AACTA 2015: eyewitness account of awards dinner 2015

by Mark Poole. First published in Screen Hub on

Australia’s film and television screen content is doing so well in 2015, that the AFI/AACTA Awards are being held twice in one year. And Dr George came out to play.
AACTA 2015: eyewitness account of awards dinner 2015

Image: Nulla Nulla took Best Short Fiction for Dylan River.

Yes that’s right, the 5th AFI/AACTA Awards kicked off this week with their Industry Awards after the 4th was held only this January.

Perhaps this reflects the success the Australian film sector is currently enjoying, with an all time record number of box office dollars going to Aussie films. Mad Max Fury Road, The Dressmaker, The Water Diviner, Oddball, Paper Planes, Last Cab To Darwin have each exceeded $7 million in cinemas, a result unheard of previously in Australia. Plus a raft of smaller, but still terrific films as well, such as Holding The Man, Cut Snake and Alex and Eve.

Australian television has also been extremely strong this year, and this was reflected in the Industry Awards, with The Secret River, The Principal, Glitch, Peter Allen – Not The Boy Next Door and Deadline Gallipoli all gaining wins and/or nominations. And the Television Comedy and Children’s Television awards provided a chance for the ABC to shine.

The AFI/AACTA awards are Australia’s version of America’s Academy Awards, and have been going since 1958. The AFI Awards were rebadged the AACTAs five years ago, and so my first reaction walking into the Star Casino on Monday was a thrill of pleasure that they are still going strong. Like all screen culture organisations the AFI has had its dire moments but they survived, and today they’re thriving under the expert helming of CEO Damien Trewella, Chair Alan Finney, and the Board. Not to mention the AACTA Prez Geoffrey Rush, Ambassador Cate Blanchett and Patron Dr George Miller. Which is great, as the screen sector needs to nurture its homegrown audiences.

The AFI/AACTA Awards are in two parts – the major ceremony that will be televised on Channel 7 next Wednesday, and the Industry Awards, held over a dinner or lunch. This avoids the horror of a single six hour long ceremony, too long for even the most loyal audience. I’ve attended both over many years, and for me the Industry event is the more fun – you get to sup Piper Heidesek champagne over the course of the Awards and munch on fillet steak, plus you’re surrounded by filmmakers, agents, screen agency folk and judges. In short, a roomful of your peers. People nominated for an award, sponsoring an award, judging an award or like me, just wishing to participate in a chunk of screen culture. And I was happy to be surrounded by industry luminaries of the calibre of Sandra Levy, former head of AFTRS, Jenni Tosi from Film Victoria, producer Jan Chapman, and of course Dr George Miller himself.

It was terrific to see Dr Miller step onto the podium and raise his award to the heavens. An iconic moment in Australian cinema indeed, and I was there to witness it.

Here’s an iphone photo to mark the moment:

I was equally chuffed to see Brian Rosen accept the award for Best Short Animation that went to Adam Elliot (Oscar winner for Harvie Krumpet), who was in Paris so unable to attend the event. And it was great to see The Dressmaker rewarded for the biggest fashion statement in Australian Cinema, with Best Costume Design to Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson.

Best Original Screenplay went to Robert Connolly and Steve Worland for Paper Planes, and it was good to see this fine film get a nod. Having been released early in the year, it was perhaps overlooked, yet a kid’s film that took over $9 million is clearly a victory. Best Adapted Screenplay in a Feature Film went to Jeremy Sims and Reg Cribbs, again a richly deserved effort, although I thought it curious that Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan’s equally sublime adaptation of The Dressmaker wasn’t even nominated. Best Cinematography in a Feature Film went to John Seale for Mad Max Fury Road, which picked up six gongs on the night, including Best Editor to Margaret Sixel.

If there is any lingering doubt that Australian film and television productions may not be up to world standards, then surely the 5th AACTA Awards prove once and for all that we are up there with the best. And as a supporter of a screen culture that nurtures creative talent and allows it to flourish, it was fabulous to witness Dr George Miller on the podium for his fourth work of genius over 30 years.  The Dressmaker saw the return of Jocelyn Moorhouse after a 17 year absence as director, Oddball provided Stuart McDonald’s first feature triumph after a career in TV comedy, and Paper Planes is a critical and commercial success for industry veteran and all-round nice guy Robert Connolly.

And with Nulla Nulla winning in the Best Short Fiction Award category for director/cinematographer Dylan River and producer Tanith Glynn-Maloney, and up and comer Celia Pacquola winning for Best Performance in a Television Comedy in Working Dog’s Utopia, tomorrow’s talent was supported too.