February 1, 2012
IT WAS one more triumphant yelp for Red Dog. The warm-hearted hit film won the top prize at the first Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards at the Opera House last night.
The comic drama by the director Kriv Stenders about a kelpie who unites a mining community in the Pilbara, loosely based on a true story from the 1970s, added best film to the previously announced member’s choice award.
But with Red Dog’s directing, actors and craft nominees all overlooked, the intense drama Snowtown surprisingly won four of the stylish trophies modelled on the Southern Cross at the replacement for the Australian Film Institute Awards.
Presenters at the black-tie ceremony included the Australian of the Year and academy president Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Mia Wasikowska, Anthony LaPaglia and Jacki Weaver, with performances by Olivia Newton-John and Megan Washington.
Accepting best film, Red Dog’s producer, Nelson Woss, said making the film was like one of the real-life dog’s journeys – ”it took a long time and there were so many people involved”.
While Koko, who played Red Dog, had retired from the film business to be his family’s dog in Perth, Woss said he had brought his collar to the awards for good luck.
Justin Kurzel’s dark Snowtown, which dramatised South Australia’s infamous bodies-in-the-barrels murders using mostly non-actors from the Adelaide suburbs, where the early crimes took place, won best direction, best actor for little-known Daniel Henshall, best adapted screenplay for Shaun Grant and, in the night’s biggest upset, best supporting actress for first-timer Louise Harris.
Henshall took the role of serial killer John Bunting to break away from being cast as an ”affable loser” in TV shows and commercials. He beat three big names – Geoffrey Rush for The Eye of the Storm, Willem Dafoe for The Hunter and David Wenham for Oranges and Sunshine.
Henshall thanked Kurzel, saying he was ”not just a director, he’s a f—ing genius”.
Kurzel cast Harris, a non-actor, as the mother of teenage killer Jamie Vlassakis after seeing her arguing in the street.
She was considered a long-shot against Helen Morse and Alexandra Schepisi (both for The Eye of the Storm) and young Morgana Davies (The Hunter).
Hugo Weaving, a three-time AFI winner, won best supporting actor for playing a former ”lost child” shipped to Australia in the drama Oranges and Sunshine.
In the TV categories, the drama The Slap won five prizes and the Tim Winton adaptation Cloudstreet won best young actor for Lara Robinson.
Asher Keddie, who memorably played Ita Buttrose in the mini-series Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, collected the audience choice award for best performance in a TV drama.
Packed to the Rafters collected the audience choice award for best TV program.