'Babyteeth' casting director Kirsty Mcgregor, director Shannon Murphy, star Eliza Scanlen, producer Alex White and EP Jan Chapman. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images for AFI)

Bittersweet comedy Babyteeth has swept this year’s AACTA Awards, picking up seven prizes at Monday’s ceremony including Best Film and Best Direction for debut filmmaker Shannon Murphy.

The film’s stars Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace took home the best lead actress and actor gongs, Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn were decorated in the supporting acting categories, and scribe Rita Kalnejais, who adapted her 2012 Belvoir Street play, also won the best screenplay award.

The prizes add to the two Babyteeth already collected at the Friday industry awards, including Best Casting, presented to Kirsty McGregor and Stevie Ray, and Best Score, to composer Amanda Brown.

Babyteeth follows Milla (Scanlen), a seriously ill teenager who falls madly in love with smalltime drug dealer, Moses (Wallace). It’s her parents’ (Mendelsohn and Essie Davis) worst nightmare – but as Milla’s love brings her a new lust for life, things get messy and traditional morals go out the window.

The genre-subverting film premiered in competition at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, where it won rave reviews and Wallace was awarded the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor.

In the wake of the premiere, Murphy, who has also helmed Killing Eve, was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch, and was attached to direct episodes of Amazon series The Power and Australian-UK co-production The Strays.

On accepting her award, she said: “Babyteeth is a film about how good it is not to be dead yet, and how important it is to cherish the moments you have with those you love. And I love the people that made this film with me and I cherish what they gave me during this process.”

‘Babyteeth’.

Like Murphy, Babyteeth was producer Alex White’s first film. She pushed for years, working with executive producer Jan Chapman, her mentor, to bring Kalnejais’ play to screen, battling stops and starts in finance.

Accepting the best film prize, she said: “This is the sum of everyone’s work. It was a small film, but we had big ambitions.”

Recently seen in the Academy Award-nominated Little Women, a clearly moved Scanlen accepted her award stating: “This film changed my life. It means so much to me and I feel so proud to be standing up here today representing this film.”

Mendo, currently sporting a shaved head, recorded his acceptance speech in a bathrobe on a rooftop in Sicily, where he doing night shoots.

“I love Babyteeth. Of the films of mine that I’ve seen, it’s my favourite. To me, it’s got all the great Australian virtues. Importantly, it seemed to me to be about people who have flaws – ridiculous flaws, funny flaws – who are desperately trying to contribute and be together in a really difficult circumstance. To me, that’s a lot like being in the film business.”

Ben Mendelsohn’s acceptance speech.

Steve Vidler’s Standing Up For Sunny took home the Best Indie Film prize, which recognises filmmaking under $2 million.

Produced by Ticket to Ride’s Jamie Hilton, Michael Pontin and Drew Bailey, the film follows an isolated guy with cerebral palsy, played by Breaking Bad‘s RJ Mitte, who is railroaded into helping an unassertive comedienne, and finds love and acceptance through standup comedy.

Nel Minchin and Wayne Blair’s Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra took home the Best Documentary gong. Produced by Ivan O’Mahoney the film follows the 30-year history of the Bangarra Dance Company and its founders, brothers Stephen, Russell, and David Page.

Accepting the award O’Mahoney noted the “incredible partnership” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers.

“All that we hoped for was that, in the end, [Bangarra] would be proud of the film, it would feel like it told a truthful story and that it would help in securing the legacy which they so deserve. They are simply astonishing and I think that their work is more important than ever,” he said.

‘Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra’.

This year’s AACTA Award Ceremony was a little different thanks to COVID, with the awards split over two sessions: film and television.

New AACTA president Russell Crowe addressed the crowd via video link, emphasising his intention to be more than just a figurehead.

The actor, director and producer hopes to raise the ambition of AACTA and the industry at large, and said he would be calling on the government to ensure the current influx of production in Australia can be maintained.

“Given Australia’s positive handling of the coronavirus, and strong leadership by state premiers, there’s a lot of production going on here at the moment and more to come,” Crowe said.

“I want to encourage the Federal Government to use this time to set a platform so this rise in production can be facilitated to continue. Given the right support, the screen industry can be used as a powerful driver for economic recovery; a screen industry set after all is indeed a village with so many diverse skills required.”

‘Standing Up For Sunny’.

In television, Stateless gathered added another seven awards to the six it already picked up on Friday, including Best Telefeature or Mini Series.

The ABC drama, produced by Matchbox Pictures and Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton’s Dirty Films, follows four strangers whose lives collide in an immigration detention centre in the Australian desert.

The series dominated the acting gongs, with Yvonne Strahovski and Fayssal Bazzi named Best Lead Actress and Best Lead Actor respectively, and Darren Gilshenan and Cate Blanchett recognised in the supporting categories.

Elise McCredie, who co-created the show with Blanchett and Tony Ayres, won Best Screenplay in Television for the first episode, The Circumstances in Which They Come, with Emma Freeman also recognised with Best Direction for the same ep.

Bunya Productions’ Mystery Road won Best Drama Series, the second time the series has won in the category.

Lingo Pictures’ Upright, a Foxtel/Sky UK production that follows two misfits as they travel across the Nullabor with a piano, snared two gongs, Best Comedy Program and Best Comedy Performer for Tim Minchin. In addition to acting, the multi-hyphenate Minchin was also a writer, executive producer and the composer for the series.

For the second year running, Australia’s most popular television series, ABC/Ludo Studio’s Bluey won Best Children’s Program.

Best Documentary or Factual Program went to CJZ/Seven’s Murder in The Outback: The Falconio And Less Mystery, while Best Factual Entertainment Program was won by Foxtel/10/Endemol Shine Australia’s Googlebox Australia.

