The Baz backlash

31 January, 2014 by Don Groves

While a lively debate over the 13 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards for The Great Gatsby rages on social media, TV viewers have given their verdict on the Network Ten telecast.

The delayed two-hour show, which started at 8.30 pm, drew an average audience of 400,000 in the capital cities and a peak of 540,000. That was better than last year’s one-hour telecast which had 331,000 viewers. To be fair the AFI confirmed Ten as its broadcast partner only a couple of weeks before that so there was a lack of promotion last year.


The show, which had a weak lead-in from Jamie Oliver's new series Save with Jamie,  was beaten by Person of Interest on Nine and Bones on Seven.

On Facebook and Twitter there was a pronounced backlash against The Great Gatsby’s domination over The Rocket. Kim Mordaunt’s low-budget Lao-set drama got 12 nominations, two fewer than Baz Luhrmann’s opus, but collected just one award, for Mordaunt’s adapted screenplay.

Perhaps the most trenchant critic is Eva Orner, the US-based, Aussie director of The Network, the documentary which profiled Afghanistan’s first independent TV operation. “Oh AACTA…what are you doing? Giving most major film awards to The Great Gatsby is just silliness,” she posted on Facebook and gave IF permission to run her quotes.

“Comparing an overblown, weak, poorly reviewed, massive budgeted studio film to some solid, tiny budgeted, meaningful Australian films is nonsensical and damaging to the Australian film industry. Makes ZERO sense to me. Gatsby may have blitzed the now meaningless AACTA awards but not faring too well where it is supposed to compete…say at the Academy Awards. I don't get it and quite frankly Baz should be ashamed stealing real "Australian" films' chances and thunder. How would he have felt if Strictly Ballroom had been shut out by a Gatsby, I wonder?

“Why is no-one else yelling about this INCLUDING and ESPECIALLY Screen Oz, Screen NSW, Film Vic, SPAA etc…What’s the point of having a heavily subsidised industry then giving all the awards to a studio film…and shame to all the great Oz films like The Rocket and The Turning?”

Orner’s comments attracted more than 60 likes and numerous supportive comments on Facebook, which suggests a groundswell of opinion in her favour. She won the  Academy Award for best documentary in 2008 for Taxi to the Dark Side and an AFI award for Untold Desires.

"On the money, Ms Orner, absolutely on the money," said Karin Altmann, head of development at ScriptWorks.

AFI/AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella tells IF he welcomes the debate over how to define an Australian film. He said the Academy follows Screen Australia's process of certifying films for the producer offset.

Trewhella declines to reveal voting figures but he said 1,500 members are eligible to vote for most categories and there was a strong response this year.

The best lead actor gong to Leonardo DiCaprio for The Great Gatsby, preferred to fellow nominees Hugo Weaving for The Turning, tyro Sitthiphon Disamoe (The Rocket) and Ewan Leslie (Dead Europe) was derided in some quarters.

“So DiCaprio is Australia's best actor? Wtf?” fumed one FB commenter, Garry Gillard.

The telecast was widely praised on AACTA’s Facebook page but there were a few dissenting voices. “Sorry guys the awards night is pretentious, unreal, false and uninspiring,” said one AACTA member. “The awful scripted autocue is just pathetic. Best [were] Delta Goodrem and Jacki Weaver… Shane Bourne's opening was just embarrassing. Get a pro event producer. We make brilliant film and TV but we can't do a decent natural, down to earth awards night.”

Said another unimpressed viewer, “I'm watching the award speeches and your camera men suck! As the awardees are making their speeches and they are referring to audience members you haven't got a camera lined up! No expressions captured from the fabulously famous stars in their seats… All we have is a portrait shot of 1 of them speaking.”

Producer Tony Buckley welcomed the reinstatement of the  Raymond Longford award in the night-time ceremony after being relegated to the awards luncheon.  He was delighted that this year's recipient Jacki Weaver  acknowledged Longford's partner Lottie Lyell, observing, "That's all the more reason to elevate the award to the Longford-Lyell and have Jacki present it next year to whomever the worthy recipient is."

The AACTA International Awards have come under fire again. One commenter vented on Facebook, “Yes AACTA has become a bit of a farce…glam events in Hollywood presenting awards to people who never entered their films (or care about getting one). How much did that cost? No wonder the entry fees are so high!”

AACTA has defended the international categories as attractive to sponsors and as a cross-subsidy to the Australian awards.