Australian Cinematographers Society national president Ron Johanson felt he was being called to the headmaster’s office when he was asked to take an urgent Skype call from the AFI/AACTA.

CEO Damian Trewhella told him about the Byron Kennedy Award, named after the co-founder of the Mad Max production company Kennedy Miller (now Kennedy Miller Mitchell), who died aged 33 in a helicopter crash in 1983.

The affable Johanson asked, “What’s that got to do with me?” He was flabbergasted when he was informed the ACS is the recipient of the next Byron Kennedy Award, which celebrates outstanding creative enterprise in the film and television industries and is given to an individual or organisation whose work embodies innovation and the pursuit of excellence.

It’s the first time the award, first presented in 1984, has been bestowed on a guild or professional association. Past honorees include Roger Savage, Dion Beebe, Jane Campion, Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, Animal Logic, John Polson, Jill Bilcock, Chris Lilley and Ivan Sen. Filmmaker, animator and artist Sarah Watt was awarded posthumously at the 2nd AACTA Awards in January this year.

“It’s truly overwhelming, not something you would expect,” Johanson tells IF. “As a society we do what we can for our members and the industry. We love what we do: that’s why we do it.”

He didn’t know there is a $10,000 cash prize until he checked AACTA’s website. He says the money will go to the ACS treasurer who will find a practical use for it.

The Byron Kennedy Award jury chaired by Dr George Miller said the ACS was chosen for its “enduring and pivotal role in the pursuit of excellence throughout Australian cinema. With its cohort of world renowned cinematographers, the ACS is about enhancing skills, exploring new technology and passing on knowledge to those who follow in their footsteps. Their enthusiasm and generosity of spirit makes them the backbone of our industry.”

Trewhella said, “When you think of iconic Australian screen stories, beautiful and powerful images are easily recalled. The ACS has a talented stable of cinematographers in demand both here and abroad for their masterful ability to work with mood, light and composition and for their innovative and collegiate nature.”

The award will be presented to Johanson on behalf of the ACS at the 3rd AACTA awards in Sydney on January 30. Founded 55 years ago, the ACS has 10 branches across Australia and more than 1,500 members. Membership has fluctuated between 1,300 and 1,500 in the past few years.

Johanson identifies the major challenges facing cinematographers as “coming to terms with new technologies and the authorship of images.”

He says, “A lot of that has been taken away from cinematographers. In the 35mm film era the cinematographer controlled the images. Now it’s open for everyone to interpret and we don’t always have final say on the look of each project.

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as the integrity of the image is OK.”

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