Last year there was quite a hubbub about the ineligibility of Aussie thriller The Jammed by the Australian Film Institute committee. The AFI had a rule stating that a film must be "publicly exhibited during the Release Period for paid admission in a commercial cinema, for a run of at least seven consecutive days, in a minimum of three Australian capital cities - including Sydney and Melbourne."
The Jammed unfortunately was only planning on a brief theatrical release in Melbourne before a quick shift to DVD. A set of glowing reviews from the likes of David and Margaret saw it break box office records, open around the country and become a legitimate arthouse phenomenon. However, this all happened just a fraction too late and it was deemed ineligible, despite being one of the few Australian films to actually get people talking. It eventually went on to win the Best Film prize at the IF Awards. I can't help but wonder if it would have knocked off Romulus, My Father for the same prize at the AFI Awards if it had been nominated.
Anyway, so I strongly suspect that it was for this very reason that the AFI have decided to change their eligibility rules. The rule book now states that for films with a budget of over $1.5million they must follow the three capital city rule that I printed above. However, films with a budget of less than $1.5million they must be "publicly exhibited during the Release Period for paid admission in a commercial cinema, for a run of at least seven consecutive days, in any Australian capital city".
The key difference being that these smaller films that may not have the backing to get them into a multi-city distribution setting can still become eligible for the AFI Awards as long as they have screened in at least one capital city. I can't speak for other cities, but the Cinema Nova in Carlton has done these sort of exclusive deals with small films before. It was wear The Jammed started it's exclusive run and late last year they screened a nifty Aussie psychological thriller called Modern Love.
The new rule will hopefully allow other titles like The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which screened to sell out audiences here in Melbourne for a brief amount of time, but which never got a proper role out in cinemas. And considering that film was extremely well-received it would be great to see it eligible. Plus, it would mean I'd finally get to see it at the official AFI screenings. I'm greedy like that.
The AFI are also making it possible for direct-to-DVD titles to be entered for the yearly awards. As the rulebook states that "a Videogram released to the Australian market within the Release Period with a minimum distribution of 1000 copies", which is an interesting development, is it not? A movie like Court of Lonely Royals, which I reviewed here, never stood a chance of receiving a theatrical release. So while I didn't care for the film, it's nice that it could possibly (if it meets the 1000 release minimum) get some attention.
I'm sure with the current state of film distribution (and Australian films for that matter) than some quality films will draw the short straw so it's nice to know that the AFI are calling attention to it and making it possible for any future movies like The Jammed to get the attention they deserve.
Some the Australian films already released in this eligibility period are September, Boxing Day, Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger, The Black Balloon, The Independent, Gabriel, Death Defying Acts and All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane, but whether they all submit to the AFI Awards will be found out around August/October.
Edit - I didn't notice this rule change, but The West Australian is reporting that The Jammed will actually be eligible for this year's awards due to a change allowing films that were released within in the 2007 eligibility period, but which didn't meet the release requirements. Director Sue McLachlan says she is considering entering it for the actors most of all. Good thing, too.