Reflecting the industry's buoyancy, they were awards like no other. Nobody thanked a lengthy family dynasty or a deity.
“It wouldn't be a 21st century award if some gay guy didn't come up to thank his boyfriend,” said the Telemovie winner, Tony Ayres, on the podium to pick up his award for Saved (SBS) at the Australian Directors' Guild awards last night.
Oscar winner Adam Eliot, the openly gay winner of writer/director of the Feature Film winner, Mary and Max, the first fully-animated movie to win this gong, however, he wasn't there in person to thank his boyfriend; he had a prior commitment to speak at a corporate function. In accepting the award on his behalf, his producer Melanie Coombs told the gathered throng: “[Corporate gigs are] his survival money; he earns more for that than for his films.”
One of the highlights of the night was Geoffrey Rush's tribute to his cinematic mentor, the Outstanding Career Achievement Award recipient, Scott Hicks (Shine and the upcoming The Boys Are Back). “[Hicks'] vision, tenacity and commitment to casting, completely changed the course of my life,” said the Oscar and Tony winner.
He lauded Hicks' loyalty throughout Shine's bumpy financial ride: “A Hollywood studio offered to fully bankroll the film – as long as I wasn't in it,” said the multi-awarded actor. “But Scott and Jane (Scott, producer) stuck to their guns”.
“And to think I have to pay 45 cents to lick his back,” Hicks responded with mock-indignation, alluding to the official postage stamp of the Oscar winner recently issued by Australia Post.
En route to the Toronto Film Festival to conduct a Masterclass and do press for his latest film, The Boys are Back, Hicks, one of the original members of the directors' guild (then ASDA), confirmed he hasn't quite 'gone Hollywood'.
One of the night's most moving awards was the Cecil Holmes Award, named after a film-maker whose work went largely unheralded, presented in absentia to Paul Cox, currently fighting liver cancer.
Cox's videotaped response was feisty, commenting on the appropriateness of an award named after an anarchic, humanist film-maker with whom the Melbourne based prolific auteur of 45 features and documentaries in 35 years, feels a strong affinity.
“He dared to invent rather than imitate. Cecil dared to rock the boat. A filmmaker who did not speak of bums on seats but of dreams. I am honoured to receive the award in his name.”
In a year of equal participation by women directors, Rachel Perkins was the only female winner – for Documentary series, Freedom of our Lifetime, from the landmark indigeneous history series, First Australians.
“The six years it took to make the series was both inspiring and excruciating at the same time but it was the greatest privilege of my life to work on this, “ she said. “It was as if all the opportunities I've been given in the industry of my life had been leading up to that point.
“We knew would go out to a potential audience of millions and would change the way people saw their country and change the way new generations saw its evolution. It was a huge privilege to be the conduit of these stories: the greatest I'll probably ever have.”
“I'm very proud to be part of an industry that is such at such a mature point that we have a bigger, more holistic view of history,” she said.
As one of the night's speakers wryly observed, the fact that the bar at the Austral Restaurant at Sydney's Star Casino was free till midnight was a sure sign that the industry is in great shape.