Video Interviews with Winners in the Media Room

What a night it was! Whether you watched the broadcast of the inaugural Samsung AACTA Awards Ceremony on the Nine Network on Tuesday 31 January, or whether you were lucky enough to be in attendance at the Sydney Opera House, there was entertainment in abundance – the fabulous spectacle of the red carpet, musical numbers by some of Australia’s finest entertainers, and a terric Afterparty blessed with only an exciting sprinkle of rain.

But of course at the heart of it all, the reason for the Ceremony’s very existence, were the awards themselves – the announcement of this year’s winners. Congratulations again to all the winners of the inaugural Samsung AACTA Awards.

Back stage, the winners were escorted to the media room where they spoke to journalists and had their official photographs taken.

These interviews on the media room stage were sometimes breathless (there are a lot of stairs in the Sydney Opera House!), candid, and offered a great chance for the winners to talk in more depth about the characters and shows they brought to our screens in the past year. It’s well worth a visit to our YouTube site to see these interviews with the winners and click through to the ones you’re most interested in. Here’s just a taste, with an interview with Best Lead Actor winner Daniel Henshall, who picked up the AACTA Award for his performance in the grimly impressive Snowtown.

For more interviews, check out the Australian Film Institute | AACTA Youtube site.

Inhabiting Snowtown: Talking to the Actors

By Rochelle Siemienowicz

Snowtown Movie

What’s it like to play one of Australia’s cruellest and most notorious serial killers? Or the teenage boy who helped himSnowtown poster torture, murder and dispose of eight bodies in barrels of acid? Or for an even more subtle challenge, what’s it like to play the mother of the boy, who lives with these murders happening under her nose, yet turns a blind eye because she wants to keep her family together?

Here we talk to three of the actors who bring to life these historical characters in the new Australian film Snowtown, directed by Justin Kurzel, written by Shaun Grant and produced by Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw. It’s a grim and shocking story to be sure, and certainly not a film for those with weak stomachs. But the performances, by a predominantly untrained Adelaide cast, are powerful and convincing.

Daniel Henshall plays John Bunting

Daniel Henshall as John Bunting

Daniel Henshall as John Bunting

Daniel Henshall is one of the few professionally trained and experienced actors in the cast of Snowtown. As the sociopathic John Bunting, ringleader of the serial killing gang who operated in Adelaide’s northern suburbs in the 1990s, he’s chillingly charming, disarmingly ‘nice’ in fact. With his round pleasant face and warm brown eyes, it’s easy to see why a lonely single mother and her ‘lost boy’ sons might fall for him. Henshall graduated from the Actors Centre Australia in 2006 with an Advanced Diploma of Performing Arts, and since then has appeared in television shows including All Saints, Rescue, Out of the Blue and in theatre productions for Belvoir St Downstairs, Paramatta Riverside and the Seymour Centre. He will also be seen in the upcoming feature Any Questions for Ben? from Working Dog Productions, directed by Rob Sitch. Snowtown is Henshall’s first feature film.

AFI: As one of the few professionally trained actors on set, did you find yourself helping and mentoring the others?

Daniel Henshall: I was in constant amazement, actually. They blew me away at every step, to be honest. Everything that I thought I knew was given back to me tenfold. These guys were just brave and brilliant. It was very much a team effort, and this was fostered by the three-week rehearsal period where we just spent so much time hanging around together, really getting to know each other and form these real relationships.

AFI: Was it daunting to be playing somebody so evil, and yet trying to give them a human face?

Daniel Henshall: Yes, yes! It was daunting for a number of reasons. Daunting because it was my first feature film;

Lucas Pittaway and Daniel Henshall

"Looking for a father." Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) and John (Daniel Henshall).

daunting because of the way we were working, very improvised-based, and spending twelve weeks out there, in a place that I hadn’t been before, and coming into a community where I was an outsider. And also daunting because of the responsibility of being one of the more experienced actors, and having to play this central character in the story. But it was a challenge, and I was ready for it and excited by it.

AFI: A lot of detail about the historical events and characters has been supressed for legal reasons.  Were there any key details or facts that gave you the opening to understanding and playing John Bunting?

Daniel Henshall: Yes, from the outset it was helpful to meet people who had met John during time he spent in prison, or people who knew about him through six degrees of separation. It was always going to be an interpretation. We were never trying to mimic, but were trying to make it believable and make it fit in my skin. The fact that he was a father figure who believed that he himself was integrity. He also had a vulnerability. There was something in Debi Marshall’s book [Killing for Pleasure] which made him seem like a child who hadn’t gotten the love he deserved and made him constantly search for a family, and when he got it, he held onto it, and thought he was going to save the day. All this beside the fact of the bloodlust and the psychopathic inhumane human that he was.

