By Travis Johnson

This Saturday, April 7, will see the presentation of the first ever Ozflix Independent Film Awards at Melbourne’s Alex Theatre in St Kilda. The brainchild of Ron Brown, co-founder of the Ozflix streaming service, the Ozzies’ stated aim is the recognise achievement in Australian film and web series with budgets of under five million – a sector of the industry that Brown tells us is being ill-served by the current most notable awards (looking at you, AACTAs).

“There is another award scheme in Australia that people participate in every year,” Brown tells us, not naming any names. “That is very focused on making a big gala evening. Which I don’t begrudge at all; if people want to get into tuxedos and spend hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars sitting in a room and having a dinner and having a big night, that’s great.”

However, Brown goes on to explain that numerous independent filmmakers he has spoken to in the course of his work at Ozflix have felt shut out or disregarded by the more prominent, high budget industry – and the awards that service it. “I got a lot of feedback from independent producers being dispirited by that and some thinking it’s not even worth entering.”

Off the cuff, Brown surmised that some kind of Independent Film Award was needed – then quickly relaised that we’d had those in the past. “I thought, well, let’s do that again and let’s try and do it in a kind of indie-centric kind of way. In other words, let’s keep the costs really low for entry, let’s keep the cost for a ticket to go on the night really low, let’s make it a casual dress so that they don’t have to rush out to rent a tuxedo or buy an evening gown, and let’s make it really accessible and friendly.”

To help, Brown set about assembling a steering committee to help shape the project, and to keep the focus off himself and Ozflix and on the awards themselves. “I didn’t want people to get the idea that it was all about me, Ron Brown, and Ozflix. There are much bigger issues in the industry and much broader issues that needed to be addressed, so that while I felt that independent film needed its own focus in an award, I immediately started ringing people that were prominent in the space and asking them if they’d participate.”

Brown enlisted producer/director/writer Jocelyn Moorhouse (The Dressmaker), producer/distributor Tait Brady, producer/director/writer Enzo Tedeschi (Event Zero, The Tunnel), director Beck Cole (Grace Beside Me, Here I Am), writer/director Matthew Holmes (The Legend of Ben Hall), documentary writer/director Sally Aitken (David Stratton: A Cinematic Life), and actor/producer Rosie Lourde (Starting From… Now, Skin Deep)to his cause. “That was kind of like hiring my own board of directors, if you know what I mean. Everybody was very enthusiastic and participated in robust Skype discussions for the first three-four weeks while we got all the rules and regulations in place and decided on the profile of the jury, the entry requirements, the categories, the pricing of the entries, and how the prizes would be allocated and so on.”

As for the five million dollar budget ceiling, that arose from Brown’s investigations into Australian production and box office figures, which revealed that 72% of all Australian films released in 2016 were budgeted below that level. “I thought, well, if that’s true then three quarters of the industry are working in what I would call effectively a low budget or independent space. Not to take anything from people achieving larger budgets, but that was a different kind of filmmaking at a completely different level. So with that Screen data and with talking to a few mates, I thought that we would proceed.”

Putting out the call for entries in late 2017, Brown decided to widen the net to include 2016 and 2017 releases, expecting a healthy but not overwhelming response. As it turns out, he was happy to be wrong about that. “Word spread very quickly and we got a lot of applications. We kind of thought we’d get 30 or 40 – 50 would be great. We ended up with 106 films and/or web series being entered, so it was a brilliant response from independent filmmakers to participate.”

That response is indicative, he says, of the wider Australian film industry’s support for the project – and their desire to be recognised for their achievements. “It’s really exceeded my expectations. This is something that we wanted to do as a give back to independent filmmakers. Ozflix has had a lot of support from independent filmmakers for the past 12-18 months.  We’re obviously onto something here, there’s definitely a pent-up demand from filmmakers to get involved in an independent award.”

The 2018 Ozflix Independent Film Awards will be streamed on Ozflix

1 Comment
  • 6 April 2018 at 10:05 pm

    We, the underground, no-budget, avant garde and experimental filmmakers, feel left out of this, too, because we’re working at budgets way below $100,000. Some of us for less than $1,000 a picture. Who is going to put up something for us? The existing Underground Film Festivals are too genre-orientated. Guess one of us has to do a “Ron Brown’.

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