Postcard from the AFIs

Every year the Australian Film Institute, in a somewhat inexplicable but very welcome decision, gives out AFI Awards not just to the year’s finest Aussie films (or only Aussie films in the 2004 Awards, in fact) but the cream of Australian television as well. Meaning that in my other guise as Chaser hanger-on, I got to spend a most pleasant evening at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre last night. Oh, and when I say the AFI Awards, I should actually say the L’Oreal Paris AFI Awards Presented By Samsung, Mazda, L’Oreal Paris, Melbourne City, The Langham Hotel And L’Oreal Paris.

Yeah, there was quite a lot of commercial sponsorship. But because it seems the alternative is the show not only not being televised, but being held at Swanston St Hungry Jack’s, everyone was more than happy to pay tribute to the sponsors. Particularly Samsung, who provided light blue-coloured martinis that had me drinking a heartfelt toast to their new BluRay technology, whatever it is.

There may arguably have been too much alcohol, in fact; at least in the case of one person sitting near me who loudly sniggered at the precise moment that the “In Memoriam” slide came up at the start of the montage of those who’d died over the past year. I’d like to hope that he died a little bit as well. But I fear not.

Paul Dainty and co have done an amazing job of reinvigorating the awards, as many pointed out, and they should get enormous credit for it. Key to their formula has been convincing Australia’s many genuine Hollywood stars to come out for the big night, and they were there in considerable force. It was a hugely impressive effort. Cate Blanchett, Baz Luhrmann, Deborah Lee-Furness and Heath Ledger were there, among others, but best of all was that Geoffrey Rush stepped up to host, following Russell Crowe last year.

As you’d expect, Rush did a brilliant job. A few lines fell flat – leading to one brilliant recovery, “it’s okay, titters are the new laughter”, but his incredible gravitas and good humour made the night extremely enjoyable. Best of all was a sketch where he revoiced one of Walsingham’s scenes with Cate Blanchett from Elizabeth – it’s not on YouTube yet, but it will be. If our biggest stars keep doing the decent thing and giving a boost to the local industry, both by supporting the Awards and appearing in local films (where they exclusively seem to play junkies, strangely), the AFIs will only flourish. Which would be a great thing for everyone – especially the television industry, which gets an event that’s the soapie-free opposite of the Logies.

They even got a genuine international star. Past awards ceremonies I’ve been to have included such luminaries as Malcolm In The Middle himself, and the President from 24. But this event featured Daniel Radcliffe. That is, Harry Potter. I mean, HARRY POTTER. I.e. HARRY POTTER!!!!!

We had the great luck to arrive shortly after him, meaning that we could briefly pretend that the frenzied cheering was for us. And, AND, I was two places behind him in the urinal queue. That’s right, a mere metre away. Sorry to get all fanboi on you, but c’mon – Harry Potter. I didn’t actually say hello, although I’m sure he’s a huge fan of my work. Strangely, men say nothing whatsoever in urinal queues. I guess right before someone exposes themselves is probably not a good time to tell them you love their work.

The most remarkable thing about the night, though, was that there appeared to be an incredible slate of high-quality Australian films. I regret to admit that I haven’t seen a single one. Not one. Terrible, huh? But I’m hardly alone. After last night, though, I’ve vowed to watch at least Kenny, Candy and Ten Canoes, and maybe even Suburban Mayhem and Jindabyne as well. The sad thing is that even when the local industry nails something, our years of being disappointed by Aussie films prevent us from coming along.

And please, let’s not have Sharon from Kath & Kim at any more awards nights. Ever. After her ‘turn’ with Thorpey at the Logies a few years ago, she should not be allowed near any celebrities with a camera nearby. Least of all Heath Ledger and Dannii Minogue. I don’t mean to be unkind, but there’s a reason why Magda’s Funny Bits got axed.

So long live the AFIs, and may the current revival continue. But most importantly, long live L’Oreal Paris. That name again, L’Oreal. Paris.

Dominic Knight