For the first time, ten documentaries are in competition for the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Award for Best Feature Length Documentary.

The ten films on the shortlist, determined by AACTA’s documentary branch (made up of past winners/nominees as well as other members of the documentary sector), include: Backtrack Boys, Dying to Live, Ghosthunter, Guilty, Gurrumul, Have You Seen the Listers?, Island of the Hungry Ghosts, Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible, Mountain and Working Class Boy.

All AACTA members will then vote to determine the nominees in October, with the winner then to be determined during a second round of voting in November.

Each of the ten films will screen as part of a standalone Docs Fest across the first week of October in Sydney at AFTRS, in Melbourne at Cinema Nova and in Brisbane at Griffith Film School, as well as online via AACTA TV.

Last year, feature doco nominees were determined by AACTA members with a documentary credit and prior to that, were determined by a jury of just 8-10 experts.

“We are thrilled to be profiling a larger number of incredible Australian documentaries to our members and the Australian public, especially in one of the highest-grossing years for Australian documentaries on record,” said AFI | AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella.

“Australian documentary filmmakers continue to produce an ever-increasing number of highly engaging, world-class documentaries, as we have seen with a 136 per cent increase in feature documentary entries between 2015 and 2018. AACTA Docs Fest will help facilitate a broader exploration of the very best of these films, drawing attention not just to the great filmmakers behind them, but also the incredible stories and people they are exploring.”

Five of the films on this year’s shortlist are from first time feature documentary directors: Gabrielle Brady (Island of the Hungry Ghosts), Axel Grigor (Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible), Paul Damien Williams (Gurrumul), Matthew Sleeth (Guilty) and Ben Lawrence (Ghosthunter).

Of Gurrumul‘s inclusion on the shortlist, Williams tells IF: “It’s great news. It’s been a really wonderful year for Australian features full stop and particularly documentaries; it’s wonderful to see this. Look at the shortlist, there’s some fantastic films there.”

Gurrumul, which profiles the late blind Indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu has screened at MIFF, Berlinale and Hotdocs. Released theatrically in April, it has made just under $1 million at the box office and is still screening at Cinema Nova and Classic Cinemas, as well as select regional screenings.

While the film’s opening weekend at the box office was lower than expected (it opened on $84,700, totalling $292,000 with festival screenings/previews), Williams says Gurrumul has benefited from word-of-mouth and faith from exhibitors and distributor Madman. He argues its performance has shown there is still a place for feature documentary in the cinema, as has Mountain (which is the highest grossing Australian documentary of all time, excluding IMAX) and Working Class Boy (which has made over $750,000 in three weeks).

“We’re thrilled with the response the film. Some of the feedback that I’ve been getting personally about has been very heartfelt and just wonderful to have such a strong response to something you worked on for such a long time,” says Williams.

In addition to the Docs Fest, AACTA is also running a Films Fest throughout this month and ran a Shorts Fest last month.

More info on on voting is available here: https://www.aacta.org/aacta-awards/voting/.

The AACTA Industry Luncheon will be held December 3 and the AACTA Awards Ceremony & Official After Party December 5. Tickets for both events will go on sale in early October.

The full shortlist:


A group of boys are on a perilous course toward ‘juvie’ until they meet up with a free-wheeling jackaroo, Bernie Shakeshaft, and hit the road with his legendary dog jumping team. This coming of age story follows the boys as they strive to turn their lives around – and the dogs that help tame their wild ways.

Producer: Catherine Scott

Director: Catherine Scott

Editor: Andrea Lang

Sound: Angus Robertson, Peter Purcell, Tara Webb, Justin Spasevski

Cinematographer: Catherine Scott

Composer: Jonathan Zwartz, Kristin Rule


Deep beneath the complex world of organ and tissue transplantation are the heart-wrenching stories of real people awaiting life-saving organs. Why must they wait so long? Are changes in policy required – or shifts in perception? Can the problem be solved by signing the donor register and having a chat with our loved ones – or is the situation far more complex? What does it take to support a family member running out of time as they await the generosity of strangers? How difficult is it to offer the death of a family member as a chance at life for others? And how much love and understanding does it take to make the compassionate decision to become a physical philanthropist?

Producer: Richard Todd, Ben McNeill

Director: Richard Todd

Editor: Lawrie Silvestrin

Sound: Ric Curtin

Composer: Ash Gibson Greig, Dami Summers


Western Sydney security guard and part-time ghost hunter, Jason King, cannot remember his childhood and has spent two decades searching for his absent father. As a survivor of trauma, he seeks to reconcile his fractured memories and piece together his past. When his search converges with a police investigation, a horrific family secret is exposed forcing him to confront a brutal past in order to reclaim his future.

Producer: Rebecca Bennett, Ben Lawrence

Director: Ben Lawrence

Editor: Karen Johnson

Sound: Andy Wright, Nick Emond, Leah Katz, Diego Ruiz

Cinematographer: Hugh Miller

Composer: Rafael May


The final 72 hours in the life of Myuran Sukumaran, one of the infamous Bali Nine, who became an accomplished artist while on death row in Kerobokan Prison under the tutorship of artist Ben Quilty. Myuran was executed on Nusakambangan Island, Indonesia on 29 April 2015 alongside fellow Australian Andrew Chan and six others. Dramatic and archival material delves into the final three days of Myuran’s life, as he farewells his family and creates his final paintings.

