In 2014 Open Channel celebrated its 40th Anniversary!
Many of Australia’s most accomplished filmmakers began their careers at Open Channel. Those who have contributed to and/or benefited from the services of Open Channel include Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, Sue Brooks, Jan Sardi, Bob Weis, Andrew Wiseman, Chris Warner, Sue Maslin, Steve Thomas, John Moore, Cristina Pozzan, Dennis K. Smith, Ros Walker, Margo McDonald, Helen Gaynor, Peter Kaufman, David Tiley, Catherine Marciniak, Cath Dyson, Lizzette Atkins, Beth Frey, Wayne Hope, Bryce Menzies to name a few.
Open Channel’s archives are a who’s who of Australian filmmaking talent, with award-winning documentaries, short films and short feature films represented amongst the hundreds of titles encapsulating Australia’s social and cultural history. It’s been over 40 years since Open Channel, formerly known as Melbourne Access Video and Media Cooperative, first opened its doors. The archive titles go back to the mid-1970s with an impressive list of directors and producers creating the first independently produced video in this country.
In its earlier history Open Channel acted as a key advocate for the development of community television in Australia and was instrumental in the establishment of what has now developed into the successful community television consortium Channel 31 (C31). Open Channel retains close ties to community television production today as the registered training partner of C31.
Currently, Open Channel provides training, equipment, production support, and member benefits to aspiring, emerging and mid-career filmmakers. Open Channel’s acclaimed production initiatives, such as Raw Nerve, ensure that new talent is being developed to create a robust and innovative Australian screen and new media industry. Open Channel is a not-for-profit, membership based co-operative with DGR status, funded principally by Screen Australia and Film Victoria and is one of six national Screen Resource Organisations established in each capital city.
Open Channel’s core philosophy since its inception has been to enable people to tell their own stories on screen and to this end is partnering with a number of community organisations, providing opportunities for self-expression and creativity. Open Channel’s Regional Training program aims to service communities with relevant training outcomes that enable people in remote areas to access film and television courses/equipment and give the community a voice to tell its stories.
Alongside Open Channel’s well known reputation as an entry point to the screen industry, it is also a place that experienced screen practitioners continue to return to freely throughout their career for the support and guidance of a like-minded community, to network, to re-skill, to teach, to work on projects or to gain production support for their projects. This is a critical support network in an industry where funding and production opportunities are limited and highly sought after.
The story of Open Channel’s development reflects the changes and developments in Australian film and media.
Open Channel’s first decade grew from Melbourne Access Video and was about public access to video production and the means by which to share stories that would otherwise be unrepresented. This included indigenous and women’s issues, occupational health and safety, stories from various union struggles, nuclear disarmament… people at the margins, including children and the disabled. The Video Newsreel, a national video cassette distribution, was one such way these stories were shared.
The second decade saw about getting those voices broadcast, hence the involvement of Open Channel in the establishment of community television (C31) in Australia. It also saw Open Channel members build a fully equipped, multi-camera production studio in Fitzroy. The 80s were busy with community service announcements, festival showreels, documentaries, film clips and educational drama.
We leave the peroxide and gel haired 80s for the 90s, to find a significant upsurge in documentary production, largely in association with SBS and the ABC. It also saw a downturn in studio use as video production tools got smaller and more affordable, computers became more accessible and people started setting up their own pre and post production studios in their homes.
In our fourth decade the studio has gone, but we have a program of activities that are both a result of the legacy of the prior decades and what lies ahead. On July 5, 2007, after 32 years based in Fitzroy, Open Channel moved to Shed 4 Docklands. As the Deputy Lord Mayor Gary Singer stated in his Shed 4 launch speech “Every emerging filmmaker knows, when your budget is only half a shoestring (and a frayed one at that!) you need all the help you can get. We can thank Open Channel now for the success our next generation of Australian filmmakers will enjoy tomorrow. On behalf of the City of Melbourne, I wish to congratulate you on the three decades of support you have shown Victorian film. In a highly competitive industry, and one that’s increasingly competing on a global playing field, your success is inspirational. We hope this new home and the benefits it brings will catapult you forward. Let’s make the name Melbourne synonymous with world-beating, creative, independent cinema!”
Moving forward into our Fifth Decade
As we head into our fifth decade, Open Channel officially launched its new home as Victoria’s Screen Industry Skills Centre at Docklands Studios Melbourne in August 2013. The event was lead by Minister Brendan O’Connor, the Minister for Employment, Skills and Training. “The Screen Industry Skill Centre will address a gap in succession training left by the shift away from the old in-house studio system to independent producers which do not have the same capacity to provide the level of training required by the Industry.” Minister O’Connor also launched the Mobile Training Unit, “Indigenous and Regional Mobile Training Unit will greatly enhance Open Channel’s ability to provide training in media and screen practice that is accessible to all Indigenous and non-Indigenous Victorians. The mobile unit will travel out to our regions and Indigenous communities to ensure the barriers of distance don’t deny people the opportunity to train and learn.”
Australian films, TV shows, documentaries and other digital content are critical to our sense of national identity and these new training facilities will ensure Australian stories continue to be told and reach Australian audiences.
Open Channel programs are based on the traditions of great story-telling, the new technologies that afford greater access to these stories and the passionate and talented people who turn them into the films.
This includes such initiatives as Raw Nerve, in association with Screen Australia, along with Short & Sharp Pitching Competition, the Framed Industry seminar series and our annual Generation Next Conference series generously funded by Film Victoria.
Open Channel is a member of Screen Network, supporting an innovative and diverse screen industry. Screen Network member organisations play a key role in providing entry-level to early-career film and digital media makers across Australia with affordable access to production equipment and advice, subsidy programs, professional development and accredited training, exhibition programming and a range of special projects.