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Tight money slows Australian filmmaking. `Crocodile Dundee II' among the few new titles just completed

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Australia's ``cultural flagship'' - as actor Sam Neill calls the film industry - is leaking badly. And directors, producers, and actors are manning the publicity pumps to keep the industry afloat. A year ago at this time, 64 films, TV miniseries, and documentaries were in the works. Now, only four are on tap. And no projects are slated for after July 1.

What's happened?

Private investment money for Australian-made films has dried up. So the movie industry here is lobbying the federal government to take steps to keep the cameras rolling.

After nearly a decade of producing such globally acclaimed films as ``Picnic at Hanging Rock,'' ``Breaker Morant,'' ``My Brilliant Career,'' and ``Crocodile Dundee,'' it would be ``a tragedy if it all went down the gurgler,'' says Philip Adams, chairman of the Australian Film Commission, which supports cinema and television film production, distribution, and marketing.

Cynics say this is just the annual ``cry wolf'' chorus that erupts before the federal budget proposals in May. But this year, filmmakers face a real crisis.

An overall drop in income tax rates, coupled with a reduction in the tax write-off allowed for film investments, has cut private investment in screen and television ventures from $180 million (Australian; US$130 million) in 1986-87 to an estimated A$45 million (US$32 million) this year.

Also, from here to Hollywood, the October stock market crash has meant that at the front end there's less ready cash for financing risky projects, such as films. And at the back end, distributors facing uncertain markets are paying less for produced films.

To stave off nearly total collapse of the Australian film industry, two solutions are being floated. First, to revamp tax incentives to make films more attractive investments. Second, to set up a film finance corporation or ``film bank.'' The latter is most politically popular.

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