Australian Oscar Nominees Discuss Their Country’s Support And The Possibility Of Making History This Year

With 12 Australians nominated for Oscars this year over eight categories, the country often called the Land Down Under continues to prove that it is the prideful home of some of the most celebrated talent surrounding filmmaking today. On Thursday night, with the 95th Academy Awards just days away, many recognized artists came together at the Australian Oscars Nominees Reception at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, California.

With 196 nominations and 58 wins to date for Australians at the Oscars since its first-ever ceremony back in 1929, the evening was hosted by Ausfilm, Screen Australia, Australians in Film and the Australian Consul-General Ambassador Jane Duke, who briefly spoke with me about having another year of recognized excellence for Australia.

Duke says of this year’s nominees, “It’s really exciting to see and very well-deserved. Australians are known as being hardworking and fun and great creators, and to see them rewarded for their incredible achievements on the world’s biggest stage for film is something to be proud of. There’s a number of incredible women in this line-up. Mandy Walker, she was the first woman to win the American Cinematography Award for a feature film. I’m hoping that she can be the first woman to win an Oscar for Cinematography. She was cinematographer on the Baz Luhrmann movie, Elvis. There’s the incredible Cate Blanchett, who has won two acting Oscars, the only Australian to do so. I hope that she can get out of the line for a third for her incredible performance in Tár. And of course, Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin. In fact, Catherine Martin is the most-awarded Oscar nominee successor in Australia, so having her succeed again with another three nominations is fantastic.”

When the Western world might sometimes look at art programs as the first educational area to cut when budgets get tight, Australia continues to pride itself in leading with their focus on the arts and truly putting its money where its mouth is.

Duke tells me, “We have a number of incentive programs and that has proved to be super successful. We invest a lot in the talent development of writers, schools and skills & trade. It’s great to see that people can see the success of their peers and their mentors and their icons overseas, and then follow through with what they can dream of and achieve.”

With the fully Australian-shot Elvis film receiving eight Oscar nominations thisyear, I also spoke with director of photography and this year’s Oscar nominee for Cinematography, Mandy Walker, as she shared with me what made working on this specific project standout to her.

“I’ve been working with Baz and Catherine for 20 years,” continues Walker. “They are such amazing collaborators and they are very generous. I feel Baz is a true visionary, so for me, it’s very exciting to be on any of his projects. Also, to be one of many really amazing women who are in heads of department on this movie. [Oscar-nominated producer] Gail Berman and Catherine Martin wore three hats on this film and [Oscar-nominated production designer] Karen Murphy and myself. I feel like it’s always a great adventure and it’s always a real achievement in creating something special.”

Walker is only the third woman to ever be nominated in the Cinematography Oscars category, and if she wins on Oscar Sunday, she will become the first woman to ever do so, a possibility she tells me makes her feel really proud, but also incredibly nervous.

When I asked Walker what she would say to other female cinematographers in filmmaking today or for those considering that career, she says, “I think to tell them to follow their passion. It’s getting better. There’s much more push for diversity on-set and inclusion. I personally mentor a lot of women, and I find the studios and producers are much more pursuing this on-set now. There is a really conscious effort to make it more equal.”

I also spoke with the CEO of Screen Australia, Graeme Mason, at the Australian Oscars Nominees Reception, as he reminded me of other leading Hollywood stars on the scene today that have come from Australia, including Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie.

Speaking to what his government agency continues to strive to do for Australians today, Mason says, “We try to work to find new talent and help people develop their careers and businesses. You can be a business of one – you might be a makeup artist, you might be a writer or a director, you might be an actor. We’re known for our actors but we see the arts matter. Just full stop – like they matter. Also, it’s a great way to form and help culture in your own country. It reflects us back to ourselves and reflects us out to the world.”

Catherine Martin, whose three Oscar nominations for Elvis include Costume Design, Production Design and Best Picture, briefly spoke with me about her latest awards season recognition, her Australian roots and the support she continues to feel from her homeland.

“I feel really, really proud and happy,” continues Martin. “I just don’t understand what’s in the water because per capita, we seem to have a huge number of people who are in the entertainment industry, from music to fine art to films to fashion. Certainly, you can look at how Baz and I and Cate Blanchett were all products of the National Institute of Dramatic Art, which is government-funded institution. I think it’s those government investments that they make in the arts that allows for a very rich culture in Australia. I encourage the Australian government to keep investing because I think in terms of promoting Australia on the world’s stage, I won’t speak for myself, but I would say all the rest of my Australians here are great ambassadors for Australia.”

Another Oscar nominee this year is Lachlan Pendragon, a 26-year-old Australian filmmaker nominated for his animated short film An Ostrich Told Me The World Is Fake And I Think I Believe It. Pendragon spoke with me about how this Oscar nomination has changed his life.

“This whole world opens up and suddenly, you’re talking to people you admire all over the world who have seen your film,” Pendragon says. “That’s an amazing thing that you don’t think about when you’re making a student film. Suddenly, some of your heroes have seen it and they’re giving feedback about it and they’re talking to you. You feel really humble and it’s an amazing thing. I love Australia. I grew up there in Queensland, Brisbane. I’m really proud to shine a light on that place and inspire others to do the same.”

Arguably, one of the most beloved filmmakers of our time, Australian director Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Australia, The Great Gatsby) has led several of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters over the past three decades. His reign continues with the eight Oscar nominations for Elvis.

Speaking of the longevity Elvis has had with moviegoers and on the world at large over the past year, Luhrmann says, “For us, it’s very unusual because to open a film nine months ago and to be talking about it and communicating it and it’s still in theaters in some places around the around the world – streaming, of course. I released the deluxe album days ago. It’s got an ongoing life, sort of beyond me.”

As he continues to notice the support of his native country, Luhrmann adds, “I think what’s great is because of the support of Queensland, by Film Australia, by all the institutions, by the government, we really do punch above our weight. For a tiny population, the amount of Australians who are making films, in films, making it happen and participating in the industry is really above what you think. That’s something I feel really privileged to be a part of, I really do.”

Luhrmann is no stranger to the Oscars, as his 2001 film Moulin Rouge was also nominated for Best Picture in 2002. Heading into Sunday’s live ceremony, I wondered what will be going through his mind as the winners are announced.

Luhrmann says, “Obviously, Austin [Butler winning Best Actor] would be great but he has got real competition. The thing I really care about is Mandy winning the first woman in only whatever years to win for Cinematography – that would be historic. Whatever you do, you’re pretty cool with it except right about the moment they pull open the envelope. No matter how you feel, you do get a little bit of a pound in the heart.”