A wave of national and international dissent meets a highly doubtful decision of Austrian Minister of Culture Gernot Blümel who recently replaced most of the members of two film-related advisory councils that are of utter importance concerning the high quality of Austrian cinema in recent decades. One advisory council recommends projects for Innovative Film Austria, a funding body that has supported a long list of the Austrian films and has played a key role for the vitality of Austrian Cinema. The other advisory council evaluates funding for Austrian film festivals.
As a member of the newly founded IG Filmkultur, an interest group which aims at supporting diverse filmmaking and protecting Austrian Film Heritage, I cannot write this text with journalistic objectivity. There would be no room for it anyway. Minister Blümel, from the conservative, right-wing coalition, not only deliberately ignored a list of qualified experts for these advisory councils which was, as it has been throughout the years, proposed to him by the responsible section head of Innovative Film Austria, he also shows a dangerous ignorance or even willful undermining of one of the cornerstones of Austrian culture.
Some of the seven (among them only two women) newly appointed members of the two advisory councils, have a professional background in TV as producers, actors, and reporters. Almost none of them show the expertise in avant-garde or art house cinema that would be required to fulfill this sophisticated task. Two current members of the film advisory council remain in their position as their term hasn't ended yet (the term for a member of the advisory council is three years). So the council now consists of five people. Out of seven newly appointed persons for both councils one woman immediately rejected her appointment as she “was not feeling comfortable in this group,“ as she said to Austrian newspaper Der Standard. Sadly, she was the only qualified person the minister came up with. As for the film festival related advisory council: it is comprised of two (out of three) new members who lack the specific qualifications required, to say the least. An actor who sympathizes with the current government and a TV-producer are new members of the council. Both of them have next to no experience in the field of film festivals and the specific diversity of Austrian film culture.
Ever since the 1960s Austria has been a frontrunner in independent and avant-garde cinema. Maintaining the quality and quantity of filmmakers able to follow into those footsteps is partially because of the resources given by these councils. Up to today it creates the necessary opposition and inventive disturbance to let cinema move forward. The Oscars and Palmes d’Or of recent years would not have been possible without these artistic interventions, interrogations of common modes of cinema and poetic liberations. As an example, one just needs to look at the thriving analogue film culture in Austrian cinema. It resists the aesthetic sameness in the digital age and creates an important counter-point to the way we perceive images. Having been to festivals where those films were projected on film, I can confidently state that those screenings and films serve as a badly needed tool for thinking about images and their relation to reality. With the newly appointed members it almost looks as if the aim is to commercialize this kind of cinema. This speaks directly against the artistic and technical advancement as well as the diverse perspectives those filmmakers search for.
Austrian avant-garde cinema is an inspiration for cinema culture worldwide. As one of many personalities of the international festival circuit and cinephilia, TIFF programmer Andréa Picard gave the following statement: "Austria has one of the most thriving experimental film communities, and among the most talented innovative film artists today, as well as an internationally recognized august history. Each year, I look forward to the latest crop of experimental, artist film and video coming from Austria in my job at TIFF and for various curatorial projects. These artist-filmmakers are at the forefront of an important international discourse and it is imperative that their projects be funded by experts in the field, who can recognize their importance and singular contribution. Art is not a matter of bureaucracy, and should be attended to accordingly."
As IG Filmkultur we formulated a letter to the minister which was signed by more than 2000 people and supported by all the main cinema institutions and production companies in Austria in a very quick time. You can find out more and sign the petition here.