Claudia Karvan, Al Clarke, members of the Screen Australia Board, you say I pose a risk to SA staff. Owing to your duty of care, you say, you cannot allow SA staff to meet with or communicate with me. You refuse to provide me with any evidence that I pose a risk; that I have engaged in ‘highly offensive conduct’. The reason is simple. There is none. And you know it. Your ban is a fatwa; punishment for a critic; a warning to other filmmakers.
My application to Screen Australia of last week has, predictably, been ignored! Script Development
150 William St
Woolloomooloo 2011 22nd May 2013
Dear Script Development
re SHIPS IN THE NIGHT
Despite having been banned by Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board from making any applications at all to SA, I am making an application anyway to test the waters. If Script Development chooses to refuse to accept my application I trust that I will be given evidence-based reasons why I was banned in the first place.
Ruth Harley’s ban is based on the premise that I have, in my correspondence with SA, harassed, intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. This is nonsense. It is a lie. I have been asking, for more than a year now, for Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board to provide me with one paragraph, one sentence, one phrase or even a couple of words that bear witness to the crimes I have been accused and found guilty of. Neither Ruth Harley nor the Board believes that it is necessary to provide me or anyone else with evidence. Allegations are all that are required under Ruth Harley’s stewardship of Screen Australia.
I have continued to work as a filmmaker despite Ruth Harley and the Board’s ban. Being blacklisted by Screen Australia does not make this easy but then filmmaking for an independent filmmaker has never been easy so this ban, born of Ruth Harley’s desire for revenge on a vocal critic, is not the end of the world. I will still be making films when Ruth Harley is a dim (and rather unpleasant) memory for all in the film industry who have endured her reign this past five years.
I have written half a dozen drafts of various screenplays whilst officially a ‘banned filmmaker’ this past 12 months and will now produce one of these screenplays (SHIPS IN THE NIGHT) as a very low budget feature film. My first task is to cast the film whilst, at the same time, doing readings of the screenplay with professional actors to find out what is a working, what is not working and what may be improved as far as dialogue is concerned. I have a list of actors interested in being involved in these readings. With a cast in place and some test scenes I will seek to raise as much money as I can for the film – in the full knowledge that Screen Australia’s ban (whether it is in place officially or unofficially) will not help me in this endeavor.
To this end I am applying to Screen Australia for $5,400 to conduct these readings in the not too distant future.
In a few months you
will be Minister for the Arts and, no doubt, will be inundated with advice from
all quarters on what needs to be done to improve the delivery of government
funding to the Arts sector. My suggestion: Insist that senior bureaucrats be
transparent and accountable for their actions and have zero tolerance for those
that are not and who use spin or outright lies to justify their actions or
cover for their incompetence.
In the case of
Screen Australia what is required is a functioning complaints system that is
run quite independently of SA itself – one that is totally impartial in its
deliberations, basing its findings on facts, on evidence and not on hearsay or
From the day I was
banned by Screen Australia, on 10th May 2012, I have stated,
repeatedly, that I deserve to be banned if I have intimidated and placed at
risk members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence. However, I
have also asked repeatedly that, in the interests of transparency and accountability,
the evidence that I am guilty of such crimes to be made public. It is not
appropriate (indeed it is quite unfair) to convict anyone without providing the
accused with evidence of his crimes and with no opportunity to defend himself.
I have maintained for a year (and still maintain) that I have never intimidated
or placed at risk any member of Screen Australia’s staff in my correspondence
or in any other manner. If I am lying in making this assertion, Ruth Harley and
the Screen Australia Board can demonstrate this very easily be releasing to
both myself and the industry one paragraph, one sentence or even just the
conjunction of a few words that speak to the proposition that I am guilty as
charged. If they can do so it is appropriate that I be held accountable for my
actions; that I be banned and shunned by my fellow filmmakers.
In the grand scheme
of things my being banned is of no great consequence to anyone other than
myself. What it represents, however – a lack of accountability and transparency
on the part of the Chief Executive and the Screen Australia Board – should, I
believe, be of concern to you as Minister for the Arts.
