AACTA changes feature film eligibility, introduces online award

Entries for this year’s AACTA Awards open today, with the eligibility policy for feature films changed in a move designed to improve selection transparency and recognise non-traditional releases. 

Previously there was a two-tier entry process for feature films. If a film had received a traditional theatrical release, it was directly eligible to enter, while films that didn’t meet that criteria were able to enter via a ‘pre-selection’ stream; a jury-assessed pathway said to be based on merit. 

Last year, Crushed director Megan Riakos criticised AACTA for a lack of transparency around the way films were selected via this second stream. 

Off the back of consultation with industry bodies, guilds and advocacy groups, AACTA has decided to scrap the previous two-tier scheme and replace it with a single pathway. 

Under the new policy, feature films are eligible to enter if they have received at least a week-long commercial cinema release in two Australian capital cities, or two cities overseas.

If film has screened at an approved local festival, like MIFF or Sydney Film Fest, it will also be eligible. The caveat is that the film must also have had a separate paid screening in a minimum of two capital cities (one of which must be Sydney or Melbourne), or have received a streaming release via an on-demand platform such as Netflix, Stan, iTunes or Googleplay.

If a film has also screened at two AACTA-approved international festivals it will also be eligible, provided it has also had a paid screening at home.

The Australian Academy said the changes will improve transparency and remove any subjective barriers to the entry process.

“The landscape of the film industry is constantly changing, with more and more Australian films having non-traditional releases in an increasingly challenging theatrical environment,” said AFI | AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella.

“One of the key changes to the feature film eligibility policy this year acknowledges and embraces the significant role Australian film festivals play in the discovery and fostering of local screen talent and, with the increasingly global nature of the industry, the contribution of international film festivals toward the recognition of some of our best and most innovative works.”

“We believe the new feature film eligibility policy achieves a more inclusive approach to the determination of the feature films in competition and opens the pathway for a broader diversity of films and filmmakers. All of us at AACTA are looking forward to seeing which outstanding Australian practitioners, performers and productions will be in competition this year.”

AACTA has also announced a new award: Best Online Video or Series. It will be open to scripted productions primarily intended for online release and/or viewing. Trewhella said he hoped the award would help propel the careers of emerging storytellers. 

“Over the last couple of years a wealth of Australian content has been made specifically for online viewing, with hits including Bondi Hipsters, The Katering Show, The RackaRacka’s Versus, DAFUQ?, Aunty Donna: 1999, and Starting From… Now!

“AACTA is proud to extend the reach of our awards into dedicated online content, marking an exciting new pathway for recognising Australian talent working in the burgeoning online space.” 

Entries across feature film, documentary, short film, television and online categories are open as of today, while VFX, animation, hair and make up awards will open in June.  

View the full criteria, including list of approved festivals and VOD platforms for feature film eligibility on the AACTA site.