Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Global Film Industry and one Australian (or American?) Movie

Today I saw a movie, The Boys are Back, about a father (Clive Owen) who must raise his two sons alone after his wife suddenly dies of cancer. Boys was set in southern Australia, although it featured a mix of Aussie and British actors. As an independent film, it came out in DC this week in limited release. I had thought, naively, that because it was an indie film set and filmed in Australia, the country would see its hospitality returned by having the movie released there first, or at least on the same date as in the US.

But when the movie was starting and I saw the Miramax logo glitter on the screen, I began to question that assumption. A quick search on IMDb when I got home revealed that The Boys are Back will not be released in Australia until November 12th (and, just for good measure, in the UK until January 15th, 2010). Miramax, headed by the Weinstein brothers, is an American film production and distribution company. So it follows that Boys would be released in the US before going to European and other countries, despite the fact that it features no American actors and was not filmed in America. As a moviegoer, I found this rather ironic--albeit not that surprising.

For the record, I really enjoyed the movie; the acting was superb and the cinematography gorgeous. I also found it refreshing to watch a movie not set in the US, that did not feature big-name American actors or an American director (Scott Hicks is a Uganda-born Australian). The irony of the distribution schedule just made me think about mass media globalization and its impact on the film industry--a very relevant application to this week's IC Reader selections, especially Robert McChesney's. In "The Media System Goes Global," McChesney provides lists of the holdings of the "holy trinity" of global media: TimeWarner, The Walt Disney Company, and The News Corporation, which we read about in detail last week. Miramax is owned by Disney, making it part of one of the most powerful media TNCs in the world. As a subsidiary of a major American company, Miramax naturally promotes and pursues American interests, which translates to releasing films in the United States first, even when those films are not set in America and/or have American casts. Perhaps it's telling that The Boys are Back has only a limited release here; Miramax probably reasoned that the film would have more of a niche following than a widespread one. It will be interesting to see how the film does in Australia and secondarily in the UK (since Owen, its lead, is British). I think it will be at least somewhat successful; according to McChesney, 95% of Britain's box-office revenue comes from US films, and Clive Owen is a fairly big-name actor.

But the question lingers for me: Is The Boys are Back American or Australian? Yes, it has an American producer/distributor, but in my opinion nothing else about it was American in nature. From the natural setting to the characters' way of speaking to the laid-back culture portrayed, it was Australian through and through. To me, this is a prime indication of the globalization of media culture in the film industry. What makes a film American versus Australian, or any other nationality for that matter? Is it just the film distributor that deems it so, or should we look more at the film's content, cast/crew, and style?

Jeremy Tunstall makes a good point about this in "Anglo-American, Global, and Euro-American Media versus Media Nationalism": "Today, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland all have film industries that operate in partnership with Hollywood." After reading Tunstall's piece, I would term The Boys are Back as an Australian film with an American distribution partnership. This somewhat satisfied my question about the film's national identity. I still don't think it's quite right for this very Australian movie to be released here first, but it's just another indicator of America's dominance over the worldwide film industry, which seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

  1. As I sat in the theater watching this movie on Saturday, I was not considering the global impact of movies. It was not until I read McChesney's writing and read your blog that I came to a similar realization. I had assumed that The Boys are Back was released in Australia and the United Kingdom before it had been released in the United States, as the only would seem right. Not until I read the holdings of the Disney Corporation did I understand that Miramax was an American firm producing a foreign movie.
    If I was an Australian or British citizen, it would almost seem insulting that a movie based in my country with actors who also grew up there was first seen oceans away, in a theater of foreigners. I now understand though that this is how globalized our media system has become, and this does not come as a shock to anyone, let alone the people in Australia and Britain.