If my ban is still
in place when you become Minister I will make a formal request that you provide
me with evidence of the crimes that led to my ban or that you insist Screen
Australia lift the ban and acknowledge that it should never have beenimposed in the first place without SA providing
evidence in support of it.
The enclosed letter
to Screen Australia speaks for itself.
My ban turned one year old today. On this day, a year ago, Ruth Harley informed me that I had been banned from making any applications at all to Screen Australia as a result of my having harassed, intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia's staff. A year later, many letters later, many blog entries later, two arrests later and a weekend in jail, I have still not been provided with one scintilla of evidence that I have ever intimidated or placed at risk anyone at Screen Australia. As for the 'harassment' accusation, I suppose I am guilty of this in much the same way as Kate McClymont is guilty of harassing Eddie Obeid by continuing to ask questions that raise serious doubts about his honesty. McClymont's 'harassment' of Obeid have borne fruits. Mine of Ruth Harley have not! Such is life. As I have written many times, if I am guilty of intimidating Screen Australia staff, if I am guilty of placing anyone within the organisation at risk, my being banned is entirely deserved. It would have been appropriate a year ago, I think, if the industry as a whole (or some body representing it) had asked Ruth Harley to please produce evidence of the crimes for which I had been banned and which I denied having committed. If Ruth had produced the evidence I would have looked both a fool and a liar and would, a year ago, suffered the damage to my reputation that I deserved. If Ruth had not produced the evidence (and she newer has,because never asked by anyone other than myself) it would be her reputation that took a king hit. Alas, not one person within the film industry, not one organisation, not one film publication, felt that this simple question of Ruth was worth asking. A dreadful form of cowardice. The reason why the question should have been asked has nothing to do with me,whether my fellow filmmakers like or respect men, but to do with principal. Senior Management of a tax-payer funded organisation such as Screen Australia should not be able to damage the career of a filmmaker as mine has been with impunity. Senior Management should not be able to either punish those whom they consider to be 'enemies' or to reward those who are 'friends'. Hopefully Ruth's replacement will be someone with a commitment to the precepts of transparency and accountability; someone who will, amongst other things, either provide me with evidence of my having intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia;s staff or lift the ban and offer me an apology. Such a move would, of course, require the imprimatur of the Board - three fellow filmmakers of which have made it quite clear that they do not believe that I am entitled to be provided with evidence of my crimes. Shame on thou Rachel, Claudia and Richard!
As I imagine has happened for all three of
you, it is often the case that a story finds you, as a filmmaker, and not the other
The story of Zia and Brozzie found me one
night a few weeks ago when the phone rang and a friend asked me if I could
offer refuge to a mother and daughter ‘in trouble’. Without mentioning their
names he described in brief the trouble they were in – on the run from the FBI,
Interpol and the Australian Federal Police as a result of the mother having
abducted her daughter in Los Angeles a decade ago. He could think of no-one
else, my friend told, whom he could turn to this late at night who would be prepared
to provide these fugitives with a safe haven. It took me all of five seconds to
say yes. Needless to say my instinct as a filmmaker was, “There may be a great
There was a great story. For more than two
weeks I had Zia (the mum) and Layla (her delightful 11 year old daughter) lived
in my house. I did a lot of filming (it is an incredible story) but then the
dad of Layla, Brozzie, turned up with a Today Tonight film crew. He had managed
something that the FBI, Interpol and the Australian Federal Police had not been
able to manage – to find his daughter. It took him 10 years but he found her.
How Brozzie got to know that Zia and Layla were living in my house is a story
in itself and not to be gone into here.
Having found Layla, Brozzi then did all he
could to drop all charges against Zia – negotiating with authorities on three
continents to guarantee that Zia did not wind up in jail and that she would be
free to leave Australia. On top of this, he gave Zia sole custody of their
daughter. Why would a father do this after spending 10 years and a million dollars
to find his daughter? The answer is simply, though it probably won’t occur to
you immediately. You will have to wait to see the film!