Producer: Maggie Miles

Director: Matthew Sleeth

Editor: Uri Mizrahi

Sound: Chris Goodes

Cinematographer: Katie Milwright

Composer: Robin Fox


Celebrated by audiences at home and abroad, Indigenous artist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu was one of the most important and acclaimed voices to ever come out of Australia. Blind from birth, and raised on Elcho Island in far North East Arnhem Land, he found purpose and meaning through songs and music inspired by his community and country. Living a traditional Yolngu life, his breakthrough album ‘Gurrumul’ brought him to a crossroads as audiences and artists around the world began to embrace his music. GURRUMUL is a portrait of an artist on the brink of global reverence, and the struggles he and those closest to him faced in balancing that which mattered most to him and keeping the show on the road.

Producer: Shannon Swan

Director: Paul Damien Williams

Editor: Shannon Swan, Ken Sallows

Sound: Pip Atherstone-Reid, Simon Rosenberg

Cinematographer: Dan Maxwell, Katie Milwright, Matt Toll, Gavin Head

Composer: Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Erkki Veltheim, Michael Hohnen, Matthew Cunliffe


Australian artist Anthony Lister will have you gasping for air as he rises up the ranks from street artist to world-renowned contemporary artist in the complex world of fine art. While the complexities of hype, fame and contractions of the art world are present, at its heart this is a story about family and fatherhood. We witness the birth and breakdown of a family unit, juxtaposed with the rise of a star.

Producer: Sarah Shaw, Eddie Martin

Director: Eddie Martin

Editor: Johanna Scott

Sound: Robert Mackenzie

Cinematographer: Simon J. Walsh


On Christmas Island, an isolated island in the Indian Ocean, land crabs migrate in their millions from the jungle to the sea. The same jungle hides a high-security Australian detention centre where thousands of asylum seekers have been locked away indefinitely. Their only connection to the outside world is trauma counsellor Poh Lin Lee.

Producer: Alex Kelly, Gabrielle Brady, Alexander Wadouh, Samm Haillay, Gizem Arcala

Director: Gabrielle Brady

Editor: Katharina Fiedler

Sound: Leo Dolgan

Cinematographer: Michael Latham

Composer: Aaron Cupples


JILL BILCOCK: DANCING THE INVISIBLE charts how an outspoken Melbourne arts student in the 1960s became one of the world’s most acclaimed film editors. Iconic Australian films STRICTLY BALLROOM, MURIEL’S WEDDING, MOULIN ROUGE!, RED DOG and THE DRESSMAKER all bear the unmistakable look and sensibility of Jill Bilcock’s visual inventiveness; but it was her brave editing choices in Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO + JULIET that changed the look of cinema the world over. With a back-story as colourful and surprising as her films, and featuring commentary from Cate Blanchett, Baz Luhrmann, Phillip Noyce and Fred Schepisi, this documentary is a wonderful insight into the art of editing and the profound impact it has on storytelling.

Producer: Axel Grigor, Faramarz K-Rahber

Director: Axel Grigor

Editor: Axel Grigor, Scott Walton

Sound: Chris Goodes

Cinematographer: Faramarz K-Rahber


Only three centuries ago, setting out to climb a mountain would have been considered close to lunacy. Mountains were places of peril, not beauty, an upper world to be shunned, not sought out. Why do mountains now have us spellbound, drawing us into their dominion often at the cost of our lives? A cinematic and musical collaboration between the Australian Chamber Orchestra and director Jennifer Peedom, MOUNTAIN is a dazzling exploration of our obsession with mountains; showing us the spellbinding force of high places – and their ongoing power to shape our lives and our dreams.

Producer: Jennifer Peedom, Jo-Anne McGowan

Director: Jennifer Peedom

Editor: Christian Gazal, Scott Gray

Sound: David White, Robert Mackenzie

Cinematographer: Renan Ozturk

Composer: Richard Tognetti


WORKING CLASS BOY retraces Jimmy Barnes’ earliest steps from Glasgow to growing up in South Australia. Jimmy reveals the poverty, violence, alcoholism, abuse and neglect he grew up with, the impact on him as a child and the consequences for him as a man. Based on Jimmy’s bestselling memoir, the documentary features powerful and captivating musical moments intertwined with archival footage and interviews with family and friends. Jimmy’s honesty and inimitable sense of Scottish humour create a powerful, emotional and compelling story of damaged childhood, family, a search for love and, finally, redemption.

Producer: Matt Campbell, Andrew Farrell, Mark Joffe, Michael Cordell

Director: Mark Joffe

Editor: Mark Perry

Cinematographer: Henry Pierce

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1 Comment

  1. Where the devil is THE SONG KEEPERS? A commercially successful doc that has moved audiences to tears and applause both times I saw it in cinemas and has a vitally important cultural story to tell.

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