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The Australian film sector’s long and prestigious history of period films was kept alive in 2018, according to the voting members of the Film Critics Circle of Australia. Warwick Thornton’s turn-of-the-century outback thriller Sweet Country, Bruce Beresford’s mid-century melodrama Ladies in Black and Simon Baker’s ‘70s-set coming-of-age surfing drama Breath were the big winners at the FCCA’s annual Award Ceremony, held last night in the auditorium of the Paddington/Woollahra R.S.L. Club in inner–city Sydney.

The evening was attended by some of the industry’s most revered names, with Oscar-winning DOP John Seale (The English Patient, 1996), Gallipoli leading man Mark Lee, thesps Amanda Muggleton and Andrew McFarlane and beloved acting icon Lorraine Bayly on hand to present key categories. Other guests included FCCA President Rose Capp, writer/director Ted Wilson (Under the Cover of Cloud, 2018), entertainer Paul Capsis, and actor/director Alex Lykos (Alex & Eve, 2016; Me & My Left Brain, 2019).

Sweet Country, Thornton’s brutal manhunt ‘western’, earned three of the night’s top honours, winning Best Film, Best Director and Best Lead Actor for Hamilton Morris (pictured, right; Morris with co-star Natassia Gorey Furber); producer David Jowsey accepted on behalf of all the production’s honorees. The film has been an awards season favourite since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it took out the event’s Critic’s Prize. It has since secured the best picture trophy at the AACTA Awards and Asia Pacific Screen Awards, along with major gongs at the Adelaide and Toronto film festivals.

A hit with domestic audiences, Ladies in Black had been long in development before Beresford’s clout helped it come to fruition. The adaptation of Madeline St John’s novel won Best Lead Actress for Angourie Rice (producer Allanah Zitserman present to accept on behalf of her leading lady), as well Best Supporting Actress for industry great Noni Hazelhurst and Best Original Score for Christopher Gordon’s orchestration.

Simon Baker’s directorial debut Breath, an adaptation of Tim Winton’s acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel, earned the director the Supporting Actor trophy for his role as an emotionally troubled surfer. As the film’s only representative on the night, Baker made several trips to the podium on behalf of his collaborators; he shared Best Screenplay honours with co-scribe Gerard Lee, while editor Dany Cooper and cinematographers Marden Dean and Rick Rifici were rewarded for their contributions. (Pictured, left; Baker with co-stars Ben Spence, centre, and Samson Coulter)

One of the most successful box-office years for feature length factual films led to a hotly contested Best Documentary category. In the end, a specially selected five person jury could not split Catherine Scott’s Backtrack Boys and Paul Damien Williams’ Gurrumul for top honours, resulting in a rare ‘joint award’. A clearly moved Scott noted that her film has swept audience polls at several festivals, including both the Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival, but had not connected with voting bodies until the FCCA honour.

Nominated films that went home empty-handed but which indicate what a diverse and rich year that 2018 was for local cinema included Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s zombie thriller Cargo (3 nominations); Leigh Whannell’s gruesome sci-fier Upgrade (2 nominations); Alena Lodkina’s rural drama Strange Colours (4 nominations); Joel Edgerton’s family melodrama Boy Erased (3 nominations); and, Jason Raftopoulos’ West of Sunshine, for which leading man Damien Hill received a posthumous Best Lead Actor nomination.   

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