Ben Mendelsohn, Sally Riley, Kirsty McGregor among Aussies invited to join Oscars body

Ben Mendelsohn in ‘Babyteeth’, cast by Kirsty McGregor. 

Actor Ben Mendelsohn, casting director Kirsty McGregor, Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) national president Ron Johanson and the ABC’s Sally Riley are among the Aussies recently invited to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science (AMPAS).

Other invitees include DOP Nicola Daley, UTA partner Bec Smith and documentary filmmaker Violeta Ayala.

In total, the Oscars body invited 819 people to join its ranks this year, 45 per cent of which were women, 36 per cent from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities, and 49 per cent from outside the US.

The Academy has been on quest to widen its membership base since 2016. In 2015, only 1446 or 25 per cent of its membership base were women, with the figure now at 3179, or 33 per cent. In 2015, only 10 per cent of, or 554, members were people of colour; that now stands at 1787, or 19 per cent.

The organisation has also tripled the number of international members over the same time period from 724 to 2107.

Mendelsohn, who stars in the upcoming local film Babyteeth and has also been seen recently in The King, Captain Marvel and Ready Player One, has been invited to join the actors branch.

McGregor, the founder of McGregor Casting and president of the Casting Guild of Australia, will join the casting directors branch. Her extensive list of credits include the Academy-nominated films Lion and Animal Kingdom.

She tells IF: “My dad instilled in me my love of film, and growing up I always looked forward to watching the Oscars with him. I was so thrilled yesterday to be able to tell him I’ve been asked to join the Academy. Most importantly I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to vote!”

Both Johanson (Freedom, The Woman Inside), who has served as ACS president since 2008, and Daley (Pin Cushion, I Am a Girl) have been asked to join the cinematography branch.

“To say I am astounded is an understatement,” Johanson tells IF.

“I have worked in the camera department since late 1965 and to this day it simply means everything, to not only be part of a great industry, but a wonderful department full of camaraderie, collaborators and friends always prepared to share the knowledge. Now the icing on the cake is this!

“My sincere thanks to all those who have supported me, I am forever grateful and my thanks to the Academy. Where have I heard that before?”

Bolivian/Australian filmmaker Ayala, behind films such as Cocaine Prison, The Fight, The Bolivian Case, and Stolen, has been admitted to the documentary branch.

Riley and Smith have been invited to join the body as a members-at-large.

Sally Riley.

A Wiradjuri woman, Riley worked as an independent filmmaker (Fly Peewee, Fly!, Confessions of a Headhunter) before joining the Australian Film Commission (later Screen Australia) as head of the Indigenous department in 2000. There, she helped to foster the careers of filmmakers such as Warwick Thornton, Beck Cole, Wayne Blair, Ivan Sen, Darren Dale and Catriona McKenzie. Riley then joined the ABC in 2010 as the inaugural head of Indigenous, before being promoted to the head of scripted production in 2016.

Riley tells IF the invitation was “a beautiful surprise”; she had people emailing her messages of congratulations before she even knew about it.

“I’m really proud to represent the Indigenous filmmaking community in Australia. All of us together have achieved so much,” she says.

“For me, it’s about recognition of the work that everyone has done.”

Smith has worked as an agent for UTA for 12 years, and was promoted to partner in 2019. Working across the Motion Picture Literary and Independent Film Group, she reps a range of clients including fellow Aussies Garth Davis, David Michod (whose film Animal Kingdom she executive produced), Luke Davies, and Thornton.

Kiwis extended an invite include producers Chelsea Winstanley and Carthew Neal, editor Tom Eagles, and actress Thomasin McKenzie, all of whom recently worked on JoJo Rabbit.

Read the full list.