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Australians in Film Celebrates Top Talent Down Under

Sullivan StapletonThe Great Gatsby (movie, 2013)Warner Bros.300: Rise of an EmpireThe Matrix (movie)Alex O'LoughlinJoel Edgerton

At first blush, it would be difficult to think of a foreign demographic in Hollywood less in need of help than Australians. After all, for a country of 23 million people located on the absolute opposite side of the world, Aussies have exerted an outsized impact on the worldwide film biz for years.

"For a country with a population pretty much the size of Southern California, there's an outstanding number of Australians who've had success in the industry," says Tracey Vieira, the prexy of Australians in Film.

Yet that's not to say the Aussie community couldn't stand to have a brighter light shining on its accomplishments, which is exactly what the 12-year-old nonprofit group Australians in Film, modeled largely on the British Academy of Film and TV, aims to do.

In addition to workshops, film screenings, educational endeavors and the Heath Ledger scholarship, the org launched an annual awards program in 2010, and its current batch of honorees offers an encouraging cross-section of Aussie talent old and new.

FOX STUDIOS AUSTRALIA ORRY-KELLY INTL. AWARD: Baz Luhrmann and Blue Tongue Films

The Orry-Kelly award spotlights Aussies who have helped their countrymen while pursuing their own careers.

Baz Luhrmann, who has shot all five of his feature films in Australia, including "The Great Gatsby," says oftentimes that simple acknowledgement of the Oz talent base can work wonders.

"From the Australian point of view, sometimes we don't recognize how unique it is to have such a large percentage of actors, directors and technicians, who are considered triple-A," Luhrmann says. "And there are so many actors and directors who Australians know nothing about -- they don't realize they're out there directing or starring in huge films.

Blue Tongue Films -- a collective comprising David Michod, Spencer Susser, Nash Edgerton, Luke Doolan, Joel Edgerton, Kieran Darcy-Smith and Mirrah Foulkes -- started off as a loose conglomeration of like-minded actors, directors and craftspeople back in Australia. Even following the mainstream success of some of its members (particularly thesp Edgerton and "Animal Kingdom" director Michod), the group still meets regularly to read one another's scripts, critique rough cuts and star in one another's passion projects.

As Edgerton acknowledges, simply maintaining the possibility of working on both continents is a "luxury" in itself.

"Financially it might make more sense to stay (in Los Angeles) and keep pushing, but I feel compelled to go home."

BREAKTHROUGH AWARD: Jacki Weaver, Alex O'Loughlin, Sullivan Stapleton

The sheer diversity of the Australian experience in Hollywood is apparent from a quick glance at this year's breakthrough honorees. While Sullivan Stapleton fi ts the breakthrough model to a tee -- after a few years bubbling under the radar, he's set to topline next year's "300: Rise of an Empire" -- Jacki Weaver is a special case.

With a career in Australian stage and screen dating back to the 1960s, it wasn't until the current decade that Weaver finally made the move to the U.S., picking up her second Oscar nomination in the span of two years for last year's "Silver Linings Playbook."

"For my generation, it wasn't really part of the agenda. America seemed far too impossible to even attempt," she says. "I've always had work, and I'd been very content with my career in Australia. So for this to happen at this stage in my career was really unexpected."

O'Loughlin, on the other hand, first moved to Los Angeles back in 1997, and bounced between countries before landing his breakthrough role on CBS' "Hawaii Five-0" reboot in 2010.

"At the end of the day, work is work," he says of the continental distinctions.

AUSFILM INTL. AWARD: Steve Papazian

The AusFilm international award recognizes non-Australians for contributions to the industry, and in terms of quantity, it would be hard to find a more prolific Aussie studio partner than Warner Bros.

Warners president of production Steve Papazian first produced a TV movie in Australia back in 1987, but it wasn't until the late 1990s that he truly awoke to continent's possibilities.

"We had an extremely complicated film we wanted to do, called 'The Matrix,' " Papazian recalls. " There were extremely stringent budgetary targets to get the film to the starting gate. Based on my experience in Australia, I created a scenario that would allow the film to get greenlit at the level required by WB. And the rest is history, essentially."

Since then, Papazian has overseen production of 18 Australia-lensed pics .

Tipsheet

WHAT: Australians in Film Awards Benefit
WHEN: 6:30-10 p.m. Oct. 24
WHERE: Intercontinental Hotel, Grand Salon Ballroom, L.A.
WEB: australiansinfilm.org

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