In November of 2018, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong
his frustration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, stating
that he was “(I’m) totally going to quit it”, and that the cost of membership
is simply too high. Sure, as a member of the Academy you receive a swathe of
DVD’s and screeners, but come the awards season, trying to watch the ever
growing pile of films that are received almost unceasingly can be overwhelming
and prohibitive. Then, when it comes to voting, does your vote even count
enough to have warranted spending hour upon hour watching film after film?
Sure, this seems like a privileged first world problem, but
as should be clear to anyone keen on understanding and embracing the arts, culture
is an important part of a countries identity, and thanks to the global platform
that is the Oscars, it can help amplify stories, issues, and – most importantly
– open up the world to a wealth of different cultures. While it’s an American
film, it’s clear that without the Oscar award it received, the social awareness
that the short Period. End of Sentence.
helped foster may have been drastically reduced.
I say all of this as a preamble to the
news that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have released their
annual list of (potential) members that have been invited to join their
illustrious group. While plenty of press releases bang on about the 842
invitees becoming immediate members, it’s worthwhile noting that these are just
invites, and that being a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences isn’t free. As of October 2018, the annual cost of being a member of
the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sits at $US450 ($AU644), with
membership fees bringing in an annual total of $US2.28 million.
The Academy has been working to diversify their pool of members after the backlash created by April Reign’s campaign #OscarsSoWhite – which, would you believe, kicked off almost five years ago. For 2019, the bundle of possible members marks the first time that the group has reached gender parity, with 421 women being invited to join the group. That in itself is fantastic, and as per Awards Daily, if all of the invited women accept, then it’ll give the Academy a bump from 25% to 32% women members. Fantastic.
In the group of 842 invitees is a troupe of Aussie talent,
including directors Jennifer Kent and Ivan Sen, composer Jed Kurzel, producer Liz
Watts, production designer Fiona Crombie, and a lot more
2018, the list of invited Australians included should-be-Oscar-nominee
Warwick Thornton, actual Oscar nominee Josh Lawson, directors Nash Edgerton and
Rachel Perkins, and actress Elizabeth Debicki. A big if, but if these
Australians all accepted, then they would theoretically help strengthen the
voice and the vote for Australian films in the Academy.
While it’s great to see Indigenous filmmakers being
recognised by the Academy and being invited to join an ever-growing illustrious
group of filmmakers from around the world, what exactly does it mean for
Australian films to have Australian voters added into the Academy? Does it
actually impact the possible reach of Australian films, and will it actually
increase Australia’s Oscar nomination chances? When it comes to the
International Feature Film Award (previously the Foreign Language Film Award),
the process of getting a film nominated in that area is restricted to American
based attendees, making international votes difficult. I wrote up a piece about
how a film gets nominated for the award here.
So, while Tanna became the first
Australian film to be nominated for the International Feature Film Award, it
did so due to American based voters and not due to a contingent of Australian
voters getting behind it.
With that said, it’s worthwhile noting that while an influx
of Australian voters into the Academy looks great on paper, it’s unlikely that
it will have a broader impact on the overall voting for Australian films. This
is due to members being allocated into their ‘most applicable’ vocation field. The
best example of this is Lady Gaga’s invite – she has been invited to join
either the Actress branch, or the Best Song branch, but she cannot join both. Whichever
branch Lady Gaga joins means that she will then be able to nominate her choices
for that particular field. When all of the branches have voted, and those votes
have been tabulated, then the nominees are presented and all of the members can
vote for all of the categories. So, while it’s great to see Warwick Thornton,
Rachel Perkins, and Ivan Sen, all being invited to join the directors branch,
it’s clear that having all three there isn’t going to be enough to get Warwick
Thornton a nomination for Sweet Country.
On top of this, for an Australian film to be nominated, it
becomes even more important that said film gets a theatrical release in America
for it to even be considered. The field of Australians winning or being
nominated becomes more expansive when you take into account the fact that the
majority of them are being nominated for non-Australian films. If you take
a glance at the Wikipedia entry for Australian Academy Award winners and
nominees, there’s a fair amount of eyebrow raising questions about who is
actually Australian, with Wikipedia going to even greater extents than
Australian media usually does to make anyone who has stepped foot in Australia
an Australian (here’s looking at you Tom Hooper).