AFI: Did it give you nightmares to have to depict such disturbing acts and having to access such dark emotions?

Daniel Henshall: I think one way of dealing with it was that we laughed a lot between takes – not to take anything away from the sensitivity of the story or events, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but we had to support each other and be very open about what we were doing, checking in on each other and making sure everyone was okay.

Lucas Pittaway plays Jamie Vlassakis

Lucas Pittaway as Jamie Vlassakis

Lucas Pittaway as Jamie Vlassakis

18-year-old Lucas Pittaway is on his way to Cannes right now, to attend Snowtown’s screening in the prestigious Critics Week program. It’s a world away from his local northern Adelaide shopping centre where he was discovered buying jellybeans at the Reject Shop by Snowtown’s casting director. Working odd jobs, with vague plans to become an army mechanic, Pittaway’s life has been transformed by the role  of Jamie Vlassakis, a vulnerable boy living in a poor single-parent household, groomed and corrupted by John Bunting.

AFI: What was it like to see yourself up on the big screen for the first time when you saw the finished film?

Lucas Pittaway: I was shocked. I didn’t know how to react. I was watching myself with criticism and thinking  “oh, don’t do that!” But then the second time I saw it I was able to watch it as a film.

AFI: What were the key pieces of information you used to create your interpretation of this character, given that so little is known about him due to legal supression?

Lucas Pittaway: It was actually quite hard because there wasn’t much to grab hold of and use. It was more just following the script and taking direction from Justin [Kurzel] – reacting to events that were depicted, and imagining how he was before and after these things had happened.

AFI: You come from the area where this film is set, in Adelaide’s tough northern suburbs. How would you describe this area to people who have no idea what it’s like?

Lucas Pittaway: It’s unlooked after. It’s just been left. Many years ago it was probably the next big thing, but it’s just been left alone and now it’s run down.

AFI: What do you think is the reaction of the poople from the area who have seen the film?

Lucas Pittaway: I think they have a sense of pride and a sense of recognition. It’s so real – the performances, the people, the locations, the way we speak and act. They know it’s not just someone from Victoria coming over and pretending to be ‘in the know’. No, it’s local cast, and they’ll be like, “there’s a face I recognise from the IGA the other day!”

AFI: How did you unwind after shooting the more gruesome scenes in the film?

Lucas Pittaway: I’d go home and talk to my brother, and watch a bit of comedy on TV, just to take my mind off things. You had to learn to separate yourself from it. Also, there were a lot of happy days on set, especially around the start of filming, and then the heaviness gradually built up. There was heaps of support, and often I’d get a phonecall when I got home after a heavy day, from either Justin or Dan, checking in and giving me a boost.

AFI: We hear you are intending to head down the acting path as a career now?

Lucas Pittaway: Oh yeah, I’m already down that track. I’ve got myself an agent and started auditioning for roles. I’m working on a short film with Max Doyle, who is a photographer for Vogue magazine and that starts in a couple of days. So hopefully this is something I can continue to do. Right now I’m getting ready for Cannes and it’s my first time overseas, so that’s very exciting.

Louise Harris is Elizabeth Harvey

Louise Harris as Elizabeth Harvey

A single mother looking for security in all the wrong places. Louise Harris as Elizabeth Harvey

What kind of woman would let a killer into her home and into the lives of her young sons? The answer of course, is complicated: desperation, poverty and a desire for love and security. It’s a tough ask for any trained actress to depict such a character, yet Louise Harris, a complete beginner, brings an amazing combination of  pinched vulnerability and wilful blindess to the role. Harris, an award winning chef turned full time single mother was out shopping at the local deli when she was spotted by director Justin Kurzel and asked to audition.  The experience was life-changing.

AFI: How did it feel to see yourself up on the big screen in this role?

Louise Harris: I was gobsmacked! Seeing myself up there looking as hard as Elizabeth does, it was a bit scary. [It should be noted that Harris is much prettier and softer in person than the hardbitten woman she plays on screen]. But watching it through the second time, I was able to appreciate what we’d made and the effect we’d had. It was awesome. I’m really proud of what we’ve done.

AFI: What is your understanding about why Elizabeth let a man like John Bunting into her life?

Louise Harris: Well I think John Bunting played up his family-oriented ideals, and that’s exactly what she was looking for when he came into her life. I think she felt she didn’t have that family structure, and he brought routine and a bit of structure for the children. He made it into more of a real family than she’d ever experienced. And he was charming, and had a way with words. He was not a stupid man.

