While the organisers of the ACTAA Awards are striving to enshrine the gongs as Australia's premier film and TV honours with the second edition next week, there's one issue they might like to consider.
There's very little love for the name, according to numerous industry people who voiced their opinions after a provocative letter from producer Anthony Buckley was published in the Sydney Morning Herald last week.
If you're uncertain what AACTA means, that's part of the problem. The Australian Film Institute launched the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts in August 2011, modelled on the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Hence the AACTA Awards, which superseded the AFI's own awards. The awards will be presented at two events, a luncheon on January 28 and on the night of January 30, the latter telecast on Network Ten.
In his letter, Buckley asserted, “I don't know a single person in our industry, let alone the moviegoing public, who knows what AACTA stands for. Most think it sounds like Actors.” Deidre Kitcher, producer of the upcoming thriller The Reckoning, agreed: “AACTA is unrecognisable. Is it meant to be a play on the word actor?”
Documentary writer-director Ruth Hessey said: “If I could say it I might be able to remember it.” Michael Favelle of sales agent/distributor Odin's Eye Entertainment mused, “I gotta wonder if any audience testing was done before the change of name.”
Buckley advocated adopting the title the Longford Lyell Awards, recognising Australian film pioneers Raymond Longford and his partner in life and film, Lottie Lyell. “Good on Tony Buckley! Although the problem with calling them The Longfords is that it only refers to film and not television which is the fundamental problem with the whole thing,” responded Australian Directors Guild executive director Kingston Anderson.
“I agree with Tony. I think everyone would love to win a Longford,” opined veteran film completion bond executive Richard Soames. Trisha Heaton, a former CEO of Ausfilm, suggested The Buckleys, reasoning, “At least the generations behind us know who Tony is – no chance they know Longford and Lyell.”
Veteran publicist Rea Francis chipped in, “Buckley is such an amazing defender and has always been a passionate, informed spokesman for the Oz film and TV industry. He is right, we need an affectionate term that slips easily off tongues and keyboards. But maybe a more contemporary remembrance. Look how The Byron Kennedy Award has settled in.”
FilmInk publisher Dov Kornits quipped, “I reckon Longfords has, um, Buckleys.”
Producer Sue Milliken declared, “The name AACTA is ridiculous and I support Tony Buckley's letter. For the time being I will not attend the awards or the lunch at which the unimportant – to the AFI – awards are presented. Eventually the people who are in charge of the AFI will move on, hopefully, and someone with some common sense and vision will resurrect a decent awards which kowtows neither to celebrity nor to the demands of non-rating television.”
Somewhat flippantly, filmmaker Bill Bennett suggested The Koalas and former TV producer Harvey Shore came up with The Roos.
“I was happy with the AFIs – the amount of brand equity that was lost dumping the AFIs for the current ridiculous acronym should be classed as a white collar crime,” said former Village Roadshow exec Andrew Hazelton.
Producer Antony Ginnane commented, “You can call them the Longfords if you like – I am not as fussed as Tony is regarding the name. Personally, I don't think the general public knows the Helpmanns, the Walkleys etc. anymore than they know the AACTAs and they've just been rebranded. Change the name if you like but I don't think it will make any difference.”
To be fair, the moniker does have its supporters. “There are two things on my mantelpiece, Koko's ashes and the AACTA which belonged to him,” said Red Dog producer Nelson Woss. “Both are worth keeping and it would be sad for the industry if they are forgotten.”
All this debate about the name may come to naught. Damian Trewhella, CEO of the AFI and the Academy, says no individual or organisation voiced criticism of the AACTA name at the outset.
“We do from time-to-time receive suggestions for the Awards to be named in honour of esteemed individuals,” he tells SBS. “While we are proud of Australia's highest screen accolade, the AACTA Raymond Longford Award, which rightfully honours Raymond Longford's extraordinary film legacy, it is important that the Awards and the name chosen for the Awards are understood in their entirety in representing both film and television excellence.
“Despite the fact that Australia has been awarding television excellence for 26 years under the AFI and now AACTA, it was not until AACTA was launched and included 'television' in its name that this was understood by the public.
“Any new brand takes time to establish itself within the public, and we are confident that our model and name, which are based on decade-long traditions such as that of AMPAS, and more recently BAFTA, which also followed in this vein, will become nationally and international recognised over time.”
Ginnane expressed a commonly held view when he said, “We need one significant, respected broadcasted award event for film and TV, one singular awards we can all get behind. Of course, that may be easier said than done – given my 40 years in the business – there have always been complaints about these events.
“I think Damian and [chairman] Alan Finney are doing as good a job as they can, given the limited funding they have and the constraints that level of funding place on them. Lately the awards in film anyway have been more consistent with the public's response – Red Dog last year – undoubtedly The Sapphires this year, and that is a good thing. For too many years in the '80s and '90s, commercial titles were overlooked in favour of obscurest fare.”