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AACTA Film Fest | Lights, Camera, (Australian) Action!

Article by FilmInk News Editor Travis Johnson.

For a country that made the MAD MAX series, Australia doesn’t have a deep bench when it comes to the action genre. For the most part, we make movies that are action-adjacent: films that might borrow a few tropes from the action idiom but almost never fully commit to putting the pedal the floor. I’m not talking about American movies that just happen to be shot here – your Matrixes, your Men both Super and Aqua, and so on. Those are their own thing. Australian films might open with a savage shoot-out, as in John Hillcoat’s  THE PROPOSITION, or pause the narrative action for a daring cavalry raid, as seen in Bruce Beresford’s BREAKER MORANT, but aside from a few Ozploitation outliers (THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, THE CHAIN REACTION), a purebred actioner is a rare bird.

However, the films in competition at this year’s AACTA Film Fest indicate that perhaps the situation is changing, as younger film practitioners raised on a diet of easily accessible genre fare imbue their works with influences drawn more from the video store than the arthouse or the lecture theatre.

Chief among them in terms of genre fidelity is OCCUPATION, Luke Sparke’s stirring tale of alien invasion that pits a mixed bag of game heroes – Dan Ewing, Temuera Morrison, Jacqueline McKenzie, Stephanie Jacobsen, et al – against an army of extraterrestrial infantry to mixed but frequently pyrophilic results.

Then there’s 1%, the debut feature from director Stephen McCallum, which sees Ryan Corr’s young buck and Matt Nable’s weathered veteran clash for control of a bikie gang. While the film may draw on Shakespearean power politics, at the end of the day it exists to show us big men beating (and shooting) the crap out of each other, climaxing in a siege shoot out that tips its crash helmet to Curtis Hanson’s L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (another not-an-action movie with great action).

Staying with genre offerings for the moment there’s Leigh Whannell’s noir-ish sci-fi UPGRADE, which sees Logan Marshall-Green’s embittered quadriplegic transformed into a ruthless killing machine thanks to a helpful AI inserted into his spine – in the process delivering the most inventive and exhilarating fight sequences of the year.

But consider also Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling’s zombie drama CARGO, which sees Indigenous hunters putting ravening ghouls to death; Tristan Barr and Michael Gosden’s  WATCH THE SUNSET, whose most talked-about scene is a car crash captured in one seamless take; or Nash Edgerton’s GRINGO, which sets its scene in the action-friendly milieu of the Mexican narcotics demimonde. Even the revered SWEET COUNTRY, easily the most well-reviewed Australian film of the year, dips a toe in action’s waters; after all, Warwick Thornton’s anti-Western wouldn’t be anti-anything if those genre trappings didn’t exist to be pushed against and subverted. We may not make many action movies, but it seems many of the films we do make owe a lot to the most base and atavistic of genres.


The feature films in competition were screened in cinema in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane during September 2018 as part of AACTA Film Fest. The films will be available for members to watch online via AACTA TV until 11 October 2018.

For your complete guide to the feature films competing for a nomination for the 2018 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel, download the Film Fest Guide here (6MB).


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