AFI: She turned a blind eye to what she knew was happening, didn’t she?

Louise Harris: I think she didn’t want to know in the beginning. I think she suspected, but she wanted to believe in the knight in shining armour that had come into her life, and then once she knew for sure, she didn’t know how to handle it at that point. When he let her down, there wasn’t really much she could do.

AFI: You come from the area in Adelaide’s northern suburbs where most of the action takes place. How would you describe it?

Louise Harris: I’d call it the Harlem of Adelaide. It’s primarily lower income and higher crime rate. It’s a housing trust kind of area. Not the sort of place where you walk around dressed in drag and get away with it. It’s pretty much people keeping to themselves. You sort of keep your eyes down. Not that it’s all negative but you do have to earn people’s trust.

AFI: And what was your work life before you acted in the film?

Louise Harris: I’m a qualified chef and I primarily worked in the hospitality industry until I fell pregnant with my son. He’s just started school, so yeah, I was a single mum.

AFI: Did you ever have any acting aspirations?

Louise Harris: Not at all. This was the first and only time I’ve ever acted. I didn’t even take drama at school. Not that I wasn’t interested, it’s just that I’d rather have done sports or something. I didn’t think I had it in me. But to be honest, after this experience I would just love to have another go at it.

Snowtown releases nationally in Australia on 19 May.

Director – Justin Kurzel. Producers –  Anna McLeish & Sarah Shaw. Executive Producers – Robin Gutch & Mark Herbert. Writer – Shaun Grant. Cinematography – Adam Arkapaw. Editor -Veronika Jenet ASE. Sound Designer – Frank Lipson MPSE. Compser – Jed Kurzel. Production Designer – Fiona Crombie. Costumer Designers – Alice Babidge & Fiona Crombie. Casting – Allison Meadows & Mullinars Consultants. Filmed on location in South Australia.

Watch the trailer for a taste:

Guest Post: Paul Anthony Nelson introduces WHY I ADORE: AFI EDITION.

angry person image

Ah, the Internet. It’s brought the world together, changed the way we communicate and given everyone a global voice. Trouble is, for the ‘first world’ Film and TV fan, it’s also given birth to the phenomenon of the Troll. You know the ones: disproportionate sense of entitlement fused with a perpetual state of cynicism and negativity, prone to personal insults and general buzzkill. Yet, so prevalent are these attitudes, they’ve found their way into mainstream media discourse.

The only house rule? NO NEGATIVITY. We’re here to celebrate what moves us and, perhaps, bring positivity back in style.

And you know what? I’m tired of it.

So I created WHY I ADORE, a blog with the sole aim of welcoming people to write about something they love about film and television, in defiant response to this pervasive culture of hate and snark. Guest writers can gush about any aspect they choose:

A film. TV show. Actor. Filmmaker. Technician. Scene. Shot. Genre. Period of time…

Almost a year after starting the website, it’s my honour and privilege to launch our first spin-off: WHY I ADORE: AFI EDITION, where Australian film and TV practitioners and fans wax rhapsodic about their filmic objects of adoration! WHY I ADORE seems right at home at the AFI, an institution devoted to celebrating our nation’s screen achievements. What’s more, they were crazy enough to let me kick it off…

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Sweet, funny, serious: Maeve Dermody and Leon Ford take on the AFI Quick Quiz

March 17 saw the national release of Griff the Invisible, an Australian romantic comedy with a spunky superhero twist. The feature debut from writer-director Leon Ford stars Ryan Kwanten as Griff, a mild-mannered office worker with quixotic dreams of saving the world. He falls in love with a Melody (Maeve Dermody), a girl as delightfully odd as himself.

In celebration of the film’s release, we posed the new AFI Quick Quiz* to the film’s lead actress, Maeve Dermody and filmmaker Leon Ford. What turns them on? What turns them off? What was the film that changed their lives? Find out here.

Maeve Dermody

Maeve Dermody

Maeve Dermody

Now a local acting sensation, Maeve made her feature film debut in 1993 with Breathing Under Water. Since then, she’s performed on both stage and screen and has earned two Best Supporting Actress AFI Award nominations for her roles in Black Water (2008) and Beautiful Kate (2009). Fresh off the stage from Company B Belvoir’s latest production of Measure for Measure, Dermody is now celebrating her turn as the eccentric and scientifically minded Melody in Griff the Invisible.

Q: What’s your favourite word?
A: Vastidity [vastness, immensity]

Q: What’s your least favourite word?
A: Babe

Q: What turns you on?
A: Laughter

Q: What turns you off?
A: Bad punctutation

Q: What sound or noise do you love?
A: The sound of a bath running.

