All signs pointed to Monday being a good day for Julia Overton. Literally.

On the day the filmmaker was set to receive the 2012 Stanley Hawes award, she drove past a timely sign outside an RSL that proclaimed "Julia wins, now for the Oscars". It was, of course, referrring to the Federal Labor party's decision to back prime minister Julia Gillard over rival Kevin Rudd.

In her opening night address at the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) in Adelaide, the other Julia – Overton – acknowledged her own peers.

"In this company, someone who's been known most recently as bureaucrat is a bit of an anomaly as the recipient of this award," she said. "I'm here because of the inspired artistry of all the people I've ever worked with." 

Previous winners of the Stanley Hawes award – which recognises independent documentary filmmakers who have made an outstanding contribution to the Australian industry – include Rachel Perkins and Bob Connolly.

The daughter of an actress and a pianist-turned-publisher who later went on to work for UNESCO, Overton has had a life long interest and involvement in the arts. Although intending to study art history at university, a brief stint at a business school saw her land her first job in television.

"At the end of the course, you spent time in the office fielding calls," she told AIDC delegates while accepting the award. "I answered one – a request from London Weekend Television (LWT) for an assistant for the director of television, Cyril Bennett. Now you were supposed to put those jobs on the board for all to see; needless to say I did not and 10 minutes later I called back, got an interview and got the job."

A stint working with LWT's head of drama Stella Richman and then for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation followed before Overman eventually ended up in Australia, where her first job was teaching trainee teachers in Western Australia how to use audiovisual equipment.

Since then, Overton has worked for the Australian Film Commission, the Film Finance Corporation and Screen Australia. She has produced features, TV dramas and the critically-acclaimed documentary Black Man's Houses.

In her speech, she urged documentary filmmakers to be creative in their financing.

"The old model of 'get a broadcaster, add a funding body or two plus Offset' is very far from the mark," she said. "As a sector we need to regenerate, there is a responsibility to mentor and support new players."

She also said that award ceremonies needed to treat documentaries with more respect.

"Where were the documentary acknowledgements in the televised section of the AACTA awards this year? There weren't any. They were announced at an earlier event – that's not good enough. We really need to champion, champion, champion."

The winner of the F4 Award for Outstanding New Documentary Talent was also announced at the AIDC opening night, with Paul Gallasch accepting the award for his film Killing Anna – a documentary which saw Gallasch staging his ex-girlfriend's funeral following their breakup.

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