The Australian Film Institute launched its Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) at an event in Circular Quay last night.

Actor Geoffrey Rush was named president of the academy, which is aimed at fostering the local screen industry, particularly through the academy’s annual awards.

“I am honoured to represent our industry as president of the newly-formed Australian Academy,” Rush said. “Over half a century ago the AFI was founded and since that time our film and television industries have developed beyond our wildest imaginings. Through the timely creation of AACTA we have a unique opportunity to galvanise the craft and talent this country endlessly produces.”

Rush also unveiled the new gold-cast AACTA Award statuette, which will make its debut at the Samsung AACTA Awards, held at the Sydney Opera House next January.

AFI/AACTA chief executive Damian Trewhella said the statuette, designed by sculptor Ron Gomboc, tells a uniquely Australian story.

“The statuette sits on a solid base of individually cut and polished tiger iron, which captures not just the strength, but the incredible colours and raw nature of the Australian land. In this, it symbolises the raw and diverse nature of our home grown talent.

“The body of the statuette, representing effort and excellence in human endeavour, silhouettes the triumphal human form and captures the timelessness of the Southern Cross, a constellation that has provided a guiding light and cultural significance to Australians for millennia.”

The academy, and a raft of other changes, were first unveiled by the AFI in June. The changes include a shift in date to late-January (from December) for the inaugural Sydney event, which will be held there for the first time after a decade in Melbourne.

The NSW government is spending $1.7 million a year on the AFIs – almost one-third of the $6.26 million in production financing it invested (via Screen NSW) across 41 film and TV projects in 2009-10.

Other recent changes include adopting a two-step voting model for feature films, which will see AACTA members short-list nominees based on their area of specialisation before a wider AACTA vote.

A full list of the 23 films in competition can be found here.

The AFI will retain its name and continue to connect audiences with Australian screen culture and content, particularly through its general membership, Trewhella said.

Key industry sectors and practitioners will come together under 15 chapters, overseen by the president and an appointed honorary council, who will also assist with policy.

The honorary councillors appointed so far include: Jack Thompson, Abbie Cornish, Fred Schepisi, Jan Chapman AO, Claudia Karvan, Adam Elliot, Emile Sherman, Peter James ACS ASC, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Hobbs, Jan Sardi, Stuart Beattie, Rolf de Heer, Cappi Ireland, Tony Murtagh, David Hirschfelder, Aphrodite Kondos, Antony Partos, Elizabeth Drake, Ian Gracie, Jonathan Chissick and Andrew Mason.

Screen guild and professional association nominees include: Tony Ginanne (former SPAA president), Jacqueline Woodman (Australian Writers Guild executive director), Ray Argall (Australian Directors Guild president) Simon Whipp (Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance director (Equity Section)), Ron Johanson ACS (Australian Cinematographers Guild president), Jason Ballantine ASE (Australian Screen Editors president), Trevor Harrison (Australian Screen Sound Guild president), George Liddle (Australian Production Design Guild secretary), and Jo Smith (Australian Guild of Screen Composers executive director).

Industry figureheads appointed so far include: Mike Baard (Universal Pictures Australia managing director and AFI director), Mike Selwyn (Paramount Pictures Australia/New Zealand managing director and vice president), David Seargeant (Amalgamated Holdings managing director), Christoper Mapp (Omnilab Media managing director), Bob Campbell (Screentime executive director), Greg Coote (Latitude Entertainment chairman), Natalie Miller (Cinema Nova/Sharmill Films), Chris Puplick (NFSA chair), Tony Forrest (Movie Network Channels chief executive officer) and Stuart O’Brien (Ogilvy & Mather Sydney chief executive).

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