Right under our noses

• Freo filmmaker Renee Webster. Photo by David Dare Parker

THE City of Fremantle is reviewing its Strategic Community Plan. Freelance journalist Ryan Emery has been talking to Fremantle residents and visitors about their thoughts on the city’s future. Today’s topic is ‘Creative City’. 

IT would seem to be a no brainer: Fremantle is full of creatives – so shouldn’t it be bursting at the seams with creative outlets?

The city, of course, has its galleries, studios and museums, but given the number of Fremantle creatives, it could be argued the ratio isn’t quite right.

Fremantle locals Renee Webster, a filmmaker, and Renato Fabretti, an artistic director, say the city has all the ingredients it needs to be a world-leading creative centre.

But the necessary collaboration and financial support is lacking.

Webster, who wrote and directed the film How to Please a Woman, said Fremantle needed a filmmakers’ hub.

She said Fremantle had a wealth of filmmakers producing high-quality films, TV shows and documentaries, but they mostly worked in isolation until there was a project.

“Filmmakers really do exist in the margins,” she said.

“When you’re in production and on a show, then there is this huge commercial reality that comes with that and that brings a lot of benefits because we employ a lot of people etc.

“But then when the show is over, everyone retreats and it takes a long time to work through projects and development to bring them to fruition.”

Webster said an affordable space where filmmakers could work would result in more collaborations and more productions.

She said filmmaking was expensive and unpredictable, and getting a production up was not an easy task, especially in isolation.

“So just creating a stable home base for people to work from and connect with is a really great way to support it,” she said.

“We kind of feel like there’s something in the water around Fremantle with our incredible musicians that come here, but there are extraordinary film practitioners out here as well.”

Fabretti said Fremantle had plenty of theatrical and acting talent as well.

Yet, three years ago, the city didn’t have a theatre. 

Fabretti braved the challenges of Covid and formed the Fremantle Theatre Company knowing that not only was there a strong demand for theatre in Fremantle, but also the necessary people to make it work.


To date, the company has employed 100 creative and performance artists, and its performances have virtually sold out.

But funding the theatre independently, as compared to the one-third model: government, philanthropy and ticket sales, means the theatre is always financially tested.

“Fremantle, I believe, is cut out of the cultural mindset at a state level,” he said.

“There are no endeavours to see arts thrive here.

“It’s all surrounding the corporate sector of the Perth CBD. That’s just such a limited perspective.”

Fabretti said state government bureaucrats were supportive, but the funding model was overly restricted, slow and focused on traditional methods.

He said the FTC, which has also toured regionally, had demonstrated that it can produce a commercial return.

“But there’s still no avenue by which we can find proper support,” he said.

“And that’s going to be the problem for Fremantle.

“It isn’t about the artistic merit, it isn’t about the audiences and it isn’t about the talent. We have those in spades. 

“The fact is that at important levels, we are seeing a stagnant response to new possibilities.”

Fabretti and Webster said theatrical and film productions had economic benefits that flowed to other parts of the economy including travel, food and accommodation.

The Bureau of Communications, Arts and Regional Research found cultural and creative activities contributed $122.3 billion to the nation’s economy in 2019-20.

Fabretti said investing in Fremantle’s creative sectors resulted in more than just an economic return.

“We are not investing in the things that make a city attractive,” he said.

“Everyone in Fremantle is creative and you don’t have to fly out to find it. If we are so ready for small bars and we’re so keen to be Melbourne, why don’t you realise what it is that defines Melbourne? It’s multiculturalism and art, that’s it.

“So Fremantle is ready to step up, but it actually needs to be supported from a state or national level to do so.”

Fremantle residents can have their say about the ‘Creative City’ by visiting mysay.fremantle.wa.gov.au/lets-talk-freo.

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