Cate Blanchett-led refugee drama Stateless and Shannon Murphy’s coming-of-age film Babyteeth have blitzed the 2020 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (Aacta) awards, sharing 22 wins between them at an unusual ceremony capping off an unusual year.
A seemingly smaller than usual selection of films and TV shows graced the nomination lists this year, with the industry mainly celebrating productions that were completed before Covid-19 restrictions hit.
Russell Crowe, newly inaugurated president of the academy, addressed the socially distanced ceremony at The Star casino in Sydney on Monday afternoon remotely – from a locale he referred to only as “the bush” – saying he hoped to see more federal support for film and television in post-Covid Australia.
“Twelve months ago this area around here was scorched and burnt,” he said. “I imagine there’s a lot of you feeling the same way for what has been a very challenging year for the arts. Just as these paddocks and trees have new growth, the same thing will happen with our screen industry.”
He noted the Australian government’s handling of the pandemic and the fact that low case numbers meant screen production had restarted here.
“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,” Crowe said. “Given the right support, the screen industry can be used as a powerful driver for economic recovery.”
This year, the main ceremony was split into two events: film, followed by TV. The TV categories were dominated by the ABC drama Stateless, which Blanchett co-created, co-executive produced and co-starred in. The series, directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse, follows four people as they interact with Australia’s notoriously harsh immigration detention system, and is reportedly based on true stories. Guardian reviewer Luke Buckmaster called it a “gripping” drama with a “curious mixture of nail-biting verisimilitude and psychologically charged aesthetic”.
The cast of Stateless, including Fayssal Bazzi, Yvonne Strahovski, Darren Gilshenan, and Blanchett won all of the acting awards for TV drama. The show was announced best telefeature or miniseries, and also swept up statuettes for best screenplay (Elise McCredie) and best direction. It bested other multiple nominees Bloom and Mystery Road; the latter of which, however, did win best drama series.
Meanwhile, the film categories were dominated by Babyteeth, which Observer reviewer Wendy Ide called “possibly the most joyous, life-affirming film ever to be made about terminal disease.”
Babyteeth – Shannon Murphy’s directorial debut – won for best film, best screenplay (Rita Kalnejais) and best direction, and also cleaned up in the acting categories, with Eliza Scanlen winning best lead actress for her turn as cancer-diagnosed teen Milla, Toby Wallace best lead actor, Ben Mendelsohn best supporting actor and Essie Davis taking home best supporting actress in a film.
Mendelsohn accepted his award from Sicily, appearing in a prerecorded video in a bathrobe at 4am after a late night shoot. “I love Babyteeth,” he said. “Of the films of mine that I’ve seen, it’s my favourite.”
Babyteeth also received awards for best casting and best original score, bringing its total awards to nine, from 12 nominations.
In slightly lighter fare, Tim Minchin’s comedy TV series Upright won best in that category, while Minchin himself won best comedy performer. Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell won in the marginally different category of best comedy entertainment program.
The wildly popular Emmy-award-winning cartoon Bluey was awarded best children’s program.
The Aactas are traditionally presented across two dates, the first being the industry luncheon – this year replaced by an online event last week – which honour the less high profile craft practitioners, such as those in cinematography, costume and make-up, editing, score and sound.
Stateless also dominated the craft awards, with its first episode, The Circumstances in Which They Come, yielding five of the six awards the show picked up last week. The others were for best cinematography, costume design, editing, production design, and sound in the television categories. Episode six of the series also won the award for best original score.
The True History of the Kelly Gang, which had seemed a strong contender in the film categories and was nominated for 10 awards, picked up three in craft: best costume design, hair and make-up, and production design. The Invisible Man, starring US actor Elisabeth Moss, also picked up three craft awards, for cinematography, editing and sound.
Indigenous legal academic, writer and filmmaker Larissa Behrendt won the award for best direction in nonfiction television for her work on Maralinga Tjarutja, a documentary about the nuclear testing on Indigenous country in the 1950s and 60s and the consequences for the local people.
Also honoured was Jennifer Kent, who was announced as the recipient of the Byron Kennedy award for low-budget genre filmmaking and creative resilience over the past decade for her international success with the 2014 film, The Babadook.
See the Aactas website for a full list of winners and nominees. Highlights from Monday’s ceremony will be broadcast on Channel Seven on Wednesday at 8.30pm.