Yvonne Strahovski, Cate Blanchett and director Emma Freeman on the set of ‘Stateless’.

As AACTA celebrates its 10th year, the Byron Kennedy Award was a little different than usual. Normally given to an individual or organisation who demonstrates outstanding creative enterprise, this yar the Academy chose to celebrate the decade’s best indie genre films, ultimately awarding the prize to Jennifer Kent’s debut feature The Babadook.

This is the fourth AACTA for the film, which in 2014 won Best Film (with The Water Diviner), Best Direction and Best Screenplay.

Accepting the Byron Kennedy Award via video link, Kent said: “Before we made The Babadook I wasn’t even really sure I could make a first-time feature. It seemed like like an insurmountable task. But it was really drawing on the inspiration of filmmakers like Byron and George, whose first feature was, of course, the inimitable and brilliant Mad Max. Filmmakers like this gave me the courage to step in and realise my vision.”

AACTA president Russell Crowe was there in spirit. (Photo by Brook Mitchell/Getty Images for AFI)

See the full list of winners below:

  • AACTA Award Best Telefeature or Mini Series: Stateless Cate Blanchett, Elise McCredie, Tony Ayres, Sheila Jayadev, Paul Ranford, Liz Watts, Andrew Upton—Matchbox Pictures, Dirty Films (ABC)
  • AACTA Award Best Reality Program: Masterchef Australia Marty Benson, Adam Fergusson—Endemol Shine Australia (Network Ten)
  • AACTA Award Best Entertainment Program: Have You Been Paying Attention? Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Michael Hirsh, Rob Sitch—Working Dog Productions (Network Ten)
  • AACTA Award Best Lifestyle Program – The Living Room Sarah Thornton, Caroline Spencer, Nicole Rogers, Ciaran Flannery—Network Ten (Network Ten)
  • AACTA Award Best Online Entertainment: The Norris Nuts Sabre Norris, Sockie Norris, Biggie Norris, Naz Norris—The Norris Nuts
  • AACTA Award Best Online Drama or Comedy: Love In Lockdown Robyn Butler, Wayne Hope, Lucy Durack, Eddie Perfect—Gristmill
  • AACTA Award Best Children’s Program: Bluey Joe Brumm, Charlie Aspinwall, Sam Moor, Daley Pearson—Ludo Studio (ABC)
  • AACTA Award Best Comedy Entertainment Program: Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell Shaun Micallef, Peter Beck, Gary McCaffrie—ITV Studios Australia, Giant Baby Productions (ABC)
  • AACTA Award Best Drama Series: Mystery Road David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin—Bunya Productions (ABC)
  • AACTA Award Best Comedy Series: Upright Jason Stephens, Helen Bowden, Melissa Kelly, Chris Taylor, Tim Minchin—Lingo Pictures (Foxtel)
  • AACTA Award Best Factual Entertainment Program: Gogglebox Australia Howard Myers, David McDonald, Kerrie Kerr—Endemol Shine, Network Ten, Foxtel (Foxtel, Network Ten)
  • AACTA Award Best Documentary or Factual Program: Murder in The Outback: The Falconio And Less Mystery Andrew Farrell, Matt Campbell, Bethan Arwel-Lewis, Sophie Meyrick—CJZ (Seven Network)
  • AACTA Award Subscription Television Award for Best Presenter: Rebel Wilson—LOL: Last One Laughing Australia
  • AACTA Award Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama: Fayssal Bazzi (Stateless)
  • AACTA Award Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama: Yvonne Strahovski (Stateless)
  • AACTA Award Best Guest or Supporting Actor in a Television Drama: Darren Gilshenan (Stateless)
  • AACTA Award Best Guest or Supporting Actress in a Television Drama: Cate Blanchett (Stateless)
  • AACTA Award Best Screenplay in Television: Elise McCredie Stateless Episode 1 – The Circumstances in Which They Come
  • AACTA Award Best Direction in a TV Drama or Comedy: Emma Freeman Stateless Episode 1 – The Circumstances in Which They Come
  • AACTA Award Best Comedy Performer: Tim Minchin (Upright)
  • AACTA Award Best Film presented by Foxtel: Babyteeth Alex White—Whitefalk Films
  • AACTA Award Best Indie Film: Standing Up For Sunny Steve Vidler (Dir), Jamie Hilton, Michael Pontin, Drew Bailey—Ticket To Ride
  • AACTA Award Best Asian Film: Better Days Kwok Cheung Tsang (Dir.), Jojo Yuet-Jan Hui
  • AACTA Award Best Documentary: Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra Nel Minchin (Dir.), Wayne Blair (Dir.), Ivan O’Mahoney—In Films
  • AACTA Award Best Screenplay in Film: Rita Kalnejais (Babyteeth)
  • AACTA Award Best Direction in Film: Shannon Murphy (Babyteeth)
  • AACTA Award Best Lead Actor in Film: Toby Wallace (Babyteeth)
  • AACTA Award Best Lead Actress in Film: Eliza Scanlen (Babyteeth)
  • AACTA Award Best Supporting Actor in Film: Ben Mendelsohn (Babyteeth)
  • AACTA Award Best Supporting Actress in Film: Essie Davis (Babyteeth)
  • AACTA Award Best Short Film: The Mirror Joel Kohn (Dir.), Mike Horvath, Tom Davies—Screen Invaders, Finest Hour Company, Savvy Cinema
  • AACTA Award Best VFX or Animation: The Eight Hundred Tim Crosbie, Joy Wu, Jason Troughton, Tom Wood, Julian Hutchens—Rising Sun Pictures\
  • Byron Kennedy Award – The Babadook

For the winner’s from Friday’s AACTA Industry Awards, go here.

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