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Australia’s best Indie, low budget genre Film of the Decade to be recognised by AACTA’s Reimagined Byron Kennedy Award for 2020

24 November

AACTA today announced ten nominees for the 2020 Byron Kennedy Award.

In celebration of AACTA’s 10th anniversary, this year the Byron Kennedy Award highlights the best of the great and often overlooked independent Australian genre films from the last decade, in line with Byron Kennedy’s ethos of excellence, and the can-do spirit of independent, low-budget local filmmaking.

The award will recognise an Australian film that illustrates the resourcefulness, inventiveness, originality and excellence that Byron Kennedy embodied through his genre-defining work with George Miller on Mad Max.

Attesting to the impact of Australian low-budget genre filmmaking, many of the nominated films found dedicated audiences around the world, and some served as a springboard for filmmakers to embark on larger productions, garnering impressive results.

These include writer/director Jennifer Kent’s international success with the AACTA-winning The Babadook, which was followed with The Nightingale, which won six AACTA Awards including Best Direction and Best Film in 2019.

Also leading to bigger things was Ivan Sen’s film Mystery Road, which spurred a titular spin-off television series which has since become Australia’s most nominated/awarded drama of the decade.   

First awarded in 1984, the jury-selected Byron Kennedy Award is presented by Kennedy Miller Mitchell in association with AACTA and includes a cash prize of $10,000.

Chairman of the Byron Kennedy Award, Dr George Miller, ambitiously created Max Mad with his producing partner Byron Kennedy and says about this year’s recognition:

“I love the courage of Independent filmmaking.Driven by curiosity and an abundance of enthusiasm it is a trial by fire which reveals hidden aptitudes, resourcefulness and, with luck, work which has meaning to an audience. I cannot think of a significant filmmaker who did not start this way.”



Widely lauded as a authentically fresh take on horror, writer/director Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook sees a single mother, played by Essie Davis, and her child fall into a deep well of paranoia when an eerie children's book titled "Mister Babadook" manifests in their home. Kent’s masterful control of the taut script and tension-fuelling direction saw her win two AACTA Awards – Best Direction and Screenplay – for The Babadook, which also won the AACTA Award for Best Film in 2015. The film was also celebrated around the world, winning a total of 56 awards.


Deep in the slums of Manila, a broken-down US expat pressures his half-Filipino son to cheat in a small-time boxing match. The result is that the son's opponent, a local Filipino fighter, dies from a brain haemorrhage. When the opponent's wife uncovers their crime and the police get involved, the son is forced to make a decision - stick by the father he loves so much, or risk everything to keep the wife and her young son safe.


Receiving five AACTA nominations in 2018, including for Best Film, Cargo was directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke (also credited as the writer), and stars Simone Landers and Martin Freeman. Cargo sees an epidemic spread all over Australia, as a father searches for someone willing to protect his daughter. Billed as a zombie genre romp with social currency, Cargo also offers commentary on prescient societal issues, including the exploitation of Indigenous Australians.


Noted for its refreshing originality, quirk and imaginative storyline and characters, Girl Asleep – which premiered at Berlinale’s Generation 14plus program, and received a Crystal Bear nomination – marked strong debuts for director Rosemary Myers (receiving an AACTA Best Direction nomination), and writer Matthew Whittet. Relaying her teen character Greta Driscoll’s struggles to leave childhood behind, Bethany Whitmore’s performance brings the story’s incomprehensible, surreal world to life, spanning wonderment through to terror.  


Director Grant Sputore’s sci-fi thriller secured a stellar cast including Rose Byrne and Hilary Swank (earning Swank an AACTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress). The film’s complex, considered storyline – conceived by Sputore, with the screenplay written by Michael Lloyd Green – marked Sputore as a star on the rise. In the wake of humanity's extinction, I Am Mother sees a teenage girl raised by a robot designed to repopulate the earth. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news. The film also received an AACTA nomination for Best Visual Effects or Animation.


Billed as a funny, sharply-written, creative take on the time travel trope, The Infinite Man marked a strong directorial debut for writer/director Hugh Sullivan, earning him an Audience Award nomination at SXSW Film Festival. The film, featuring Josh McConville, Alex Dimitriades and Hannah Marshall, sees a man’s attempts to construct the ultimate romantic weekend backfire when his quest for perfection traps his lover in an infinite loop, garnering praise for its genre-defying style and clever delivery.  


