and handed over to a group of misfits to make it work. Good luck. But damn good stories.
“The more I travel, the more I know that however different our origins may be, and however distant we may live, the world is inhabited by people with very similar needs. Our hopes for our families are the same. Our conflicts are no different, be they personal or political.
“Our desire to be challenged is strong. And our need to express ourselves is extremely important to us.
“That’s why when we see a movie or a TV show that works, it’s because in the story we recognize our own humanity. It doesn’t matter where we come from, whether we laugh or cry, whether we are enthusiastic or amazed, cinema unites us. So, we do everything we can to support each other in our efforts to produce good Australian stories.”