Q: What sound or noise do you hate?
A: Jack-hammer

Q: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A: Author/writer

Q: What profession would you not like to do?
A: Air Hostess

Q: The last film or DVD you watched?
A: Father of my Children

Q: The film that changed you, and why?
A: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – it’s deeply intelligent while also being funny, honest and moving.

Q: Your guilty television pleasure?

A: True Blood – although I don’t feel so guilty about it.

Q:Can you name three key mentors who’ve inspired or helped you?
A: My Mum, my high school English teacher and the author Siri Hustvedt via her writing.

Q: Complete this sentence: The thing I love about working in the Australian film and television industry is…A: …we are constantly given the chance to reinvent ourselves.

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Flickerfest director Bronwyn Kidd talks up short films.

“The freshest, most innovative and independent platform for storytelling in cinema today.” Flickerfest director Bronwyn Kidd talks up short films.

Bronwyn Kidd has been the director of the Flickerfest short film festival for the past 14 years, but her enthusiasm for the form remains undimmed. She’s curated hundreds of national and international short film programs and participated in juries and conferences all over the world. Short film festivals may be a dime a dozen, but Flickerfest is special for a number of reasons – from its national touring program, to its Academy® Award accreditation and BAFTA recognition. Then there’s the Flickerfest Short Film Bureau, established in 2002 to distribute  Australian short films internationally.

Bronwyn Kidd Headshot

Flickerfest Director Bronwyn Kidd

This year Flickerfest celebrates its 20th birthday with a showcase DVD full of films that have received major international recognition.  Highlights include work from directors like David Michod, Warwick Thornton, Cate Shortland, Nash Edgerton and Sean Byrne – lots of evidence that this festival knows how to pick early talent.

Here we talk to Bronwyn Kidd about why the short film format endures, why they’re not just a training ground for L-Plate filmmakers, and the avenues to sell short films to the international market.

Q: What is it that you love about the short film format? And is it hard to maintain the passion after so many years?

I love short films because they are the freshest, most innovative and independent platform for storytelling in cinema today. Filmmakers can experiment, play with form and tell stories of immediate cultural relevance  without the years of process  that it takes to produce a feature film, and the editorial and creative interference that comes into play when big budgets and commercial concerns are at stake. For these reasons it’s not hard for me to maintain my passion for short films over the years, I’m constantly surprised and I never get bored watching them.

Q: What do you say to people who argue that short films are merely a training ground for L-plate filmmakers?

Like short stories, some subjects and ideas lend themselves perfectly to the short film form and it takes a lot of talent to make a great short film work. For me, short film is not a means to an end; it is an art form within itself and should therefore hold this legitimate place within cinema culture.

Q: What are the key avenues for international distribution of the films in the Flickerfest Short Film Bureau?

Flickerfest is distributing Australian short films to broadcasters across the world through our many contacts built up since 2002 when we opened the distribution arm of our activity. Certainly there is a great market for Australian shorts in Europe particularly across broadcast platforms which have the most lucrative returns for short film and the biggest appetite for them in the world . Travelling to markets such as Clermont Ferrand and  World Wide Short Film Festival in Toronto keeps us up to date with the short film market globally and maintains the important contacts and relationships required to market Australian short films to the world.

Q: As director of Flickerfest for the last 14 years, what are the most exciting changes you’ve noticed in terms of short filmmaking?

I think that the short films being produced have become more sophisticated as the short film format has grown in popularity. From an Australian perspective, the stories that we are producing seem to be becoming better crafted with higher production values and more innovative storytelling each year. The gag film trend is less and less noticeable, so I guess that heralds maturity in our short film making not so evident in the early days. I am also noticing that filmmakers now see the value in producing three or four short films that demonstrate their craft and skills before they go on to make a feature. This engagement with the short film as a crucial  tool in developing a career is an important element in the future strength and success of our local film industry.

Q: What achievements are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of Flickerfest becoming Australia’s only Academy® Accredited short film festival in 2002 and of our BAFTA recognition achieved this year,  both of which ensure our ongoing  international profile, a record of almost 1800 entries received for 2011 and the very high standard of competition that we are able to present. Locally, growing the touring venues across Australia from three in 1997 to 30 venues this year, and creating greater access for national audiences to see quality Australian and international short films is fantastic.

Our TV show Flickerfest on EXTRA, on Movie EXTRA, 20th anniversary DVD produced with Madman and other distribution activities are instrumental in bringing short films out of the festival arena and into the faces of wider audiences across Australia.

Q: As a participant on many juries what are you looking for when you judge a short film?

