While AACTA’s Byron Kennedy Award is typically given to an individual or organisation who demonstrates “outstanding creative enterprise”, this year the award will go to a film.
The nominees for the honour, which celebrates the legacy of Dr George Miller’s original producing partner and Mad Max co-creator Byron Kennedy, are a short-list of the last decade’s best indie genre features.
The films are diverse, spanning comedies, Westerns, thrillers, horrors and sci-fis, but AACTA has determined each are in line with Kennedy’s “ethos of excellence”, resourcefulness and “the can-do spirit of independent, low-budget local filmmaking.”
They include: The Babadook, Beast, Cargo, Girl Asleep, I Am Mother, The Infinite Man, Mad Bastards, Mystery Road, Red Hill, That’s Not Me, These Final Hours and Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.
Many nominated are debut features, such as Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours, that saw the filmmakers springboard into international careers.
Ivan Sen’s 2013 film Mystery Road spawned sequel Goldstone and the celebrated ABC spin-offs, while both Cargo and I Am Mother were snapped up by Netflix in global deals.
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.
“I love the courage of Independent filmmaking,” said Miller.
“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.”
AACTA’s decision to look back at the last decade of indie filmmaking stemmed in part from its 10th anniversary celebrations.
It also felt apt to shine a light on and celebrate the indie sector after COVID-19 battered the film industry.
That feeling was only intensified when, during the process of selecting the films, the government announced policy changes to the Producer Offset’s QAPE threshold that some in the industry have argued will adversely impact low budget filmmaking.
To select the nominees, AACTA drew up a long-list of previous entrants to the awards.
That was then whittled down to 12 films by a jury that included Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley, Melbourne International Film Festival Director Al Cossar, Adelaide Film Festival director Mat Kesting, Brisbane International Film Festival director Amanda Slack-Smith, Event Cinemas general manager of content Claire Gandy and Monster Pictures owner and Monster Fest director Grant Hardie.
Describing the selection, Cossar says: “Even before a winner is awarded, AACTA’s decade-spanning Byron Kennedy Award nominees represent an extraordinary array of talent – all of them inventive, against-the-odds filmmaking by a collection of filmmakers whose talent and craft deserve spotlighting, and deserve celebration.”
Of the list, Beast, That’s Not Me, These Final Hours and Wyrmwood have never been nominated for an AACTA.
Conversely, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook took home three AACTAs in 2014, including Best Film, tied with Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner.
There was discussion at the AACTA office whether The Babadook should be included, given it was already so decorated. Ultimately, the team decided that, especially as a debut film, it exemplified what they were trying to celebrate and couldn’t be ignored.
“If you’re talking low budget, if you’re talking independent, if you’re talking films that were a little bit overlooked on release, you couldn’t think of a better example of that resourcefulness and can-do spirit than The Babadook,” AACTA awards and industry development manager Ivan Vukusic tells IF.
Mystery Road‘s Sen is also himself a recipient of the Byron Kennedy Award, having won in 2011.
“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,” said AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella.
“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.”
Other recipients of the Byron Kennedy Award have included Jane Campion, Rachel Perkins, Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, Rolf de Heer, the Australian Cinematographers Society, Dion Beebe, Adam Arkapaw, Lynette Wallworth, Animal Logic and this humble publication.
This year, the AACTA Industry Awards (previously the Industry Luncheon) will be held November 27 online, while the usual Ceremony will be held at The Star Sydney over two consecutive sittings November 30. Highlights from the two ceremonies will be broadcast on Channel Seven on December 2.
This year the academy is also running a free online festival dubbed Screenfest. It runs from November 27 to December 2, with the full program here.