By Zona Marie Tan

The Australian Film Institute announced at noon today the list of its 2008 award nominees at the Sydney Theatre Company, Walsh Bay to a star-studded audience that included its patron Dr George Miller in attendance.

Underbelly actor Vince Colosimo hosted the afternoon’s event with Steve Bisley and Asher Keddie announcing the winners of the non-feature and television nominees respectively. Colosimo also introduced this year’s AFI Award night’s host Stephen Curry, bidding him luck and advice.

In contention for the coveted Best Film award are The Black Balloon, The Jammed, The Square and Unfinished Sky. Elissa Down’s debut feature swept nominations in 11 categories, while Peter Duncan’s Unfinished Sky took 10 nominations, and The Jammed and The Square garnered seven nominations each.

The Jammed, which launched a website last month exclusively for AFI members to download it, was this year’s surprise contender even for its writer-director Dee McLachlan.

“I thought at the back of my mind that maybe The Jammed was old news,” McLachlan said to INSIDEFILM. “It’s extraordinary to be acknowledged and for the film to have a second life. I feel extremely privileged because I’ve seen all the other films, so I know what the competition is and they’re all excellent films.”

In its tribute to documentary with the launch of the Trailblazer Initiative this year, the Best Documentary contenders are Beyond Our Ken (Luke Walker), Not Quite Hollywood (Craig Griffin and Michael Lynch), The Oasis (Ian Darling) and Rare Chicken Rescue (Vickie Guest). The winner of this award will receive sponsorship valued at $25,000 to become a delegate at MIPDOC in April 2009.

Although not a contender in any of the film categories, Men’s Group producer/writer John L. Simpson was awarded the 2nd AFI Fellowship award worth $25,000. Presented by AFI Chairman Morry Schwartz, this grant assists a highly skilled screen practitioner to engage in a project that will have lasting resonance for Australian screen culture.

“It’s exciting to be AFI’s fellow this year because it means that I can implement this plan that I’ve been dreaming about in a long time,” Simpson told INSIDEFILM. “Men’s Group is the perfect film to take into regional communities and although I would’ve done this anyway, to actually have the fellowship means that I can set aside some real time and be able to do it properly, and set up a template for other filmmakers to follow along the same path and adapt what I will learn and to take it up.”

Notably, Heath Ledger was given a posthumous nomination for the AFI International Award for Best Actor for his role in The Dark Knight; alongside the other nominees Eric Bana (The Other Boleyn Girl), Russell Crowe (American Gangster) and Jack Thompson (Leatherheads).

The full list of the L’Oréal Paris AFI Awards nominees can be viewed here.

The L’Oréal Paris 2008 AFI Award will take place at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre on Saturday 6 December and will be televised on the Nine Network at 9.30pm; while the AFI Industry Awards presented by Digital Pictures will take place at the Princess Theatre on Friday 5 December.

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The 2008 AFI Awards nominees
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