Last night a coterie of celebrities kitted-up in their finest suits and gowns and walked the red carpet at the Australian film industry’s “night of nights”: the 2014 AACTA awards. The so-called Ozcars was broadcast (with a time delay and a nip and tuck in the editing room) on Channel 10 at 8.30pm. And boy, the sights we saw.
Lara Bingle and Sam Worthington made their first official red carpet debut! Geoffrey Rush was there! So was Cate “shoo-in for an Oscar this year” Blanchett! Jacki Weaver too! And Jack Thompson! And Shaun Micallef! And Rove McManus, the guy who used to host that show where he talked to people! And Delta Goodrem! And Baz Luhrmann, who got a spectacular balloon-filled tribute dedicated just to him! So many blemish-less celebrity noggins! Such a great showcase of Australian talent!
And the awards themselves? A triumphant, fittingly nationalistic celebration of our country’s finest filmic performers. The latest patriotic instalment in the history of a ceremony created in the late 1950s “as a way to improve the impoverished state of Australian cinema”.
Mission accomplished. Take, for example, the recipient of the AACTA’s Best Lead Actor Award. This man is a great Australian actor who starred in a movie based on a great Australian script, produced by and for Australians. Something we can all celebrate as an outstanding achievement in true-blue cinematic art. Something worthy to put in Darryl Kerrigan’s proverbial pool room.
But hang on a sec, let’s rewind. The winner of the 2014 AACTA award for Best Actor didn’t actually go to an Australian actor. It went to bloke named Leonardo DiCaprio. You may have heard of him; he’s kind of a big deal in Hollywood.
Most of the budget of the squillion-dollar film he starred in, The Great Gatsby, was financed by an American studio. The major roles in it were given to A-list overseas actors: Leo, Tobey “Spiderman” Maguire and Carey Mulligan. The screenplay was an adaptation of a revered novel by one of the most celebrated American authors. The topic was — wait for it — the American Dream.
DiCaprio wasn’t the only person from The Great Gatsby to win an award. Luhrmann’s glitter-dowsed spectacle scooped the AACTA ceremony with a record-equalling 13 gongs including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. How did we get to this point? How did a film that is self-evidently not Australian dominate the Australian film industry’s night of celebration?
First, there’s the money. In the dying days of Kristina Keneally’s New South Wales government, desperate to be seen to be supporting local industry, the production was given generous offsets totalling around $80 million. That’s a lot of moolah — but less than 40% of the film’s production budget.
Second, there’s the argument that if a considerable chunk of money came from our pockets, it’s our film. Sure, the Australian government’s donation was generous. But so was the offset given to George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, which were also shot in Sydney. Thirdly, The Great Gatsby features a large portion of Australian cast and crew. Again, so did Star Wars.
The bald truth? By awarding a Hollywood movie the highest of accolades — giving it wins in every category it was eligible for bar one — the AACTAs made themselves look farcical. Perhaps that is no easy feat given the event’s tacky three-year-old acronym (before it was known as the far more distinguished-sounding AFI Awards) which is regarded with sneers and chortles in the Australian film industry. An actor winning an AACTA — geddit?
As the official AACTA Twitter account put it: “we’ve really Bazzed up our ceremony this year”. Indeed, you did. “That tribute to Baz started to get a bit embarrassing towards the end,” wrote The Guardian’s Vicky Frost. “I haven’t cringed as hard at anything in a long time as that Baz Luhrmann musical tribute,” tweeted critic and author Mel Campbell. “And so beginneth the public felating of Baz,” quipped Triple J’s Marc Fennell.
To the AACTA: yep, you guys sure did Baz up the ceremony. If that was your intention, you nailed it. But in the process you did something else: you betrayed the very ideals on which your event was founded. Did the 2014 show really improve “the impoverished state of Australian cinema”?
Of course not. Did it kowtow to Hollywood and give a shot in the arm to an industry so big and burgeoning it wouldn’t even notice the injection? You betcha.