Sure, Australian films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Babe,
Moulin Rouge!, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Animal Kingdom have all garnered worthy nominations and wins, but
it’s in the short film categories that Australia’s films featuring Australian
content have been most successful, with Suzanne Baker, Adam Elliot, and Shaun
Tan all winning awards for Best Animated Short Film, and a few live action and
documentary short film nominations as well.
But, does a win or a nomination even guarantee eyes on your
film anymore? Well, not entirely. Sure, a nomination might be an unexpected
career boost, creating opportunities overseas that maybe aren’t afforded in
Australia, but – like a stuck record – they generally come with the caveat that
the career boost occurs in the realm of non-Australian films. Take Jackie
Weaver for example: Weaver managed to break through a crowded field and garner
a much deserved supporting actress nomination for Animal Kingdom. This lead to an extensive second-wind career boost
in America, helping her garner a second nomination for her role in Silver Lining’s Playbook. It’s great to
see Jackie Weaver appear in American film after American film, with more
audiences becoming aware of her brilliant talent, but this exposure isn’t
driving viewers to seek out her Australian content. The box office and critical
reception for both Last Cab to Darwin
and Goldstone was virtually
non-existent in America. Yes, it’s not like Weaver was going to light up the
box office on her name alone, but one would suspect that her appearance might
encourage some curiosity from the arthouse faithful in America.
The recognition that comes from being accepted into an
illustrious group like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is
notable for sure, and even more so than this, a nomination can be career
defining. But, do these awards even matter anymore? And, is the inclusion of
Australian artists merely quota filling? What point is their presence in the
Academy if the films that they make aren’t even going to be in the conversation
come awards consideration time? This isn’t an exclusively Australian issue,
with many other countries who have been invited also facing the same
difficulty, so my choice to solely focus on Australian filmmakers is – as expected
– niche. I say that as my next point is very much a finger pointing one –
European and Asian filmmakers have less of a struggle to get their films in
front of American eyes than Australian filmmakers do.
So, while it’s nice to know that artists like Warwick
Thornton, or make-up artist Rosalina Da Silva, or stunt performer Glenn
Boswell, have been invited to join the Academy, one can’t help but ask – to what
benefit is it for these filmmakers to have been invited? Will they personally
benefit? Unlikely. Will their films or their countries films benefit? Unless
they have the name power of a Mel Gibson (Hacksaw
Ridge) or Nicole Kidman (Lion),
then it’s even more unlikely. With that in mind, what point is it for these
Australian artists to drop $AU644 a year on being part of an Academy that will
rarely ever reward Australian talent, and even with their presence, the odds
are ever against them for their films to even stand a chance?
When you add in the cost of being an AACTA member – $AU140
(or $AU110 if you are a Guild member) per annum –, and in turn, the cost of
submitting your film into AACTA Award consideration (a
cost that varies depending on the cost of your film), and the cost of
submitting your film into film festivals around the world, one has to wonder
whether there is any point in being part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences? If it costs you nearly $AU1000 just to have the privilege to vote
for the awards, before you’ve even considered submitting your film, then is it
even worth it?
Yes, a fair reminder that this is a problem that only a
select few will have to worry about, but it’s worthwhile considering that there
is a price to this privilege, and given how financially stressed the Australian
film industry is, it could be a privilege that’s out of reach for many. If it
has cost you an extensive bank loan just to get your film in front of audiences
– as is the case for many independent filmmakers – then is it fair to add
another heaping just to try and get it nominated for an award? This is not to
say that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the AACTA’s don’t
deliver worthy services for the industries they represent, it’s just that the
cost of entry is possibly too much.
This is a long diatribe about something that the majority of
us don’t need to think about, but it’s worthwhile to put context the press
releases about who is invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences. Representation does matter, and gender equality is important, but at
what price? If those who are being invited to join in aren’t going to be
represented themselves, then what is the point of their invitation in the first
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