First watch

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blundell

‘ IN a way, I see the ABC arts slate as a kind of year-round fes­ti­val and what I’m try­ing to do in the pro­gram­ming, com­mis­sions and in the ac­qui­si­tions I make is to try and get a bal­ance across art forms, across tone, across a kind of ge­og­ra­phy and across de­mo­graph­ics.’’ This is Ka­t­rina Sedg­wick talk­ing, Aunty’s head of arts, who’s been in the job a lit­tle more than a year. And she’s cer­tainly con­tin­ued the changes and re­ju­ve­na­tion brought about by her pre­de­ces­sor Amanda Duthie, as well as au­thor­i­ta­tively mak­ing the po­si­tion her own. (In­ter­est­ingly, they ac­tu­ally ex­changed jobs, Duthie tak­ing over Sedg­wick’s cu­ra­to­rial role as di­rec­tor of the Ade­laide Film Fes­ti­val.)

Sedg­wick has ex­tended the func­tions of the ABC’s fa­mous but rarely read char­ter. Aunty is now firmly com­mit­ted to the full depth and breadth of arts prac­tice and ac­tiv­i­ties in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing in the dig­i­tal sphere, with the ter­rific ABC arts on­line, which re­ally has be­come an­other chan­nel. It’s a space where the best of ABC arts con­tent text, au­dio and video is cu­rated, as well as cre­at­ing its own con­tent, and it en­gages in­no­va­tively with the par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of place and re­gion.

The ABC no longer sim­ply re­flects and pro­motes the Aus­tralian per­form­ing arts, as its char­ter sug­gests; it’s also in the busi­ness of cre­at­ing art across the gen­res — art that has many broad­cast­ing lives built into it.

A rad­i­cal spirit of co-op­er­a­tion was be­gun un­der Duthie and con­tin­ues un­der Sedg­wick’s canny stew­ard­ship.

And the ABC has be­come an ef­fec­tive part­ner of all sorts of arts or­gan­i­sa­tions, some of which don’t have the in­fra­struc­ture, in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, knowl­edge or the ar­chives of the national broad­caster. It’s a new way to serve the pub­lic in­ter­est — the ABC is cre­at­ing a stake in its own out­put, part of a broader ecol­ogy made up of small pro­duc­ers.

I’ve been taken this year with Sun­day Arts Up Late, pre­sented by the en­er­getic play­wright and di­rec­tor Wes­ley Enoch, which be­gan last sum­mer and qui­etly sneaked up on us. Enoch presents high-end, cut­ting-edge arts con­tent from Aus­tralia and around the world, in­clud­ing fea­ture-length doc­u­men­taries, bi­ogra­phies, short-run se­ries and one-off events. And this week there are two quite spe­cial new lo­cal doc­u­men­tary fea­tures, On Bor­rowed Time, David Brad­bury’s study of film­maker Paul Cox, nar­rated by David Wen­ham, and Wil­liam Yang: My Gen­er­a­tion, di­rected by Martin Cox with Brid­get Ikin as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, both of which would never have been shot with­out the ABC’s com­mis­sion­ing clout.

The two movies are oddly like obituaries, nos­tal­gic and re­spect­ful and, like the best obits, cer­tainly not with­out their mo­ments of hu­mour, even though both sub­jects happily are still with us. On Bor­rowed Time is Brad­bury’s

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