A great short film should be surprising and innovative in the story that it tells and the creative form that it takes, ultimately making you see the world in a different way.

Q: What are the highlights on this anniversary edition DVD and why should we buy it?

Containing 23 classic award-winning Australian short films our DVD is jam-packed with Flickerfest favourites and is the quintessential 2 disc collection for lovers of short film. A few highlights for me include David MichÔd’s Crossbow, Warwick Thornton’s Nana, the hilarious Crystal Bear winning Franswa Sharl, quirky short doc Dance Like Your Old Man by Chunky Move and the thrilling action packed animation Ward 13. It demonstrates just how much talent exists in this country amongst our  wonderfully creative and innovative storytellers.

On a personal note, we ask Bronwyn Kidd to take the AFI Quick Quiz. Notice how she manages to eventually bring it all back to short films!

  1. What is your favorite word? passion
  2. What is your least favorite word? Stress
  3. What turns you on? Discovering great short films and being able to share them with audiences across Australia.
  4. What turns you off? Not having enough hours in the day.
  5. What sound or noise do you love? The sound of the ocean.
  6. What sound or noise do you hate? Garbage trucks at 5am in the morning!
  7. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Naturopathy I’m very interested in alternative health
  8. What profession would you not like to do? Parachutist – I have incredible vertigo and a very bad fear of heights.
  9. The last film or DVD you watched? Australian thriller Red Hill by Patrick Hughes on a plane during one of the many flights involved in The Flickerfest national tour and I loved it!
  10. The film that changed you, and why? Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. I attempted a short film remake at university which is laughably dreadful, but still it ignited my  passion for film which I’ve had ever since.
  11. Your guilty television pleasure? Midsomer Murders on the ABC. Very daggy I know, but I do like a good mystery and it always amazes me how many people can be killed in one small village.
  12. The Flickerfest 20th Anniversary DVD is available now from Madman, here.

  13. Three key mentors who’ve inspired or helped you? Gillian Armstrong – a fabulous Australian director and patron and very generous supporter of Flickerfest. And Aunties Lorna Kelly, Yvonne Graham and Linda Vidler – three incredibly strong Indigenous women from Byron Bay northern NSW, now sadly passed away, with whom I had the great pleasure of working with over four years on my documentary Walking With My Sisters. The film followed their Native title claim, and they taught me never to give up and  to fight for what you believe in.
  14. Complete this sentence: The thing I love about working in the Australian film and television industry is…the enormous amount of support, generosity and friendship that is extended by experienced film practitioners and facilities providers to emerging filmmakers a nd to festivals such as ours that provide a platform for their work.  Without this support it would be impossible for Flickerfest to be celebrating our 20th birthday this year. Thanks everyone!
Flickerfest 20th Anniversary DVD

Flickerfest 20th Anniversary DVD

The Flickerfest national tour is currently under way with the following locations still to come:

  • Hobart (17-18 Mar);
  • Blue Mountains (18-20 Mar);
  • Esperance (18 Mar);
  • Cygnet (19 Mar);
  • Queenstown (19 Mar);
  • Wyalkatchem (19 Mar);
  • Canowindra (26 Mar);
  • Canberra (26-27 Mar).

Driving the Zippy Little Car: Welcome to the AFI Blog!

What is a blog anyway? You may be surprised at how many people still ask this question (and some of them are Generation Y, believe it or not). For those who don’t consider themselves ‘online natives’, the best way of explaining it is to say that a blog is website that’s updated regularly, like a diary. Small, fast and cost-effective, it’s like a zippy little car that speeds past the lumbering truck that is a website. As much as we love our AFI website (and it remains a wonderful resource), it really is a bit of a beast, especially when you’re trying to drive fast or take a sharp corner. And to stretch the metaphor that little bit further, it doesn’t take passengers or allow for feedback from you, our dear readers.

Which brings us to the AFI blog. Operating as an add-on to our website, we’re going to use this space to bring you fresh content in a way that’s interactive, personal and hot off the presses. We’ll be gradually migrating a lot of our fortnightly e-news over to the blog, which will be updated several times a week, with stories, interviews, reviews and clips from the Australian screen world. Over the coming months, new segments will be introduced, like the ‘Why I Adore’ series, inviting fans and experts to rave about their favourite scenes or characters in Australian film and television. There will also be the opportunity for guest posts from key players within the industry, film festival reports, and a behind-the-scenes diary demystifying the annual AFI Awards process.

So welcome to the AFI Blog. We’re still testing out the gears and revving up the engine, but we look forward to having you drive with us.

Rochelle Siemienowicz
AFI Editor