Indo-Oz fund to invest millions in film industry

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The newly formed AIFF will nurture understanding between the two countries through films, serial and documentaries. By KRITIKA RAO

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In what will be a stupendous boost to the Indo-Australian film industry here, a group of Australian entrepreneurs of Indian origin headed by Sydney-based investor Devendra Gupta, have recently announced the formation of the Australian India Film Fund (AIIF), a private venture that will finance Indo-Aussie feature films, documentaries and television shows.

Utilising the 40% producer’s offset, a tax rebate meant for productions that have “significant Australian content,” the fund will trigger several million dollars worth of production and proposes to finance one Australian feature and one TV series or documentary in the next 18 months.

“We are very excited to announce this venture,” stated Yateendra Gupta, CFO of the AIFF. “With growing numbers of professional Australian investors of Indian origin, the investor-friendly Australian film space and the success of India centric western films, we are anticipating a long term presence supporting Australian stories. We  want  to  nurture  understanding  between  India  and  Australia  through  the  films  and  documentaries  we  decide  to  fund,” he added.

Australia’s leading film professional working with India, Anupam Sharma, has been appointed as AIFF’s Head of Films. Also on board is Fox Studio-based Company, Films & Casting TEMPLE to produce the Fund’s investment in Australian screen content. “It is important for us to entrust our finances and resources in professional hands with impeccable reputation,” said Mr Gupta. Anupam Sharma “has an enviable reputation for professionalism over hundreds of Australia-India projects,” he further explained.

Anupam Sharma spoke to Indian Link about his involvement in the venture and the future he envisages for the AIFF. Mr Sharma has recently been appointed  as  the  Australia  Day  Ambassador  and  has  headed up the production of  several  top  Bollywood  movies  like  Dil  Chahta  Hai  and  Heyy  Babyy,  which  were  shot  in  Australia. He also  holds  a  Masters  degree  in  Film  and  Theatre  from  the  University  of  New  South  Wales.

“We believe it is the right time to invest in the Australian film industry’s niche projects and redefine the form and content of an ‘Australian Story,’” stated Mr Sharma. “India-centric stories like the UK’s Bend it Like Beckham have resonated with global audiences, and we hope to do the same from Australia.  We have professional crews, a producer’s offset and a strong Indian diaspora. With this fund, Australia can be more than just a service provider for the Indian film industry, but an active participant in India-centric film projects,” he explained.

With at least  90%  of  the  crew  and  80%  of  the  cast  being  local  and  a  high  percentage  of  shooting done  in  Australia, the very best case scenario is the AIFF funding a feature and a documentary every year for years to come. This has obvious benefits for Australian professionals in films specially those of Indian origin. “One of the key for a good film is getting independent finance to maintain independence of creativity,” stated Mr Sharma.

So what are the major themes of movies and documentaries on which the fund will focus? “There is no preset agenda. We will be looking at good stories which are Australian and combining the Australian body with the Indian soul. The production set up, completion bonds, accounting structures, distribution, international sales etc. etc., will all be as per western standards. The emotions, the colour, the music, the soul will be Indian,” explained Mr Sharma.

He further reiterated that all aspects of modern Australian culture which has intriguing stories, will be considered, whether they are of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi Australians, which are now Australian stories.

So will such a venture will help to recognise, acknowledge and even create Indo-Aus identities among people who belong to both countries? “I think such identities already exist. Mainstream films between India and Australia will legitimise such identities and bring them out of the ‘ethnic pigeonhole’,” said Mr Sharma, also stating that the AIFF could raise issues and voices about say, domestic violence or student issues.

The directors of AIFF have been impressed with the outcome of their months of research which confirm that there is a high level of transparency, security, and financial benefits in the Australian film space. Film and media are proven to be effective tools for better bilateral relations between two nations.

This much-needed injection of private investment into the local film industry has been enthusiastically welcomed. “AIFF’s decision to completely fund projects will also hopefully take financial pressure off agencies such as Screen Australia who have been so enthusiastically pushing better links between India and Australia,” said Mr Sharma.

Screen Australia’s CEO, Graeme Mason said, “It’s terrific to see more opportunities for Australian filmmakers to explore stories with a unique viewpoint. India and Australia have great shared stories to tell”.

Commitments are in place for initial projects, and applications will soon be invited for ongoing funding rounds. The  first  projects  are  expected  to  be  announced  in  the  new  year.