A LITTLE-seen film by a first-time director and a top-rating TV mini-series scooped the pool at last night’s Australian Film Institute awards.
The Black Balloon, debut director Elissa Down’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story of a family dealing with an autistic child, won six awards, including the prestigious Best Film and Best Direction.
On the local industry’s night of nights, international stars including Eric Bana, Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce joined a 1500-strong black-tie audience at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre to celebrate the year’s best film and TV, and pay respects to Heath Ledger, who posthumously won the International Award for Best Actor for his chilling performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Australian screen veteran Michael Caton described the versatile actor as "brilliant but modest, gregarious but shy," as he announced the award to a standing ovation.
Ledger’s mother Sally said he was committed to Australian film: "He loved every chance to be back working with an Aussie cast and crew."
Toni Collette and Luke Ford won a further two awards for The Black Balloon, picking up Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor for their roles as mother Maggie and autistic teenager Charlie Mollison.
Channel Nine’s Melbourne-based gangland saga Underbelly — surely the most pirated DVD of the year — dominated the television categories, winning six awards, including Best TV Drama Series and Best Direction in TV.
Gyton Grantley was named Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his uncanny portrayal of Carl Williams, while Kat Stewart won Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her performance as Williams’ wife, Roberta.
"I’ve been offered a lot of fat roles," said a slim-looking Grantley. "I’ve had to ask my agent to put out a memo that I’m not fat any more."
The Best Lead Actor and Actress awards in film went to William McInnes and Monic Hendrickx, who both starred in the drama about an Afghan refugee, Unfinished Sky.
The multi-faceted Chris Lilley was honoured with the Byron Kennedy award for outstanding creative enterprise, while his ABC-TV hit series Summer Heights High won for Best TV Comedy and Best Performance in a TV Comedy.
The awards host, Stephen Curry, star of the 1997 hit The Castle, was on hand for the announcement that that movie was winner of an online poll for Australia’s favourite film of all time, ahead of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding, Lantana and Gallipoli.