Noted for its originality and impact in casting mostly nonprofessional performers – also adding weight and authenticity to the film’s heavy-hitting themes – Mad Bastards was developed based on true stories of cast members and local aboriginal communities. Earning five AACTA nominations, including Best Film, and Best Original Screenplay for writer/director Brendan Fletcher, the film was lauded for its wrenching navigation of family, violence and what it means to be a man, as TJ (Dean Daley-Jones), a man on the run from himself, journeys across the remote Kimberley landscape in search of his long-lost son.


Following his Byron Kennedy Award win in 2012, multi-disciplinary practitioner Ivan Sen (whose credits span writer/director/cinematographer/composer/editor/producer) went on to receive AACTA nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Editing for his ground-breaking film, Mystery Road. The film is noted for its skill in combining a Western noir style with a gripping storyline and brooding cinematography, together capturing fractured identity in a hostile environment. This thrilling mystery, capturing the murder of an Indigenous girl, went on to become the titular spin-off television series, recently named Australia’s most nominated drama of the decade, including multiple nominations for lead actor Aaron Pedersen.


Young police officer Shane Cooper played by Ryan Kwanten relocates to a small country town with his pregnant wife. When news of a prison break sends the local law enforcement officers into a panic, Shane’s first day on duty rapidly turns into a nightmare of revenge and redemption. Red Hill is a beautifully shot, tightly paced thriller that marks a strong debut for director Patrick Hughes.


Writer/director Gregory Erdstein’s feature film debut was noted as a sassy dramedy expertly delivered by co-writer and actress Alice Foulcher, who plays Polly and Polly’s twin sister, Amy, as one catapults to international stardom, and the other languishes in a dead-end job punctuated by dud auditions. A favourite on the audience circuit, the low-budget film received audience choice nominations at Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival.


A forceful ‘Auspocalypse’ drama, These Final Hours features a self-obsessed young man (Nathan Phillips) who is led to a path of redemption, after an ‘end of the world’ party sees him rush to save the life a little girl who is searching for her father. Created by writer/director Zak Hilditch, and launching the international career of Angourie Rice, These Final Hours earned a Golden Camera nomination at Cannes Film Festival. 


Noted as a ‘zombies meet Mad Max’ horror, writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood sees a talented mechanic (Jay Gallagher) prepare to battle his way through hordes of flesh-eating monsters after his sister (Bianca Bradey) is kidnapped on the eve of a zombie apocalypse. Praised for its resourceful use of an ultra-low budget, the film received recognition from a number of horror film awards around the world

Speaking of the nominees for the 2020 Byron Kennedy Award, AACTA CEO, Damian Trewhella, said:

“The nominees for this year’s Byron Kennedy Award embrace big, bold ideas and the resourceful execution for which Byron, together with his co-collaborator George Miller, was renowned. 

“While this unique award has honoured some of Australia’s most innovative screen practitioners over the last three decades, we’re delighted this year to choose a winning film from a slate of genre productions which have resonated with audiences, critics and industry members at home and internationally, adding to our nation’s reputation for ingenuity, vast creativity and a distinctly Australian take on genres which have even been re-worked with our own stamp, including ‘Auspocalypse’ films and Aussie Western noirs.

“But what really ties these diverse films together is their originality – and from that point of view, winning the Byron Kennedy Award in its special iteration in 2020, linked with AACTA’s 10th anniversary, will be a marker of a truly unique Australian film of the last decade.” 

The winner of the 2020 Byron Kennedy Award will be announced to at the 2020 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel on Monday 30 November 2020 at The Star Event Centre in Sydney.


The AACTA Awards are supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW.


The new AACTA ScreenFest will be held online from Friday 27 November to Wednesday 2 December 2020. Events are free, but bookings are essential at

AACTA Industry Awards presented by Foxtel will be streaming at ScreenFest on Friday 27 November at 6.30pm AEDT and also on Foxtel Arts, Friday November 27 at 6.30pm AEDT.

AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel Ceremony will be onFoxtel Arts, Sunday 6 December at 7.30pm AEDT.

AACTA’s Best of the Decade: Australia Decides is a reimagined broadcast celebrating a decade of Australian screen and highlights from the 2020 AACTA Awards presented by Foxtel Ceremony will be on Channel Seven, Wednesday 2 December at 8.30pm AEDT and encore on Foxtel Arts, Sunday 6 December at 9.30pm AEDT.


Official hashtags: #AACTAs #screenfest | Instagram: @aacta | YouTube: /AFIAACTA | AACTA Connect: Twitter: @aacta | Facebook: /AACTAawards | Web:


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