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Let's try again - another awards system to claim indy space

David Tiley

Can the Ozzies succeed where the AACTAs get tangled up? Can nimble work for the Indy Underscape? Ozflix is giving it a go.
Let's try again - another awards system to claim indy space

If Australia's indy filmmakers crashed into the staid landscape of Australian feature production like this, we would all be better off. Image: nice work from Blockhouse.

Once again the AFI/AACTAs have fallen in with box office figures and celebrated a high(ish) budget film with a substantial marketing campaign and catchy hooks. The need to deal with film and television has created a monster so big it takes two sessions and combines sectors with very different values. I mean - Best reality television show? The necessity to be on television creates a daggy broadcast and an evening which tries the patience of guests desperate for celebration. 

The lunch is simply So. Much. More. Fun. And dignified and sensible. 

The truth is, the whole thing is noble but weird, trapped inside the mission to promote the Australian screen sector to the Australian public while acknowledging excellence among our peers. 

Underneath this is a basic question. Why on earth do we need awards at all? They create grotesque injustice, everyone babbles their thanks to people we don't know, and most films have just about the same level of quality. 

There are good reasons. Whether we like it or not, people are crazy for them. Between now and the Oscars there will be a constant, unremitting frenzy of coverage around the world. The Logies, the AACTAs, the Nunjikompita Best Ferret Awards all plug into the same strange fascination. Even better if we can actually judge the quality of the nominees at home. 

What is more, we inside the industry are stoked when we get the approval of our peers. We work in an ephemeral medium, there is often not a lot of money and the conditions are harsh. Getting an award is profoundly affirming. 

Ron Brown, veteran producer and co-founder with Alan Finney of Ozflix, has announced the bare bones of a new awards system, to focus on films with a maximum budget of $5m, which accounts for 76% of the films made in Australia. It will cover twenty categories restricted to film, with a professional jury system, with winners announced at a gala event in St Kilda's 500 seat Alex Theatre on April 18. It will be live streamed. 

'It is not our intention to try to step into anyone else's shoes,' Brown said. 'We are not seeing ourselves as in any way competitive with the AACTAs. It's just that we have a lot of feedback from the industry that they are disadvantaged by their budgets and not having high profile actors. Not just in terms of their release but also in the current awards that are available.'

The awards are run by a steering committee with Jocelyn Moorhouse, Tait Brady, Sally Aitken, Matthew Holmes, Beck Cole, Enzo Tedeschi, Rosie Lourde and Ron Brown. The judging system is not completely laid out yet, but it will be closer to the film festival model than an academy system. It is expected to have a super-jury and a number of craft sector juries as well. 

They are currently working to build a prize pool with major industry suppliers. According to the release 

Feature Films and documentaries completed in 2016 and 2017 and produced in Australia, by Australians or under official Australian co-production treaties are eligible if the total budget is less than $5 million. Indigenous films can be either narrative, documentary or shorts. Non-indigenous shorts are not eligible in 2018. Films will be able to be entered until January 21st at an early entry fee of $25 (Under $500K budget category and indigenous shorts) and $50 (budget over $500K). A late entry deadline of February 7th will attract a late entry fee.

'We are very very sensitive to transparency and accountability, about participants, setting agendas and voting,' said Brown. 'We are concerned everyone has trust in the awards and thinks they are fair and equitable. That is a premiss that the steering committee and the staff here talked about for months.'

The awards themselves will be called the Ozzies, while the whole thing is currently named the Ozflix Independent Film Awards [or OIFAs]. 

Judging will be a tough gig because the obvious winners are removed from the pool, and that is the point. 

Ozflix has already accumulated some experience of awards by sponsoring the Monster Fest Awards. Ozflix is a streaming service which aims to host 'every Australian movie, ever' - eventually. It already carries a lot of stuff which is otherwise hard to find, for a grand total of $3.79 a streaming pop. Just great for Xmas on the couch. 

About the author

David Tiley is the editor of Screen Hub.