Geoffrey Rush has lent his coinsiderable clout to a major overhaul of the Australian film and television industry, and will serve as president of a new Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) whose first task is to replace the 53 year-old AFI Awards with a new 'Australian Academy Awards'.
A high-calibre offshoot of the Australian Film Institute (AFI), the AACTA will comprise of a select group of invited industry professionals whose function will be to "recognise, encourage, award and celebrate screen excellence in Australia". The transition to an Academy-model awards ceremony follows the AFI's previously announced intent to move the industry awards to late January, to capitalise on the international attention showered on events in the "awards corridor" that culminates in the Oscars.
In a lavish launch at Sydney's Overseas Passenger Terminal last night, AFI chair Alan Finney announced that the inaugural Australian Academy Awards would be staged at Sydney's Opera House in late January, after sealing a deal with Events NSW to lure the event away from Melbourne for at least three years.
"Over half a century ago the AFI was founded and since that time our film and television industries have developed beyond our wildest imaginings," Rush said of the cessation of the AFI Awards. "Through the timely creation of AACTA we have a unique opportunity to galvanise the craft and talent this country endlessly produces. Now is the time to celebrate at home and abroad the brilliance and originality of our seasoned screen professionals, and establish AACTA as a stamp of success – a measure which is recognised around the world as the mark of excellence it represents."
Brandishing one of the new gold statuettes that will be presented to AACTA winners, Rush kickstarted a campaign to devise a nickname for the gong, whose shape references the Southern Cross. In a speech peppered with the actor's trademark wit, he proposed a range of options including "the Stingray" (in keeping with Indigenous descriptions of the Southern Cross) or "the Ron" (after an uncle, to echo the means by which Bette Davis allegedly christened the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences statuette, the "Oscar"). The AFI and AACTA will continue the campaign for a nickname on their websites and social media arms.