Film Finance Corporation (FFC) chair Geoff Levy today released a three-paragraph media statement that must be one of the most ill-considered and misleading the organisation has ever issued. It announced that the search had resumed for a new chief executive, arguably, the most important job in Australia's film industry. But instead of making that fact the focus, he lead by saying the preferred candidate, Linda Tizard, had withdrawn her application.
It is true that Tizard was the preferred candidate and perhaps she did "withdraw" her application. But it is also true that the Federal Government would not accept the FFC board's recommendation. While the accusations of outrageous political interference have already begun, the sloppy handling of the whole process has to have been a major factor.
The facts are as follows: In April a search began in earnest to replace Catriona Hughes, who was stepping down after five years in the job. In late August, after extensive searching and many rounds of interviews, the board is seen dining out with Tizard, who was known to be on the short list of three. Seven weeks later the FFC announces it is back to square one
Every top job at every Government organisation, including the FFC, has to be approved, after all it manages up to A$70m in taxpayers' funds per year - and has an indirect impact on what is pumped through cinemas and televisions across the country. Many of Tizard's family are in the bosom of the New Zealand Labour Party and it was rumoured from early on that this would not be acceptable to Australia's right wing Coalition Government.
What really worked against her were the reservations of several senior executives and producers. That this informal advice could over-ride that of the board and the headhunters is quite extraordinary, although to a risk-adverse government, perhaps doubt is a decider. The board has not been following proper processes and, perhaps, were unprepared for this eventuality.
Several industry associations wrote to the board back in December urging them to smoothly replace Hughes, who has pockets of enemies -- because of the nature of the job and the fiery nature of her personality. With the board choosing not to consider other candidates, clearly there are very few people with the legal savvy, management experience, and industry track record to replace her. That problem will continue into the second hunt.
This news is horrible for everyone: and especially the industry. But it would be better if everyone stopped pretending that this is an industry able to keep secrets.
Levy's statement noted that Tizard "is an outstanding individual" and that her decision was to concentrate on her business, the film consultancy The Broad Picture. She has worked at Beyond International, New Zealand's South Pacific Pictures and Columbia Tristar Productions, and is a consultant with sales agent Arclight Films.