Written and directed by Warwick Thornton, and starring newcomers Rowan McNamara (above) and Marissa Gibson, Samson & Delilah was the big winner at the 2009 Australian Film Institute Awards held in Melbourne in two consecutive evenings, Fri. (“industry” categories) and Sat. (top awards). Thornton's feature-film debut bagged a total of 8 awards, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best cinematography (also Thornton), and two awards for newcomers McNamara and Gibson.
Winner of the 2009 Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the best film award at the 2009 Asia-Pacific Screen Awards, in addition to being Australia's submission for the 2010 best foreign-language film Academy Award, Samson & Delilah is a coming-of-age drama set in a remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia, where two teenagers attempt to cope with a life of violence, poverty, and substance abuse. After tragedy strikes, the young couple set out on their own, facing all sorts of obstacles along the way.
Samson & Delilah is the second film focusing on Australia's Aborigines to win the AFI's top prize in the last four years. In 2006, Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr's Ten Canoes, set among Aborigines of long ago, also came out victorious.
Another major AFI winner was Robert Connolly's Balibo, winner of the best actor (Anthony LaPaglia, above), best supporting actor (Oscar Isaac), best adapted screenplay (Connolly, David Williamson), and best editing (Nick Meyers) awards. In this political drama, LaPaglia plays war correspondent Roger East, who traveled to East Timor in the mid-1970s to attempt to find five disappeared journalists.
Frances O'Connor (right) was voted best actress for her portrayal of a distraught welfare-recipient mother in Ana Kokkinos' Blessed, while Rachel Griffiths was the best supporting actress for Beautiful Kate, actress-turned-director Rachel Ward's family drama about two siblings (Griffiths and Ben Mendelsohn) who share a deeply buried secret in their past.
The AFI International Award for Best Actor went to Russell Crowe for the box office disappointment State of Play. For her multiple impersonations in the made-for-television The United States of Tara, Toni Collette was the best actress in that particular category for Australians working abroad, whether in film or on TV.
Visual effects expert Nathan McGuinness, for his part, was given the International Award for Excellence in Filmmaking. McGuinness was cited for his work on five films: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Terminator Salvation, The Unborn, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Winner of the highest-grossing film award, the local Nicole Kidman-Hugh Jackman blockbuster Australia also won three other awards: best production design, best costume design, and best visual effects.
Earlier this year, Geoffrey Rush was handed the Raymond Longford Award for his contribution to Australian cinema.