ABC Australia did some housecleaning and decided to take its Natural History Unit to the curb for pick-up. The pubcaster shuttered the division at the end of August to focus on developments with external producers as per the director’s speech last year, confirming the pubcaster’s non-fiction direction towards magazine and special interest productions.
Dione Gilmour, the unit’s former head and executive producer, is of two minds about her division’s closure. On the one hand, she says the ABC is already working across the board on over-stretched budgets to keep up with new technologies, such as developing diginets and non-linear endeavors. ‘Natural History is expensive, and it’s been difficult to get coproductions,’ Gilmour says. ‘We just did a calculation and from 1990 to the present, we’ve cost the ABC about $2.7 million Australian dollars.’
Despite the price tag, what she can’t quantify is the impact of the unit’s closure as it takes away the opportunity to advance the genre in her country. ‘Australia has distinctive centers of excellence in new technology and the environment… why not in natural history?’ Gilmour’s NHU team had well over 100 years of combined experience, but the potential of the unit was greater than the sum of its parts. ‘I can see the ABC’s view, but it’s shortsighted,’ she says.
Instead of changing horses mid-stream, Gilmour will continue working as a consultant over the next 12 to 18 months to help finish off various ABC projects, including the internal unit’s swan song: the HD Land of Parrots, an international copro with WNET and NGTI.
New indie producers will also benefit from Gilmour’s experience, such as Bianca Keeley’s look at flightless birds, Cassowaries (with the BBC, Film Finance Corporation and NGCI), and underwater cameraman Ross Isaacs’ Humpbacks from Fire to Ice (with PFTC and NGTI). Gilmour will also put her stamp on Whale Rescue (Screen West and NGTI) and Rainforest from David Warth and Michael Balson.
Any revelations about her ‘new deinstitutionalized life’ are tightly under wraps right now, if only out of respect to her former employer. She’s definitely plotting something and hopes to start up a few indie projects with a friend in the interim, but she’s not yet ready to spill details on her post-pubcaster life. ‘Check back in a few months, and I will tell all then,’ she promises.