The Australian Film Institute has been a vital part of the Australian film industry for over 50 years now and the yearly AFI Awards have seen so many big names and iconic films honoured that it's a shame people globally don't pay more attention to them. Almost every Australian to "hit the big time" overseas started out on their home shores and the AFIs. Even Tania Zaetta's Bollywood career was pre-empted by that Who Dares Wins gig! Alas, she never won an AFI so... wow, that non-sequitor really went nowhere, huh?
Last night though the AFI put a stamp on the next phase of their existence and like a caterpillar has morphed into something new. While the "AFI" still exists in some technical form, the creation of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA: it sounds like "Actor") will be an organisation that will try and act more like the other Academy that we all know so well. The awards will no longer run in November like years past, but instead have been pushed into the international awards season of January. It's an intriguing prospect and certainly makes sense in a "sum up the year from Jan-Dec rather than Nov-Oct" way that they had done before now. It's definitely a curious thought to wonder what could have happened if Jacki Weaver had given that speech closer to the Oscars? Probably not, but it's fun to imagine.
Geoffrey Rush was announced as the first president of the Academy and there will be a new statue (see it up top) to replace the transparent glass one they have had until now. I'm not sure what the award will actually be called since "the AFI Award" won't work, but we can't nickname it "the Actor" due to its phonetic similarity to the word since that's what the Screen Actor's Guild call their statue. Hmmm. The ceremony, too, will move to Sydney and take place at the Sydney Opera House. Ya know, just for laughs. There's a little video I've included below from their website that's all very glam and such.
Announced last night as well were the 23 films that will be eligible for the award. Due to the new extended eligibility date there are titles like The Legends of the Guardians and The Loved Ones that were released so long ago they feel positively ancient. Of course, if Robin McLeavy can somehow overcome the genre bias and get a Best Actress nomination then who are we to complain? The 23 titles are (asterisk denotes films yet to be released, which means they could fail to meet eligibility requirements).
A Heartbeat Away (dir. Gale Edwards)
Big Mamma's Boy (dir. Franco di Chiera)
Blame (dir. Michael Henry)
Burning Man* (dir. Jonathan Teplitzky)
Caught Inside* (dir. Adam Braiklock)
The Cup* (dir. Simon Wincer)
The Dragon Pearl* (dir. Mario Andreacchio)
The Eye of the Storm (dir. Fred Schepisi)
Face to Face* (dir. Michael Rymer)
Griff the Invisible (dir. Leon Ford)
Here I Am (dir. Beck Cole)
The Hunter* (dir. Daniel Nettheim)
The Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (dir. Zack Snyder)
The Loved Ones (dir. Sean Byrne)
Mad Bastards (dir. Brendan Fletcher)
Oranges and Sunshine (dir. Jim Loach)
Red Dog (dir. Kriv Stenders)
Red Hill (dir. Patrick Hughes)
Sanctum (dir. Alister Grierson)
Sleeping Beauty (dir. Julia Leigh)
Snowtown (dir. Justin Kurzel)
Summer Coda (dir. Richard Gray)
Wasted on the Young (dir. Ben C Lucas)
A video montage of all the eligible titles can be found at the brand-spankin' new AACTA website. Unfortunately I cannot embed it, but it's a lovely piece of work despite having to see clips from shit like Big Mamma's Boy and A Heartbeat Away. Yikes.
While the omission of titles like Needle, Little Johnny: The Movie, Primal and other micro-releases are in line with the AFI rules (must play in Melbourne/Sydney/something to that effect), I can't figure out why The Reef is absent from the list. The last film by Andrew Traucki, Black Water, got a couple of high profile nominations so it's like last year's Wog Boy 2 that never stood a hope of being nominated for anything. And what of Hail, X, Bait 3D, Happy Feet Two, Toomelah, which are all supposedly 2011 releases. It will be a real shame if these changes somehow brought about the elimination of such high profile films from the race. Is that a true "Academy"? In fact, why those micro-releases or inventively distributed fare like The Tunnel are excluded in the first place makes me scratch my head. It's curious things like this that befuddle me, but what can I do? I am but a mere messenger. I am happy the make-up people may finally have their own category, though. Very much deserved if you ask me.
I will do a proper roundup of the contenders once I've seen more of them, but I can already take a hearty stab and what the nominees for Best Film will be: The Eye of the Storm, Oranges and Sunshine, Red Dog and The Cup if there are four nominees. Add Burning Man if there are five (to keep it in line with "Academy" standards) and Snowtown if there are six (like the last two years' AFI Awards have had).
Anyway, we'll see how this whole thing develops and whether it results in the Australian and global news cycle's taking notice like they intend. I hope it does, but you can rarely tell, especially with Australia's own media, when or why they decide to cover the local industry. Unless there's a super smash hit (Red Dog for instance) or super flop, Aus media doesn't seem to take much notice. I don't even recall much of anything being said about Sleeping Beauty's Cannes bid. And so it goes...
EDIT: I have since learned that the inaugural year of the new awards will use a similar timeline to years past and will run from October last year until November this year. Next year's awards will presumably have an eligibility period of from November this year until the end of December 2012. So titles like Toomelah and Bait aren't necessarily victims of not knowing what's going on, but should be eligible in the awards being held January 2013. Does that make sense? I hope so! Still, doesn't explain why The Reef didn't get submitted. :/