And The Winner Is… The AFI “Best Film” Project

November 1, 2008

Over the coming months, David Ashton – The Outland Institute’s Northcote correspondent – will be undertaking a grueling and potentially dangerous task: he’ll be watching all the Australian Film Institute‘s “Best Film” winners from 1976 onwards (prior to 1976 documentaries and non-features were eligible for the main prize, but David‘s going for the hard stuff). Here he sets the scene for what is to come…

Lately the word on everyone’s lips is Ozploitation. Thanks to a spiffy new documentary  – and endorsement from Quentin Tarantino – everyone and their blog is talking about Australian movies. The violence, the nudity, the tax breaks and the film-makers who dared to exploit them. But there’s another type of Australian film-making that’s been going on behind the scenes, running parallel and underground to the films we know. Bold, innovative film-makers who dare to make films where the sex and violence is done tastefully. Film-makers who recklessly ignore public opinion in favour of critical plaudits. For these people, “hauntingly beautiful” isn’t just a lazy critic’s cliche – it’s a way of life. Some of these directors are so determined to see their films made they even write their own scripts.

I call this style of movie artsploitation. This freshly-minted genre includes such overlooked classics as Picnic at Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, The Year My Voice Broke and Shine. Films acclaimed in their day, but now only dimly remembered by an industry which prefers to canonise films like Patrick, Turkey Shoot, and that one where Sigrid Thornton gets stalked by a Mr Whippy van.

Artsploitation might not have Quentin Tarantino to champion it, but it does have the Australian Film Institute. Each year the AFI celebrates the films it considers the finest made in Australia – no matter how poorly they’ve done at the box office. In order to shed new light on the whole artsploitation genre I’m going to watch and review all the winners of the AFI “Best Film” award since it was first designated to be specifically for Australian features in 1976 (can you guess the film?)

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