One brief account of what has happened this
past 10 days can be found at:
I now have Zia’s story and Brozzi’s story
partially recorded and it is an extraordinary one – all the more extraordinary
given that Zia is a talented musician who has managed to practice her art in
Australia whilst home schooling her daughter on the run in Australia this past
8 or so years.
I mention these details only to make the
point that, as a banned filmmaker, I am not able to make any application to
Screen Australia to take this extraordinary story to the next stage in its development.
And why is this? Because the three of you, along with your non-filmmaking Board
colleagues, have endorsed a ban placed on me by Ruth Harley that you know to be
based on a lie – namely that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of
Screen Australia’s staff. Why you have endorsed Ruth’s lie this is a mystery to
me. Perhaps it serves your individual careers best to go along with whatever
the Screen Australia Executive decrees. Or perhaps you are, all three of you,
so self-absorbed that you simply don’t care one way or the other that a fellow
filmmaker is treated this way by a woman whose relationship to truth and facts
is tenuous to say the least. Or perhaps
it is simply, despite your knowing Ruth to be a liar, that you would have too
much egg on your faces if you were, a year down the track (a year in a few
days) to admit that the Screen Australia Board had screwed up badly by
endorsing Ruth’s ban on me in the absence of evidence of my having intimidated
or placed anyone at risk. Your actions, or your lack of action (the end result
is the same) cost me $130,000 in lost revenue for a documentary that I have now
been working on (with my own financial resources) for 18 years – CHANTI’S
WORLD. As with my doco about Zia and Brozzi, CHANTI’S WORLDis stuck in a funding limbo caused by Ruth
Now that Ruth will no longer be gracing the
industry with her presence (thank God!) and the search is on for a new Chief
Executive, I imagine that on the short list (or at least an applicant) is yet
another senior Screen Australia executive who has as little interest in facts
and truth as Ruth – namely Fiona Cameron. Ruth Harley has been a disaster as
Chief Executive but Fiona would be as bad if not worse. If Fiona believes that
I have defamed her here, let her sue me. I would be delighted to appear in
court with her.
My experience this last year with the
Screen Australia Board has left me with no respect – either professionally or
personally – for the three of you. How could you do this to a fellow filmmaker?
As for the rest of the Board, I have no real expectations of them. They do not
know or understand what it is like to be an independent filmmaker – just how
hard it is to survive even when and if you have Screen Australia onside. To
survive as an independent filmmaker with a ban such as the one you have placed
on me is a huge burden. Shame on the three of you.
One day you will all be back in the
industry struggling to survive along with the rest of us and will kick and
squeal if you one day find yourselves on the receiving end of the punishment
you have meted out to me – without even the professional courtesy to provide me
with evidence of the crimes you claim I have committed.
Two weeks ago documentary filmmaker James Ricketson had offered Ms Ellefsen Lunetta and Reya - now known as Zia and Layla - a place to stay as a favour to a friend who said the pair was "in a crisis".
"I didn't know what their names were or anything about the drama they were involved in," he said.
"The following day I met the mother and child and ... was told enough of the story to be able to say 'come and stay at my house for a few days while we work out what needs to happen next'.
"In the meantime I got on the internet and found out a whole lot of stuff that I didn't know before about Brozzi's side of the story."
Brozzi Lunetta with daughter Reya before she was abducted. Picture: supplied.
Ricketson then hatched a plan to bring about a resolution.
"It became apparent very early on that Zia was spending a lot of time on the telephone to Norway talking to lawyers, the Attorney-General's department and all sorts of people with a view to going back to Norway to try to sort out the problems that she had created as a result of her abduction of Layla," he said.
"Then through a fake email address I made contact with Brozzi because I was hoping - as I knew that he wanted them to go back to Norway and I knew that she wanted to go back to Norway - that maybe there was some possibility I could act as a sort of broker.
"Next thing I know there's a TV crew at the front door so then the whole plan was cemented."
Camilla Ellefsen Lunetta and Reya on April 24, 2013. Picture: Today Tonight.
