Banner year for Oz feature docs

This is a golden era for Australian feature documentaries as typified by the five critically-acclaimed titles in contention for the best feature doc prize at the fifth Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards.

Maya Newell’s Gayby Baby, Michael Ware and Bill Guttentag’s Only the Dead, Jen Peedom’s Sherpa, Damon Gameau’s That Sugar Film and Gillian Armstrong’s Women He’s Undressed are the nominees.

The AACTA Awards will be presented in Sydney in December, with the Seven Network telecasting the major awards on December 9.

Also revealed today were the nominees for best short animation and best short fiction film. In the running for the former are Adam Elliot’s Ernie Biscuit, Joe Brumm’s The Meek, Mikey Hill’s The Orchestra and Janette Goodey and John Lewis’ The Story of Percival Pilts.

The nominees for best short fiction are Matt Holcomb’s Flat Daddy, Kelrick Martin’s Karroyul, Dylan Rivers’ Nulla Nulla and Corrie Chen’s Reg Makes Contact.

All the nominated films will be shown during the awards screenings program at Event Cinemas Bondi Junction and Cinema Nova Melbourne in September and October, and online via AACTA TV, exclusively for AFI and AACTA members.

Also screening will be a number of the feature films in competition, which will be announced in late August.

AFI | AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella said, “Audiences at home and abroad continue to show high demand for Australian and global stories as told via documentaries, and this year’s nominees acknowledge this with Sherpa, Women He’s Undressed, That Sugar Film, Gayby Baby and Only the Dead.

“Each year it’s a pleasure to see emerging talent on the rise via our short film nominations, and this year is no exception, with a number of nominees already making their mark on the festival circuit.”

Produced by Charlotte Mars, Gayby Baby follows the lives of four children growing up with same-sex parents, and approaches issues faced in modern social politics; it was voted runner up in the audience award at the Sydney Film Festival.

Only the Dead, a compilation of footage shot by Australian war correspondent Michael Ware on assignment in Iraq, won the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian documentary at SFF. Ware produced with Patrick McDonald. Transmission is looking to launch the doc in October, exact date to be determined.

Produced by Bridget Ikin and John Smithson, Sherpa chronicles the 2014 Mount Everest avalanche which killed 16 Sherpas and resulted in the cancellation of the climbing season.

As IF revealed, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Content Group will distribute the film worldwide, excluding Australia and New Zealand where Footprint Films will release.

In a review posted this week, Variety’s Richard Kuipers sparked to Sherpa as a “visually magnificent and richly textured documentary” which packs an emotional punch to match its awe-inspiring imagery.

Produced by Nick Batzias, Gameau and Rory Williamson, That Sugar Film explores the effects of a diet comprising only sugary food that is commonly perceived as ‘healthy.’

Variety critic Alissa Simon this week hailed the film as “fast-paced, entertaining and informative,” and predicted that while the ancillary business is likely to outweigh theatrical, “overall returns should be, er, sweet.” Samuel Goldwyn Films is launching the film in cinemas and on-demand in the US on July 31.

Opening here via Rialto on July 16, Women He’s Undressed profiles Australian costume designer and three-time Oscar winner Orry-Kelly, whose body of work includes Some Like It Hot, Les Girls and An American In Paris. The producer is Damien Parer.

Among the animated short nominees, Ernie Biscuit, Elliot’s follow up to his Oscar-winning claymation Harvie Krumpet, features the voice of John Flaus as a deaf, lonely Parisian taxidermist.

Narrated by Myf Warhurst, The Meek explores feelings of hope, loneliness, devotion and strength in the story of a very small person trying to quit a very big bad habit.

The winner of the best Australian animation award at the Melbourne International Animation Festival, The Orchestra depicts a world where a band of tiny musicians play a soundtrack for your life.

Narrated by Kiwi Mark Hadlow (The Hobbit trilogy), The Story of Percival Pilts is a whimsical adventure about living an impractical life based on a childhood promise.

In the short fiction category, Kat Stewart stars in Flat Daddy, which explores the emotional upheaval experienced by a mother and daughter living with a cardboard cut-out of her husband, an Australian military officer.

Reg Makes Contact explores the mysteries of space when alien-obsessed Reg discovers a strange object fallen from the sky, starring Helmut Bakaitis, Susan Prior and Alan Dukes.

Indigenous culture is explored in Karroyul, which follows a young girl’s journey of connecting to her ancestral home after the death of her mother, and Nulla Nulla, which portrays a white policeman’s first day on the job in an Aboriginal community and stars Wayne Blair and Khan Chittenden.