AACTA Winners & Nominees

AFI Past winners

Australian feature films appeared to have reached their zenith in 1978. The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith was the first film from the new revival to be accepted for competition in Cannes, and Newsfront had been the great success story of that festival’s market place. Spotted early and championed by the renowned Andrew Sarris, it attracted an explosion of interest. Both films achieved enormous international success.

Those two films had been highly anticipated. The portents for 1979 were less obviously attractive. My Brilliant Career from director Gillian Armstrong and producer Margaret Fink had been a long time coming. The vogue for period films was seen to have run its course. The film had repeatedly been refused funding by the AFC. Without the co-operation and belief of the New South Wales Film Corporation, the principal investor in the previous year’s Newsfront, the film might not have happened.

Mad Max was an equally unlikely proposition. This was a privately funded feature made by two self-taught film makers (George Miller and Byron Kennedy), who had attracted earlier attention with the AFI Award-winning short Violence In The Cinema... Part 1. Mad Max employed almost nonstop-action on a scale that had not been previously attempted in this country. And the leading actor, Mel Gibson, had only just graduated from NIDA.

The other nominees at these awards were In Search Of Anna, The Last Of The Knucklemen, Cathy’s Child, Tim, The Night The Prowler, Snapshot, Palm Beach, Odd Angry Shot, Money Movers and Kostas.

As anticipated, the night was really a contest between My Brilliant Career, with 13 nominations in 11 categories, and Mad Max, with 10 nominations in 10 categories. The success of these two films had boosted the morale of the industry. Earlier in the year, My Brilliant Career was Australia’s official entry at the Cannes Film Festival. Mad Max, meanwhile, had been sold to the US for an unprecedented advance. They were nominees for Best Film and Best Direction, with Cathy’s Child and In Search Of Anna completing both lists. These four films would receive 11 of the available 14 awards.

The other three prizes went to Michael Pate’s adaptation of Colleen McCullough’s Tim. This film dominated the acting awards. Pat Evison and Alwyn Kurts were successful in the Best Supporting Actor/Actress categories. Pat, who had appeared previously in a small role in Caddie, succeeded against three actresses from My Brilliant Career. Alwyn Kurts was making his big screen debut. Best Lead Actor went to Mel Gibson who, surprisingly, was not nominated for Mad Max.

In Search Of Anna, with its complex narrative structure, pleased many by winning the award for Best Original Screenplay.

Judy Davis was favoured to win Best Lead Actress for My Brilliant Career, but Michele Fawdon, not totally unexpectedly, took the award for her performance in Cathy’s Child.

Mad Max finished the night with awards for Best Sound (Gary Wilkins, Byron Kennedy, Roger Savage, Ned Dawson), Best Original Music (Brian May) and Best Editing (Tony Paterson, Clifford Hayes). It also won the Jury Prize.

My Brilliant Career won in the categories of Best Costume Design (Anna Senior), Best Art Direction (Luciana Arrighi) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Eleanor Witcombe). Don McAlpine, who had not previously been nominated, won the Best Cinematography award.

My Brilliant Career became the first film to win the award for Best Direction (Gillian Armstrong) without taking any acting awards. Given that Judy Davis would win the BAFTA Award for Best Actress for this performance, and given the other stellar work from Sam Neill, Robert Grubb, Wendy Hughes, Aileen Britton and Patricia Kennedy, the film’s lack of success in this category is surprising. Armstrong’s first major short One Hundred A Day had won three awards in 1973, and in 1977 Singer And The Dancer had taken a Silver Award in the Special Fiction category. Now with her first feature film, she had joined the ranks of the major Australian directors. After these successes earlier in the night, it surprised no one that the Best Film Award would go to My Brilliant Career and its producer Margaret Fink.

The Raymond Longford Award was given to Professor Jerzy Toeplitz, the inaugural director of the Film and Television School from 1973 until the 1980s.


Note: Up until 1970, with a few exceptions, AFI Awards were presented in recognition of films and productions, rather than the achievements of individual filmmakers and craftspeople. From 1971, an increasing number of AFI Awards were introduced recognising individual achievements and, from 1976, AFI Awards were presented on this basis across all feature films. From 1980 onwards, all AFI Awards were awarded to individual filmmakers and crafts people.

Where an Award was presented in recognition of a film rather than a filmmaker, we have also listed the producer and director of the film, where this information is available. For craft-specific awards, we have also listed the respective craftsperson where possible. These filmmakers and craftspeople are listed in brackets after the Award that their film received.

1979 Winners & Nominees





  • Jury Prize sponsored by the Victorian Film Commission
  • Winner:

    Mad Max George Miller, Byron Kennedy

  • Documentary
  • Winner:

    Island Shunters Tim Woolmer (Director) (Bronze Award)
    I See I See Michael Pearce (Director) (Honourable Mention)
    Margaret Barr Ross Campbell (Director) (Honourable Mention)
    The Russians: People Of The Cities Arch Nicholson (Director) (Honourable Mention)

  • Animation
  • Winner:

    Letter To A Friend Sonia Hofmann (Director) (Honourable Mention)

  • Short Fiction
  • Winner:

    Goodbye, Johnny Ray Michael Harvey (Director) (Silver Award)
    Just Out Of Reach Linda Blagg (Director) (Bronze Award)
    Morris Loves Jack Sonia Hofmann (Director) (Bronze Award)

  • Experimental
  • Winner:

    Sydney Harbour Bridge Paul Winkler (Director) (Gold Award)
    Bondi Paul Winkler (Director) (Silver Award)
    Feyers Dirk De Bruyn (Director) (Honourable Mention)

  • Award for Cinematography
  • Winner:

    Just Out Of Reach Russell Boyd (Silver Award)
    The Russians: Reople Of The Cities Dean Semler (Bronze Award)

  • Raymond Longford Award
  • Winner:

    Jerzy Toeplitz (Founding Director AFTRS)

  • Special Award
  • Winner:

    Grant Page (Stunt Work)

  • OCIC / Australian Award
  • Winner:

    My Brilliant Career (Producer: Margaret Fink, Director: Gillian Armstrong)