by James Fletcher

Following successful festival runs on the Australian and international circuit, each of the six documentary films up for the top gong represent the most relevant and affecting explorations of true stories made in Australia in the past 12 months.

The 2021 nominees for the AACTA Award for Best Documentary are as follows:


Filmed over five years, I’m Wanita tells the story of a renegade country music singer and Australia’s self-crowned ‘Queen of Honky Tonk’. Tackling family estrangements, mental illness and life as a sex worker, director Matthew Walker had plenty to document in Wanita’s story.

Produced by Carolina Sorensen (Upcoming Untitled Midnight Oil Documentary), Clare Lewis, and AACTA Award Nominee Tait Brady (I Met a Girl, Suzi Q) with support from Screen Australia, Screen NSW, and the ABC.


Filmmaker Lilias Fraser became a feminist role model as a pioneer in a male dominated industry. After her death, Lilias’ daughter – cinematographer & director Jane Castle – tells her story; from overcoming a destructive marriage, alcohol abuse, sexism and single parenting. Castle fuses driving, personal narrative with poetic metaphor to obliquely and powerfully explore universal issues such as grief, healing and the intergenerational trauma that shadowed her relationship with her trailblazing filmmaker mother.

Produced by AFI Award Winner Pat Fiske (For All The World to See: A Portrait of Prof Fred Hollows).


Tells the stories of elite female surfers of the ‘80s and ‘90s: Jodie Cooper, Frieda Zamba, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen, Pam Burridge, Wendy Botha, and Layne Beachley. The film reveals the discrimination women faced in a fundamentally male sport, inspiring a new generation of young women to get involved.

Directed by Christopher Nelius and produced by AACTA Award Winner Karen Bryso (The Eleven O’Clock), Emmy Award Nominee Michael Hilliard (The Great Crusade), and AACTA Award Nominee Michaela Perske (After The Apology, Servant of Slave).


Follows legendary Australian actor David Gulpilil, in what is likely his final film. With a career spanning 50 years, the film takes an intimate look at Gulpilil as he talks to the audience and reflects on his storied life. As the sole interviewee in the film, Director Molly Reynolds (Another Country) knew that Gulpilil’s presence would command the screen and solely carry the narrative.

Produced by multiple award-winner Rolf de Heer (Charlie’s Country) and AACTA Award Nominee, Peter Djigirr (Ten Canoes).


Director Tosca Looby delivers a film that reveals the deep, continuing resistance to women achieving power within Australia’s political system. Strong Female Lead explores archival footage of the attacks that Julia Gillard experienced during her time in office. A timely project that proudly promotes feminism, created with an almost exclusively female team, which has partnered with organisations to advance progress in achieving gender parity in Australia’s parliaments by 2030.

Produced by AACTA Award Winner Karina Holden (Employable Me, Love on the Spectrum, Changing Minds: The Inside Story, Lukewarm Sex).


From shark hunter to passionate marine and shark conservationist, Playing With Sharks follows the life of Valerie Taylor – a legend and icon. The film uses remastered film footage captured by Valerie over 50 years, an effective tool Director Sally Aitken uses to urge audiences to feel empowered in protecting our oceans, as Valerie has.

Directed and written by Sally Aitken (David Stratton: A Cinematic Life) and produced by Bettina Dalton (Big Red: The Kangaroo King).

“After receiving a high caliber of entries across the category, we’re thrilled with this year’s six nominees for Best Documentary. They each tell a unique story, truly reflective of Australia and Australian voices. The nominees are a combination of inspiring, compelling, and thought-provoking. You won’t want to miss these incredible stories.” – AACTA CEO, Damian Trewhella.

Round two viewing and voting is now open to AACTA members, with all six nominated documentaries available to view online now. For more information on this year’s AACTA Award Nominees, visit


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