It was only a few years ago that we were literally laughed out of a government film funding office when we reiterated our stand in not accepting sponsorship funds from the mining and resource sector for the Revelation Film Festival. “It’s easy money…why wouldn’t you?” was the direct question.
From the very beginning of the event in 1997, when it was the Revelation Independent Film Festival and before, our personal beliefs were integrated into every aspect of the administration of the event, including its programming, tone and financing. Sourcing funds from resource and mining companies, those with links to the production of weapons of war and munitions, those with questionable financial practices and human rights records, those with negative environmental impacts and unethical manufacturing processes, all sit in that area.
As a result, the event has always struggled financially in a state where the mining and resource sector dominates in every aspect of life, culture and economy. Despite this struggle, it was always amazing – and shocking – to me that arts and other events have no issue in having these relationships underpin their financial-base. To me, in taking this funding, you stand behind the practices of those businesses and their environmental and social records and practices. BHP with Ok Tedi, BP with the Deepwater Horizon disaster and recently with Rio Tinto deplorable destruction of ancient indigenous sites are just a few. But these practices are not isolated or accidental. These things are inherent in that work and we are aware of them. We are aware that these and other companies engage in the consistent exploitation of indigenous and poor peoples around the globe and in environmental destruction epitomised in the work of photographers such as Juliano Ribeiro Salgado whose stunning shots show medieval conditions in contemporary mining in some of the poorest of countries.
For the arts and other organisations, these are not unknown things and in accepting funds from such organisations, you accept that these things happen, and you support these companies when they do. If you accept these funds, you become part of their value chain and a tool of their PR.
In another recent and Rev related example and not long ago, we were approached by giant multinational, General Electric, who offered us filmmaking guests and cash if we participated in an international filmmaking competition they had planned. Major events such as IDFA, Tribeca and the Melbourne Film Festival agreed to participate. In simply looking at the first few Google search results for General Electric however, some disturbing behaviours and company branches are revealed including being a major contributor – if not initiator – of the GFC through sub-prime lending and having one of their divisions devoted to the manufacture of weapons and military systems.
Money is a statement and it comes with strings and responsibilities. Many of these common financial sources are clearly problematic and ignorance of their behaviour or the ethics of their respective sectors is simply not an excuse. How can an event on the one hand fly the creative flag for indigenous rights and justice, and with the other accept funds from companies that deliberately participate in acts such as those perpetrated by Rio Tinto recently or by others internationally? It simply escapes me and represents a major failing of respective Boards, CEOs and business planning. It simply makes everything said and done by those events in the area of justice and equality, utterly empty.
Ethics is not a part-time thing. They are not something you can turn on or off or say, “how else can we fund what we do?” or have them at home but not at work. Money is hard to get, we really understand that, but for us, we live by our ethics and beliefs in our private and professional lives and they guide every aspect of the film festival. They always have. For us, working in arts and culture means we have a social responsibility. We must lead by example and use the power of the platform we have to address inequity, explore injustice and develop creative and most importantly, critical communities.