Ricketson said Ms Ellefsen Lunetta would have “loved this drama to have been over much earlier than it was".
"What happened was, regardless of who was right and who was wrong a decade ago, unfortunately once Zia made the decision to take off with Reya there was no way back," he said.
"She became a gypsy on the run. The battle-lines were drawn and she couldn't afford to go back because she had all of these charges hanging over her.
"If at some point eight years ago, once she realised she'd made a mistake, it had been possible for her to get on the telephone and say 'look, I've made a mistake can we please sort this out?' she would have. The only option she had was to remain on the run.
"I think she's absolutely delighted, in a way, that all this has happened and that now she can go back to Norway and pursue her musical career because she's a very talented musician."
Camilla Ellefsen Lunetta in 2002. Photo: Supplied
Both Ms Ellefsen Lunetta and Mr Lunetta allegedly opened up to Ricketson.
"I've heard both sides of the story. Camilla said that Brozzi was never violent or abusive towards her ever. Brozzi is very open about this and says that 10 years ago he had a problem with alcohol and that he has a problem with his temper. Camilla also has a very short fuse," he said.
"Brozzi said that Camilla was suffering from postpartum depression at the time that all of his happened; she insists that she wasn't and I don't pretend to know the truth. Whatever led her to make the decision, once she made the decision there was no going back on it and she's been trapped."
Ricketson said Ms Ellefsen Lunetta was a "terrific" mother to Layla, who had no idea they had been on the run from authorities for most of her life.
"On the night that all of this happened I had them in my car for two hours and Zia was explaining to Layla why this was all happening, why there was a film crew there and who this person (Brozzi) was," he said.
"She had managed to maintain this illusory world to Layla for all of this time.
"Layla had no idea that she was on the run and anything other than an ordinary girl who had to be home schooled."
Brozzi's search for his daughter Reya brought him to the Sunshine Coast in 2010. Picture: Megan Slade
Despite this, Layla quickly adjusted to her changed situation.
"(Thursday night) Layla said ‘this has got to be the weirdest day of my whole life'," he said.
"It certainly freaked her out but by the next day she had adjusted to the new state of affairs and new reality.
"She's a girl who is very interested in establishing a relationship with her biological father. She's also delighted at the idea that she's got a younger brother now (Mr Lunetta has a 10-week-old child with his new wife).
"She's one of the best adjusted 11-year-old girls I've ever met."
Mr Lunetta said his ex-wife had told his daughter about him.
"When we were in the car driving from the house (at Palm Beach) into Sydney, Camilla tapped me on the shoulder and said 'I just want you to know that she knows about you'," he said.
"She said 'it's not true (that I told her you died in a car crash). That’s just one of those lies that got out there and I couldn’t contact you to correct that lie'."
Camilla Ellefsen Lunetta and Reya in 2002. Photo: Supplied
The 40-year-old said his daughter had asked to now be known as Hira Lunetta. Hira, which means diamond in Hindi, was one of the alias names her mother gave her while they were on the run.
"My daughter is truly a special human being and Camilla deserves a lot of credit for doing such a great job of raising her under such difficult circumstances," he said.
"Any anger or resentment I might have towards Camilla serves no purpose. It's always been about our daughter and more love.
"This is truly all going to work out."
Ricketson said it was an “extraordinary" story.
"Who would have thought (last week) that this story could have had a happy ending? It's a story almost designed to have blood in the streets, blood in the gutters, AFP, FBI, Interpol, court cases, angst and so on," he said.
"That Brozzi, after his 10-year search, has given up all of his rights as a father makes him, in my mind, a hero. And he's a lovely man. I think that Camilla in her own way too is a lovely person who made a bad decision and she's had to live with the consequences of that ever since and now she wants to get back to living a normal life.
"It's a miracle that circumstances have played out the way they have and that it's possible for all three of them to get back to normal. It's almost a fairy-tale ending."
News.com.au understands Ms Ellefsen Lunetta is in talks with a television network which is attempting to secure exclusive access to her story.
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