The snub prompted him, he said, to “look further into the details of your Best Film nomination process, and what I learned has shocked me to my core”.
Mr Walsh claimed more than 60 films were submitted for best film, but with no filtering process in place AACTA members were supposed to wade through as many of the films as they could. But, he added, “what is stunning is it’s NOT mandatory for all AACTA members who are voting for Best Film to watch all the films! It is simply a popularity contest.
“This is the first awards event of any kind I have ever participated in where there is no mandatory viewing and mandatory judging of all the submitted entries by those people judging and voting on the entries.”
Under the two-stage AACTA voting model, members of different “chapters” vote to produce a shortlist of nominees in their relevant categories (actors for acting awards, cinematographers for the cinematography award and so on). All professional members of AACTA then select a winner from those nominees.
Voting in the best film category, however, is open to all members in both rounds.
AACTA chief Damian Trewhella defended the process, saying it was in line with the approach of other industry awards such as the Oscars and BAFTAs.
He added that while the precursors to the AACTAs, the AFI Awards, had at one stage utilised a panel of industry experts to winnow the entries to a more manageable number, that approach has not been employed since the new-look awards were established in 2010.
“The contemporary AACTA Awards field is generally wider than historically it has been, better reflecting the diversity of filmmaking now occurring in Australia,” Mr Trewhella said, adding there were 34 features in contention this year.
“A more inclusive field can intensify overall competition. By way of international comparison, the Oscars this year had 347 films in contention for best picture.”
In the Oscar race, films that are considered contenders receive the support of expensive studio-backed “for your consideration” campaigns designed to alert Academy members to the films’ existence, and perhaps sway the voters to at least watch the film and consider voting for it. It is rare for a film to receive a best film nomination without such backing.
At next week’s AACTAs, six films will vie for best feature: Hotel Mumbai, Judy & Punch, The King, The Nightingale, Ride Like a Girl and Top End Wedding.
The last two are the top-grossing Australian films of the year, each having received a wide release and substantial advertising support. The King, a Netflix film, had a short theatrical release before dropping onto the service, and the remaining three received limited releases. Like Danger Close, they enjoyed little or no advertising on TV – the most critical factor in getting audiences to see a film.
The 2019 AACTA Awards will be broadcast on Seven at 8.30pm on Wednesday, December 4, with encore screenings on Foxtel Arts.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.