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AFTA 2011: the Craft Awards

By the mood of the audience as they arrived, the Aotearoa Film and Television Craft Awards, presented today at a luncheon ahead of Saturday night’s Gala occasion, were all set to perpetuate their reputation as more relaxed and enjoyable than the supposedly higher status event to follow. The nature of that status was peripherally reinforced when people from both the promotional and event companies referred to this afternoon’s event as a “trial run for Saturday”.

This attitude also raised in my mind the question of whether it’s fair to mark out fields such as cinematography, editing, musical composition, plus the design of sets, costume and makeup as not “creative” in the manner of acting, directing and so forth. Surely, just as good acting and directing require the acquisition of certain practical skills to allow the effective expression of a creative imagination, the high-quality practice of various elements of design for camera, cinematography, music and editing require a creative imagination considerably beyond the connotations of a mere “craft”.

This was all reinforced when Peter Hawes, winner of the award for Best Performance in a Short Film, asked as he arrived on stage, “Am I allowed to be up here? I’m an actor.” (Writer Hawes also provided the best lines from an award winner: “Thanks to my drycleaner, for getting the pants in on time; and thanks to the people at my table for making grieving such a hoot.”)

But today’s audience were not concerned with such trivialities of demarcation. They were happy to enjoy the atmosphere of a huge venue of rather spartan interior design that lent itself to whatever a hirer might want to do with it. The presentation set was simple and effective: 1.5 metre high Styrofoam block letters spelt out AFTA in white, then took on projected abstract pink patterns later, while tall slim panels at each side displayed slowly moving, vibrantly green stylized plant patterns, reflecting Aotearoa.

It was a shame that the smooth running of the technical side of things was not always matched by the proceedings on the stage. Too often scripted jokes were mangled, or scripts either forgotten or simply lost altogether, causing considerable awkwardness. At times this was no doubt the result of a few rather crass lines seemingly written by some presumably older male still stuck in 70s sexism. “Where have these guys been for the last 20 years?” moaned one (male) guest. Brief confusion reigned when neither the winner of one award nor his delegated stand-in(s) were present, and one winner was forced to pick up his own award rather than have it handed to him. There was clear relief all round when the co-announcer of the last trio of awards, Tim Woodhouse, deliciously sent up the script with action gestures themselves worthy of a best presenter award.

In the area of television drama, some might have been surprised that Legend of the Seeker took out all three of its nominations, while This is Not My Life took away two prizes from its five categories. MC Oliver Driver commented on how wonderful it was that this most nominated show, with great ratings and reviews, should be ditched after only one season.

The feature film department was completely dominated by Predicament, winning six of its eight categories, with only one each going to After the Waterfall and Love Story. Meanwhile, Love Birds was unsuccessful with any of its five nominations.

Other comments from various presenters or winners included Leanne Pooley: “There isn’t a documentary director anywhere who hasn’t had their arse saved by a cinematographer”, and
Dan Salmon: “Without editors, we’re nothing.” Most kept it simple, such as Don McGlashan’s “Thanks for this; this is really cool”.

Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that a number of winners were not present to receive their awards, since the craft awards are held at lunchtime on a weekday. But it amused some that two winners, Dick Reade and Tammy Davis, working on a set somewhere, had already learnt of their success by the lunch break in the middle of the ceremony, not via a mobile call but from someone on their location reading the Herald’s blog.

The scheduling also raised the issue of the clash in dates with the SPADA conference going on up the road.

The most emotional moment of the afternoon did not come from a winner’s speech – not that one would expect that from a bunch of laconic Kiwis. It came instead in a tribute both to the people of Christchurch and to all those involved in the documentation of the disaster of February 2011. A compilation of footage of the quake’s aftermath (“Our people in the field, doing what they do best”) was projected onto the big screens either side of the stage, and provoked a response that many of us probably thought we were inured to by now.

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