AACTA Film Fest | The Expanding Definition of Australian Film
Article by Melbourne-based reviewer and critic Angus Attwood.
Defining an Australian Film seems simple enough, but as filmmaking becomes increasingly globalised there are more opportunities than ever for Australian creative figures to expand their focus beyond our shores. The films in competition for the 8th AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel demonstrate how Australian films continue to become a global affair through a number of diverse methods, whether their works are made locally, internationally, or as co-operative endeavors.
Locally made works such as WINCHESTER and UPGRADE demonstrate how Australian films don’t have to be limited in telling exclusively Australian stories, instead utilising horror and sci-fi conventions that have proved popular across the world to create a broader appeal. Directors Peter and Michael Spierig transformed Melbourne’s Docklands Studios to the famous Winchester Mystery House, in reality located in San Jose, California, and worked with Oscar®-winner Helen Mirren in the role of the haunted American heiress Sarah Winchester in their homage to classic ghost stories. Melbourne native Leigh Whannell similarly returned home to shoot his 80s inspired sci-fi revenge flick UPGRADE, turning the city into an undefined (but not explicitly Australian) futuristic setting. Produced by GET OUT producers Blumhouse Productions, who also worked with Whannell on the INSIDIOUS series, UPGRADE demonstrates how major international production houses are increasingly eager to work with Australians.
Other Australian directors choose to cast their gaze overseas to tell stories in entirely foreign settings. Garth Davis’s follow-up to his Oscar®-nominated LION, MARY MAGDALENE, presents a new perspective on Mary’s travels with Jesus Christ across Judea in the weeks before his crucifixion, with Davis in his team filming in Rome and Southern Italy to replicate their biblical setting. Brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton both have films competing for AACTA Award nominations this year, and both filmed overseas. Nash Edgerton’s GRINGO follows a hapless businessman across America and Mexico as he becomes entangled in various criminal activities, while Joel Edgerton’s upcoming coming-of-age drama BOY ERASED explores the controversial practice of gay conversion therapy as an American gay teen (Oscar® nominee Lucas Hedges) is forced into the program by his religious parents. With casts including major Hollywood stars like Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Charlize Theron, as well as local favourites Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, these films enable Australian directors to raise their profiles to international audiences and demonstrate the strength of our filmmakers.
Beyond Australian filmmakers going abroad, this year also saw foreign production companies choosing Australian crews to oversee certain aspects of their films. Sony Pictures Animation worked closely with Australian based studio Animal Logic for their live-action adaption of Beatrix Potter’s beloved PETER RABBIT™ stories. While the animal protagonists were bought to life as computer generated characters (featuring the voices of Australian actors such as Margot Robbie and Elizabeth Debicki) the live-action setting of the English countryside was recreated in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Animal Logic also continued their trend of working on THE LEGO® MOVIE and THE LEGO® BATMAN MOVIE by completing the animation for THE LEGO® NINJAGO MOVIE, with more features in the THE LEGO® MOVIE franchise in development for Warner Bros. Pictures.
Australian films are more accessible than ever to both local and international audiences, particularly with the increasing prevalence of online distribution and streaming services. This year marks the first time SVOD films compete for AACTA Awards, with both Netflix and Stan featuring films in competition. After premiering at the Adelaide Film Festival Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s zombie-drama CARGO was picked up for distribution by Netflix, making it accessible to audiences worldwide. One of Netflix’s Australian competitors, Stan, released their first original film with Mairi Cameron’s THE SECOND – providing yet another means for Australian filmmakers to find producers and distributors for their work. With Australian films still struggling to reach a cinematic audience, even among local audiences, streaming services such as Netflix and Stan offer new opportunities for films that may otherwise have struggled to get attention and a new platform for viewers to find them.
The cultural cringe towards Australian films is well recognised and remains frustratingly present, but as the definition of what an Australian film can be expands so, too, may the interest in them. This year demonstrates the expanding range of stories being told by Australians locally and internationally, promising increasing opportunities for our industry.
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.
Please note, BOY ERASED will not be available on AACTA TV. Members will have an opportunity to view the film when it is released theatrically in Australia from 8 November.
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).