Wednesday 6 December 2017

The AACTA's Big Night - Rod Bishop reports from the $600 seats

I used to be a Wiggle” said the bloke behind me introducing himself to the stranger seated next to him.

No-one mentioned Geoffrey Rush or Cate Blanchett all night (for very different reasons), but there was a steady parade of their colleagues – Bryan Brown, Paul Hogan, Rachel Griffiths, Sam Neill,  Noni Hazlehurst, Shane Jacobson, Jack Thompson and on-screen, Nicole Kidman (three times) and Ben Mendelsohn (once).

These AACTAS are well named for purposes of pronunciation. Seven years ago, when the AFI moved the annual film awards from a kind-of Brit model to a kind-of Hollywood model and strengthened the television component, more emphasis has been placed on the actors. Given their international success these past 20 years, it’s a wise strategy.

Simon Baker
Simon Baker’s career seemed to sum it up. Recipient of the Trailblazer Award, his career was carefully mapped from an Aussie TV star (E Street; Home and Away; Heartbreak High; A Country Practice) who relocated to Los Angeles twenty years ago, landing roles in LA Confidential; Margin Call, The Devil Wears Prada and the television series The Guardian (67 eps) and The Mentalist (151 eps). He has since come home to direct a feature film version of Tim Winton’s Breath.

The undisputed highlight of the night, however, was the celebration of a film director, the larger than life Phillip Noyce. Although more than half his speech was missing from the telecast, Noyce paid tribute to many, including Albie Thoms, Aggie Read and David Perry who told him “anyone can make a film”, to the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op, to Gary Foley in Backroads (“He taught me about black-white relations”) to David Elfick, Bob Ellis and Newsfront, to Ken G Hall (“He taught me how to shoot the Maitland flood”) to the property developer-conservationist wars of Heatwave, to his breakthrough Dead Calm, his Hollywood years and his return for the remarkable Rabbit-Proof Fence

Phillip Noyce
It was a hugely generous speech from Noyce. The heartfelt tributes included Harrison Ford, Jeff Bridges, Michael Caine, David Elfick, Nicole Kidman, Malachi Kirby (“scariest director in the world”), Werner Herzog, Peter Gabriel, Kathy Lette, David Stratton, Gillian Armstrong and Liev Schreiber and all just reinforced Noyce’s place in the pantheon of Australian filmmakers.

Technically, the venue at the Star Casino had issues. Structured for a delayed television schedule, presenters awkwardly have to look left of stage to read from the teleprompter and remain unsure of where to look when not using the device; dual presenters on stage with only one mike caused problems; and with no revolving stage, there was frenzied activity after musical acts to dismantle sets and drag everything off-stage.

Russell Crowe
Channel 7 will probably insist on a delayed broadcast in future as it gave them the opportunity to delete an entire piece from Russell Crowe and here I quote from The Guardian, who somehow got it all down word for word. Crowe went off on a strange tangent about “sensitivities” in the industry when he was “sodomizing Jacqueline McKenzie on the set of Romper Stomper”:
“I didn’t actually intend to do that – I was trying to keep my bits away from her bits, and she’s been given one of those pieces of elastic that the girls get when you do those scenes, which protects them from all things, and my bits and pieces were in a little canvas sack with a drawstring. And it was actually my desire to keep the bits apart. It wasn’t until the opening night of the film that it was pointed out by none other than Jackie McKenzie’s beautiful late mother that we were in fact, in her mind, engaged in sodomy. Anyway that was just a story about sensitivity!”

There appeared to be a couple of near-misses in mixed up cues, a couple of The Angels starting announcing an award the wrong side of an ad break and, also cut from the telecast, one remarkable wardrobe malfunction. AFI CEO Damian Trewhella appeared on stage with the buttons of his suit jacket mismatched, meaning one side hung lower than the other, the effect causing his lapel to push his tie askew. He almost had the appearance of a member of the homeless wandering in on proceedings.

Dr Mohan Agashe
I was there with my partner in $600 seats given to us by sheer chance. Twenty years ago, I became friends with Indian actor, producer and mental health professional Dr. Mohan Agashe. We were both heading up national film schools at the time and were exchanging students and curriculum. We have been loyal friends ever since.

Mohan’s latest film, winner of Best Film at India’s 2017 National Film Awards, had been one of the nine nominated for the inaugural ACCTA Best Asian Film, but Mohan had a “sour toe”, the doctors were reluctant for him to travel, so would I represent Kaasav: Turtle at the AACTAs? The AACTA staff were generous through-out, despite my misgivings about the optics of an Aussie bloke in his 70th year accepting an Award for an Indian film that had just won Best Asian film.

By the time we reached the Red Carpet, any chance of Kaasav getting up was gone. Beautiful Indian actresses in saris seemed to be everywhere I looked (there were three Indian films in the nine nominated) and Indian heavyweight actors like Anupam Kher (“My current film is my 510th”) were up on stage.

The winner Dangal is reportedly the first Indian film to have grossed $300 million world-wide.

Amir Khan (front) Dangal
Best Asian Film

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