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Eight films to contend AACTA Award for Best Documentary

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INSIDE FILM
23 November 2023
Jackie Keast

After a record 41 productions were submitted for consideration, AACTA announced this morning that the number of films nominated for Best Documentary has expanded from the typical six to eight.


The field of nominees announced this morning are diverse, encompassing directorial debuts, local and international festival darlings, and some of the year’s most successful films at the box office.


They include Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story, Harley & Katya, John Farnham: Finding the Voice, The Dark Emu Story, The Giants, The Last Daughter, This is Going to Be Big and To Never Forget.


The nominees were determined by voting AACTA members, with round two viewing and voting to determine the winner to begin in December.


“It is a remarkable to see the record-breaking number of compelling entries received. It is a testament to the growth of the Australian screen industry and the heightened commitment to championing non-fiction stories,” said AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella.


“Each of the eight nominees demonstrate the power of storytelling, shedding light on diverse perspectives and driving meaningful conversations. Be sure to watch out for these fantastic documentaries.”


One of the favourites to take out the award will likely be Poppy Stockell’s John Farnham: Finding the Voice, officially Australia’s highest grossing feature documentary of all time. Having made $4.5 million at the box office, it is also the best performing Australian film theatrically this year and the fourth highest grossing feature doc ever released in the Australian market behind US films Michael Jackson’s This Is ItFahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine.


Finding the Voice is Stockell’s debut documentary feature, and charts Farnham’s life from the quiet suburbs of Melbourne to ‘60s pop fame as Johnny Farnham with hit Sadie, the Cleaning Lady, his subsequent highs and lows, and ultimately, record-breaking success. It is produced by Olivia Hoopmann, with executive producers Paul Clarke, Mikael Borglund and Martin Fabinyi.


Farnham is also at the heart of Thomas Charles Hyland’s directorial debut, This is Going to Be Big. which follows Sunbury and Macedon Ranges Specialist School as they arrange a themed musical around the signer. The film, which won both the Audience Award and the Schools Youth Jury Award at the Melbourne International Film Festival this year, is told from the perspective of the cast of neurodivergent teens. Produced by Josie Mason Campbell, Jim Wright and Catherine Bradbury, it will air on the ABC next year.



The AACTA nomination for Harley & Katya, directed by Selina Miles, comes fresh after the film won an International Emmy Award for Sports Documentary earlier this week.


An ABC commission, it follows figure skater Harley Windsor, who was the poster boy for the Australian Olympic Team. Paired with Russian skater Katya Alexandrovskaya, the unlikely duo achieved unprecedented success on the ice before meeting with great tragedy. Blayke Hoffman, Jo-anne McGowan and Aayliah-Jade Bradbury produce, and Jennifer Peedom is executive producer.


Fellow ABC documentary The Dark Emu Story is directed by Allan Clarke and premiered in competition at the Sydney Film Festival. Produced by Blackfella Films’ Jacob Hickey, Darren Dale and Belinda Mravicic, it ​explores the cultural impact of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu – the 2014 bestselling book, which claimed that First Nations people were not only hunters and gatherers but also farmers who were part of a complex economic system.


The Giants, Laurence Billiet and Rachel Antony’s portrait of former leader of the Greens, Bob Brown – told through the intertwined fates of trees and humans – has also had a strong box office life, with the General Strike and Matchbox Pictures production earning more than $600K, making it the fifth best performing Australian film of 2023 theatrically.


Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story, which is the year’s sixth highest grossing local film, is directed by Paul Goldman and utilises more than 850 pieces of archive material to give an insight into how the Mushroom Records founder revolutionised the Australian music industry. It also features more than 50 interviews, from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue and Dave Grohl. Mushroom Studios COO Bethany Jones and Paige McGinley produced.


Brenda Matthews and Nathaniel Schmidt’s The Last Daughter is a personal First Nations story, exploring the former’s journey to unearth the truth about her past, and to reconcile the two sides of her family. The film was the winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival, and played extensively on the festival circuit, including winning Best Australian Film at this year’s Gold Coast Film Festival. Simon Williams and Brendon Skinner produced, with Kyle Slabb serving as executive producer and cultural advisor.


To Never Forget follows director Péter Hegedüs’ three-year process of making 360 film Sorella’s Storywhich premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and explores the ongoing impact of the Holocaust on people’s lives, families and geopolitics. It was aided by Ethel Davis, a 92-year-old Jewish Australian, and the testimony of Hegedüs’ own Jewish grandmother, who managed to survive the Holocaust. Jaclyn McLendon and Bobbi-Lea Dionysisus produced with Hegedüs.


Today’s announcement of the AACTA nominees for Best Documentary follows the unveiling of the Best Short Film nominations in late October. The remaining nominations are due to be announced in early December.


The AACTA Industry Awards will be held on February 8 at the HOTA on the Gold Coast, with the afterparty to follow. The AACTA Awards Ceremony will then be held February 10 at the same venue. Tickets are on sale.


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