AACTA introduces awards for best indie film and casting

‘The Gateway.’

Emerging and experimental filmmakers who have long felt it’s unfair that their low-budget works are forced to compete with far bigger Australian films in the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards have won their argument.

Today AACTA announced it will introduce a new prize for Best Indie Film as well as a gong for Best Casting at this year’s awards.

Films budgeted below $2 million will compete for the indie award, with entries for all feature film and feature length documentary categories opening today.

A short list of contenders will be determined by the round one votes of AACTA members. Nominees will then be selected from this shortlist by a jury which will be named later this year.

The jury will give strong consideration to filmmakers from diverse backgrounds and the winner will be determined by all AACTA members in round two voting.

The new indie category follows the AACTA’s decision last year to widen the eligibility criteria for feature films, embracing those that received at least a week-long commercial cinema release in two Australian capital cities, or two cities overseas; films which screened at an approved local festival such as MIFF and the Sydney Film Festival; and films streamed on platforms such as Netflix, Stan, iTunes and Google Play.

Last year 35 features made the long list of entries. AFI | AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella expects up to 40 to be in the running for this year’s awards presented in December.

Among the likely contenders are John V Soto’s sci-fi thriller The Gateway, which launches on Thursday on 10 screens via The Backlot and is performing strongly on VOD in the US where it is ranked at No. 6 on Amazon Prime Video’s most popular titles this year; and Jason Raftopoulos’ West of Sunshine.

“There has been a lot of growth in the emerging film sector,” Trewhella tells IF. “Awards are important because box office often is not a great measurement of success, especially for low budget films.

“Last year around 20 films nominated were budgeted below $2 million. We are recognising the emerging and experimental film sector and trying to give them a bigger profile.

“We are shining a brighter spotlight on these productions – many of which are real gems – along with talented, diverse and emerging filmmakers behind them. It is beyond time that we introduced this category.”

The screen industry has warmly welcomed the new award. “So many of our established directors have started their careers making low or no budget films and this recognition of their hard work and determination will be greatly appreciated,” said ADG CEO Kingston Anderson.

SPA CEO Matt Deaner agreed: “This new award category celebrates creative and innovative Australian filmmakers who are operating in challenging and disrupted market conditions, yet producing remarkable work.”

Women in Film and Television NSW president Megan Riakos observed: “For women and other diverse filmmakers, the opportunity to make a feature often comes from the independent and low budget filmmaking spheres. The award will help spotlight this rising talent in our industry who are often rendered invisible amongst the bigger players.”

The casting prize sponsored by Casting Networks will span film and TV productions and is being introduced after consultation with the Casting Guild of Australia (CGA).

CGA president Kirsty McGregor said: “It’s been said by countless directors that casting is unequivocally the most important element in the filmmaking process. The AACTA Award for Best Casting shines a light on the craft and career of casting itself and can and will inspire generations to come.

“Australian casting directors are working locally and internationally on AACTA, Emmy, BAFTA and Oscar – nominated productions and we’re very proud to finally have this recognition for our craft at our nation’s greatest celebration of film and television.”

There will be two shortlists, one for TV which will be decided by AACTA’s television branch voting, and one for features determined during round one voting. The shortlists will be reviewed by a jury comprising AACTA members and CGA members, who will select four nominees. The winner will be determined by all AACTA members during round two voting by a simple majority vote.

The nominees for all categories will be announced in late October. Winners will be announced at the eighth AACTA Awards industry lunch on Monday December 3 and at the AACTA Awards on December 5, telecast on the Seven Network, with encore screenings on Foxtel.